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The more I read the Psalms the more they intrigue me. The entire spiritual life is depicted, from sorrow to joy, penance to exultation, lament to thanksgiving. But there is one aspect of the spiritual life that I forgot: wrath. When I first encountered the Cursing Psalms (e.g. Psalm 68 and 108) I was shocked. How could these be part of the Canon? Yet here they are.

I first truly encountered the Imprecatory Psalms when I began praying the Pauline Breviary, for I read that a Psalm (108) and small sections of Psalms (e.g. from 68, 136, 138, 142) were omitted due to the 'psychological difficulties' involved in praying them. Now this I think is a mistake; far better to wrestle with the problem first hand rather than to shuttle it away, but the problem remains. What are we to make of these? Are we not called to "bless, and curse not?" It seems that to truly enter into the spirit of the Psalm we have to hate persons - which seems forbidden to us as Christians.

So I am at an impasse. How are these Psalms to be interpreted? How are they to be prayed?
Here's a couple explanations, from the Catholic Encyclopedia and Fr. Hardon's Catholic Dictionary.

Quote:The theological ideas of the Psalms are comprehensive; the existence and attributes of God, the soul's yearning for immortality, the economy of grace and the virtues, death, judgement, heaven, hell, hope of resurrection and of glory, fear of punishment — all the main dogmatic truths of Israel's faith appear again and again in her Psalter. These truths are set down not in dogmatic form, but now in the simple and childlike lyric yearning of the ingenuous soul, again in the loftiest and most vehement outbursts of which man's nature is capable. The Psalms are at once most human and most superhuman; they sink to the lowest depths of the human heart and soar to the topmost heights of Divine contemplation. So very human are the imprecatory psalms as to make some to wonder how they can have been inspired of God. Surely Jahweh cannot have inspired the singer who prayed:

"As for them that plan my soul to destroy, Down to the depths of the earth shall they go; To the grasp of the sword shall they be delivered; A prey to the jackals shall they become". — Psalm 83:10-11 (82:10-11)

Such an objection is based upon a misunderstanding. The perfection of the counsels of Christ is one thing, the aim of the good Levite is quite another thing. The ideals of the Sermon on the Mount are of higher spirituality than are the ideals of the imprecatory psalm. Yet the ideals of the imprecatory psalm are not bad — nay, are good, are Divine in their origin and authority. The imprecatory psalms are national anthems; they express a nation's wrath, not an individual's. Humility and meekness and forgiveness of foe are virtues in an individual; not necessarily so of a nation; by no means so of the Chosen Nation of Jahweh, the people who knew by revelation that Jahweh willed they should be a great nation and should put out their enemies from the land which he gave them. Their great national love for their own people postulated a great national love for Jahweh. The love for Jahweh postulated a hatred of the foes of Jahweh, and, in the theocratic economy of the Jewish folk, the foes of Jahweh were the foes of Israel. If we bear this national purpose in mind, and forget not that all poetry, and especially Semitic poetry, is highly coloured and exaggerated, we shall not be shocked at the lack of mercy in the writers of the imprecatory psalms.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12533a.htm

Quote:Those in which the psalmist pronounces a curse over the enemies of God and God's people, as when David prays, "May no one be left to show him kindness, may no one look after his orphans, may his family die out, its name disappear in one generation" (Psalm 109:12-13). Such imprecations should be seen as the ardent expressions of the Oriental mind, and written under divine inspiration. They were not only statements of the human author, asking God to punish evildoers, but in prophetic terms foretold the divine intention, i.e., what God was going to do to those who resisted his will. (Etym. Latin in- + precari, to pray: imprecor, to call upon, to invoke on a person.)

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/l...m?id=34127
The point about the Semitic mindset and poetry in those quotes is a good one. Even in the hymns of St. Ephrem there are examples of things like this. In the Hymns on Paradise, there is mention that one of the pleasures of the blessed is that they are able to look into Hell from across the impassable chasm and see the torments of the damned and laugh. Semitic languages, particularly in poetry, like to speak in opposite extremes. Thus God loves Jacob, but hates Esau. This might seem objectionable to us, but the expression probably doesn't mean much more than that God has preferred Jacob to Esau.
Yes, and St Paul shows this hyperbole when he quotes the psalms. It is meant to drive home a point, and not always a literal message. Luther made this mistake.

Rom 3:10-18

Well, then, are we better off? Not entirely, for we have already brought the charge against Jews and Greeks alike that they are all under the domination of sin, as it is written:

“There is no one just, not one,
there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God.
All have gone astray; all alike are worthless;
there is not one who does good,
[there is not] even one.
Their throats are open graves;
they deceive with their tongues;
the venom of asps is on their lips;
their mouths are full of bitter cursing.
Their feet are quick to shed blood;
ruin and misery are in their ways,
and the way of peace they know not.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
...and until the end of Chapter 3, S. Paul gives us a good understanding of how these words were meant.

tim