The Book of Psalms is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. It consists of 150 poems, prayers and songs, most which are attributed to David the son of Jesse who was the King of Israel about 1000 years before Christ. Reciting or singing the Psalms as a form of devotion certainly predates the Christian Church, being well embedded in Jewish worship. This tradition continued in the church and is the foundation for the recitation of prayers in later devotions like the Jesus Prayer or the Rosary.
At Mass, during the Liturgy of the Word, the Psalms have their own special place right after the first reading. We often refer to this as the Responsorial Psalm. A cantor will approach the lectern, bowing to the altar as they draw near. Then they will sing or recite the response, which is a phrase of the psalm, and raise their hand toward the congregation as a signal to repeat. Then the cantor will sing or recite a portion of the psalm and when complete will raise their hand to the congregation again to signal a repetition of the response. This process continues until the completion of the selected psalms and is basically an antiphon, a “call and response” style of singing.
It makes for a very interesting and beautiful part of the mass as you respond and listen to the psalm being sung or chanted. The prayers and songs spoken 3000 years ago by David and others from the ancient days, still resonate with us today; often presenting a profound awakening to the fact that our problems, prayers, concerns and view of life isn’t that far removed from the days of the ancients.