“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your love at daybreak, your faithfulness in the night” (Ps 92:2-3).
Prayer of praise is focused entirely on the expression of wonder and awe at who God is and what God has done. In the Bible, praise is frequently shouted or sung. When she visited her cousin Elizabeth, who knew that Mary would be the mother of the Savior, Mary’s praise overflowed into a song, or canticle. Commonly referred to as the “Magnificat,” this canticle begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47). The angels who appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ, and later the shepherds themselves, glorified and praised God (Lk 2), as did the paralytic whom Jesus healed early in his ministry (Lk 5:25) and many others whom Jesus cured of their afflictions.
The Bible shows that praising God involves not only our spiritual efforts, but our physical muscles as well. “Lift up your hands,” exhorts Psalm 134. In Psalms 100, 147, and 149 we are prompted to dance and sing. Psalm 149 tells us to play musical instruments to praise the Lord. And in the Letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded to praise God in the presence of others: “I will proclaim your name to my brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you” (Heb 2:12); later in this letter we are urged to “continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” (13:15). This echoes Psalm 92’s call to praise at daybreak and in the night — in other words, constantly.
If praising God in front of others might be outside one’s comfort zone, there are ways to work around this obstacle. Singing hymns in praise of God is one way to do this — and this is done at every Sunday Mass. This is not something that must be done solo, or on a stage. As you stand in your pew, with the assembly around you, you can participate in a communal prayer of praise. Church hymnals are filled with songs of praise, such as “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and many others that are based on the psalms. Quite a few of the psalms are written in praise of God: this theme is especially common in the last third of the psalms, including Psalms 91, 93, 98, 104, 111, 117, 135, 139, and 148 through 150.
Just as Blessed Solanus Casey advised us to “thank God ahead of time,” we don’t have to wait until the mood strikes us to praise God. Prayers of praise should not come with strings attached. In the Bible, we hear Job praising God despite his many hardships: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Tobit 13 is a prayer of rejoicing in a time of captivity, a prayer the Archangel Raphael urged Tobit to compose, pray, and share: “Do not fear; peace be with you! Bless God now and forever. … So now bless the Lord on earth and give thanks to God. Look, I am ascending to the one who sent me. Write down all that has happened to you” (Tob 12:16, 20). Psalm 34 begins, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord; let the poor hear and be glad” (Ps 34: 2-3). Later in the same psalm, we are reminded, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed” (Ps 34:19).
Where do we see this in the Mass?
The Gloria (also a prayer of blessing and adoration) is a prayer of praise. After the Gospel is proclaimed, we respond, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” Eucharistic Prayer I describes the Mass itself as a “sacrifice of praise,” offered “for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage” to God. Two options for the Memorial Acclamation are prayers of praise: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again” and “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.” The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with praise as the priest prays, “Through him, with him, and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.”
3 practical ways to pray this way:
- Memorize Psalm 117: with only two verses, it’s the shortest psalm and easy to commit to memory. Make a commitment to recite it at a certain time each day.
- Choose a favorite hymn of praise that you can listen to (or sing) during your morning prayer time. Singing God’s praises is an uplifting way to begin the day.
- Recite the Divine Praises.
What do the saints say about prayer of praise?
The praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise him to the greatest extent of our powers. (St. Maximilian Kolbe)
Barb Szyszkiewicz, a Secular Franciscan, is editor at CatholicMom.com and author of “The Handy Little Guide to Prayer” (OSV, $5.95). Read more from the prayer series here.