Are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? Is anyone really one or the other?
We can wonder about our leanings and take tests like the Myers-Briggs assessment, but at the end of the day I think we all realize that there is something good about introspection and there is something good about looking out to see the world. We can appreciate the beauty (and ugliness) of life in seeing ourselves, and the same is true when we see the world.
The genius of traditional liturgy is that it does not confine us to extremes, and that is just as true with this question about what we should reflect upon in our life of prayer.
As the psalms in the Divine Liturgy begin, many Byzantine Catholic parishes tend to begin with what is known as the Antiphons. Other traditions (e.g., the Russian) may focus on the Typical Psalms, whereas in my experience those Psalms are reserved for periods such as Great Lent.
If we step back and consider psalmody in the liturgy, there is a beautiful contrast and comparison that comes with these beginning Psalms.
The standard Sunday Antiphonal Psalms are Psalms 65, 66, and 94 (LXX).
The first verses of each Antiphonal Psalm are as follows:
1. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth, sing praise to his name, give to him glorious praise.
2. Be gracious to us, O God, and bless us; let your face shine upon us, and have mercy on us.
3. Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim God our Savior.
In the standard Typical Psalms, we sing Psalm 102 and 145 (LXX).
There we sing:
1. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name. Blessed are you, O Lord.
2. Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord, praise the Lord all my life. I will make music to my God while I live.
Does the contrast jump out at you? In the antiphonal songs, we are singing really to one another, to the earth, to the world as a whole. We want the whole world to praise God, we want Him to be gracious to us when we pray to Him, and we want to acclaim Him as a group.
In the typical Psalms, the first person perspective predominates. We want our own souls to bless and praise the Lord for our whole life. We look within and ask all of our being to bless His holy name. Both of these angles and perspectives are key.
If we over accentuate the “we” of our faith, we may not adequately examine our own consciences, and our own standing in life.
However, if we focus on ourselves too much, despair or pride may creep in.
By praying with an internal perspective and an external approach, we give due focus to both our own existence as people united to God, and our corporate reality of being part of the earth.
May God help us journey towards Lent with such a balance that matches our liturgical tradition.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!