VATICAN CITY, MAR. 28, 2001 ( John Paul II today began a catechetical series on prayer, proposing the Psalms as a key means of inspiration.

He stated his objective: that the Psalter, as the Psalms are also called, should be a key instrument in the spiritual life of all Christians, as well as priests and religious.

After noting their literary beauty and psychological insight, the Holy Father focused on the Psalms´ religious meaning, "showing how these, although written so many centuries ago by Hebrew believers, can be assumed in the prayer of Christ´s disciples."

Quoting theologians of the first centuries, the Pope said the key to understanding the prayers is this: "The Psalms speak of Christ." Moreover, "the risen Jesus applied the Psalms to himself when he said to the disciples that it is necessary ´that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled,´" he said.

As did the Fathers of the Church, John Paul II affirmed that "in the Psalms there is either reference to Christ, or Christ speaks directly. In saying this, they were not only thinking of the individual person of Jesus, but the total Christ, made up of Christ, the head, and his members."

He continued: "In this way, the possibility arises for the Christian to read the Psalter in light of the whole mystery of Christ. From this view, precisely, the ecclesial dimension also emerges, which is seen especially in the choral singing of the Psalms."

This was why the Psalms were assumed as a method of prayer by the early Christians. In fact, the Pope recalled, at a time when heresies were shaking the faith of Christian communities, some saints, such as Athanasius, dedicated their life to teaching the Psalter as a means to remain united to the roots of the faith.

"The Book of Psalms remains the ideal source of Christian prayer, and the Church of the new millennium will continue to be inspired by it," he concluded.