The psalmist is thunderstruck as he contemplates creation. His mind goes in two directions—up to God and then down to earth. He marvels at the God who made heaven and earth, and sees that they reflect God’s majesty. He marvels at the humans God has made to rule the world.
At the same time, he recognizes the frailty of humans. Compared to God, they are nothing, and yet God has “made them a little less than a god (or angels), crowned them with glory and honor.”
Sometimes we hear how puny human beings are. They are hardly a speck on a planet that is hardly a speck among the vast galaxies of heavenly bodies. We do not know whether there is intelligent life on any other planet, but this psalm reminds us that God has crowned earthlings with a dignity that outstrips the rest of material creation. They share in the very life of God.
Such dignity, however, entails responsibility. In ruling the earth, humans must treat the earth as God does. Everything God has made is a reflection of God’s goodness and beauty. Humans must care for the earth and show it reverence. Here and often in the psalms we are invited to praise God for all that God has made. Such a prayer of praise will find its completion when humans care for and protect the created world, when they discover that every person, evey animal, every thing can, with St. Francis of Assisi, be called brother and sister.
Psalm 8 is very important in the New Testament and the liturgy. The most important New Testament text is Hebrews 2:6-9. The sacred author uses the text to speak of Jesus. Jesus is the son of man of whom God the Father is mindful. Through the Son’s incarnation, God has made the Son “for a little while less than the angels.” Now, however, God has “crowned him with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his feet.” Jesus has come to his heavenly throne because he suffered death. And now everyone is subject to him because he suffered death for everyone.
In 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 Paul tells us that Jesus “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Ephesians 1:20-22 has a similar expression.
We can see why the liturgy uses this psalm to help appreciate the reality of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is used on the Feast of the Trinity to remind us that the Father and the Spirit were involved in the decision to send the Son into our midst.
Psalm 8 is used in the Lenten liturgy with the antiphon “On the lips of children and infants you have perfected praise.” This makes us think of those who will soon be baptized, even adults, because they will soon begin a new life as members of the church. In the Easter season an antiphon with Psalm 8 reads: “You have crowned your Anointed One with glory and honor. Alleluia.” Here the psalm is applied to the risen Jesus. We might also pause and imagine what went through Jesus’ mind as he prayed this psalm while on earth.
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