I’ve never played a funeral or attended one in which Psalm 143 was chosen. I suspect many planners stop at the 23rd and look no further. Or draw on the more commonly used settings of other psalms–the 143rd does not appear often in the Lectionary. My parish doesn’t have a setting in its repertoire.
Psalm 143 is one of seven psalms Saint Augustine identified as “penitential.” Know these numbers when you have your Psalter and a heavy case of conscience: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. The given antiphon for this funeral selection is simple enough:
O Lord, hear my prayer.
In time of grief and doubt, perhaps there is no better way to approach God. Hearts are breaking, minds are confused, spirits disconsolate. God, are you listening?
Lord, listen to my prayer:
turn your ear to my appeal.
You are faithful, you are just; give answer.
Do not call your servant to judgment
for no one is just in your sight.
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.
Lord, make haste and give me answer:
for my spirit fails within me.
In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Teach me to do your will
for you, O Lord, are my God.
Let your good spirit guide me
in ways that are level and smooth.
What’s interesting to me is that in the context of the funeral, Psalm 143:2 (highlighted in blue) shifts from a third-person reference to self to a petition for the deceased. The selected verses then seem less like an individual lament and take on more of the character of a community in mourning.
In the second stanza, the mourners acknowledge good days that are past–and there is an undeniable urge in modern funerals to think well of the deceased. How to channel that urge fruitfully? I would think by recounting how God blessed the life of the departed. And we include a healthy acknowledgement of our own emptiness–that often-used reference to “thirsting” for God (see Psalm 63:2 for the classic and common expression; also Psalm 42:2 from the Easter Vigil, and John 4:13 from the Third Lenten Sunday, cycle A).
Stanza three illustrates that the believer is insistent on God’s intervention. And this is a proper stance when we are in need. Stanza four returns the mourning community to center. Though grieving the loss of a loved one, the focus is on God, and how we align ourselves with his will, and how we open ourselves to spiritual guidance.
The most well-known musical setting is the Taize “O Lord Hear My Prayer.” Usually just presented as a repeated chorus (rendered very slowly here) I would use it with chanted verses (of course) and take it a bit up tempo from the audio. Multi-lingual version here in a good tempo.