Reconciliation Lectionary: Psalm 51:14 & 17, 19

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Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.

These selected verses conclude the Lectionary’s longest psalm offering, the 51st–nearly in its entirety. Verses 14 and 17 are merged into one stanza. The suggested antiphon is derived from the first of these. Liturgy of the Hours practitioners will recognize one of the most-uttered lines of Scripture in all Christendom.

I don’t know what your attention is drawn to in this psalm, but “spirit,” appearing several times, is noticeable to me this Lent. “Spirit” has perhaps a spotty reputation in some circles these days. Hardcore Catholics dismiss the “spiritual but not religious” moniker. But I can’t say I totally disagree with the sentiment. It seems very Matthew 21:28ff-ish. I’d rather have an interior orientation to God, despite my interjections of refusal, denial, or whatnot. And we might be straying into pharisaical territory ourselves by criticizing those who do all the right religious things on the outside. Do we really embrace the duality that they must be secret sinners? I hope not. This isn’t an either-or situation. Sin is not only tricky, but pervasive.

The psalmist has been pouring out deep feelings, intense contrition, and is obviously in anguish over the harm done to God by sin. These verses suggest to me that if contrition can touch our inmost parts–heart and spirit–then God’s grace has truly had some effect on us. And that is a source of trust–that we can rely on God’s love. Other people may decline to forgive our trespasses, but God sees what is hopefully a deep resolve to reform. And while God may have doubts about external actions, the true battleground of virtue is deep within.

Your thoughts, observations? All of Psalm 51 is here. The cited verses of Psalm 51 are 3-6b (skipping 6cd), 7-14, 17, and 19. Did the framers of the Rite of Penance miss anything?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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