The 34th Psalm is one of the most frequently used in the Roman Rite. It is one of nine common psalms for Ordinary Time. It’s something of a go-to text in the Roman Antiphonary because of verse 9a: Taste and see that the Lord is good. If you aren’t aware or haven’t guessed, a proper for the Communion procession.
When else might this psalm be utilized? A wedding is an occasional choice. Also in the rite for receiving catechumens into the Church’s formal process for baptism. Maybe these are interesting touchstones, but what does that mean for the ill believer?
In the official rites for care for people who are sick and dying, assigned verses are assembled into six stanzas, excluding the “taste and see” reference, which is listed as one of two possibilities for an antiphon to be sung in between the stanzas.
What have the producers of the Roman Rite assembled? My observation is that this text strongly resembles a piece of wisdom literature. The Psalmist is a teaching figure who begins by offering a personal look into a relationship with God. From verse 4 onward, sage advice is dispensed.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be always in my mouth.
My soul will glory in the LORD;
let the poor hear and be glad.
Magnify the LORD with me;
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.
This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
Fear the LORD, you his holy ones;
nothing is lacking to those who fear him.
The rich grow poor and go hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, children, listen to me;
I will teach you fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who delights in life,
who loves to see the good days?
A fragment of an idea one might see in a lament, that persecutors will eventually get their just desserts. The final verse is likely why this psalm attracted the attention of those who looked for appropriate Scriptures for the sick and dying. The second option for responsorial singing.
The LORD’s face is against evildoers
to wipe out their memory from the earth.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted,
saves those whose spirit is crushed.
My own sense is that the responsorial format with a sung antiphon works best for a communal liturgy. Six stanzas seem a lot. I would probably use the verse 19 antiphon, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted” with verses 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7. IT’s a good pairing with the Wisdom 9 passage we reviewed a few years ago here.
One overlooked aspect of pastoral ministry is recommending Bible passages for personal prayer. The 34th Psalm is fairly accessible for this. Who knows? When the grandkids visit, it’s good advice to pass to the next generation or two.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.