Psalm 130

Psalm 130 is the second-most familiar of the penitential psalms to most Catholics. It is one of the common psalms for Lent, and appears fairly frequently in the Lectionary, Fifth Sunday, cycle A, as well as the funeral rites–a total of nine times. In the Hours, one finds it prayed at week four’s Sunday Vespers I, yoked with thay foremost of the pilgrim songs, Psalm 122.

It is also the only penitential psalm in the body of those “Songs of Ascents,” that collection of short, snappy songs once used by the Isrealites when on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Here’s the NRSV text:

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

3If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

The first four verses address God directly, but seem to avoid the personal admission of sin of some of the other penitentials, notably the 51st. The NRSV doesn’t mention if the iniquities of verse 3 are the psalmist’s own or if they refer to human sin in general. Psalm 130 does share with the other penitential psalms that final note of optimism. It may well be the optimism of a vigil completed with the sight of sunrise.

The psalmist turns preacher to address the pilgrim community in the final half of the song. Perhaps this is why Psalm 130 is a worthy addition to funeral psalmody. I’m a little surprised it does not get wider use in Catholic liturgy there.

For a liturgical setting, I can’t imagine any reason not to sing the entire psalm. Eight verses, even if set ploddingly, form a coherent completeness. Any favorite choral settings out there? Or any suggestions on setting this psalm to music for congregation or choir?

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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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2 Responses to Psalm 130

  1. Liam says:

    The plaintive quality of the text screams for plainsong. The Liber Usualis suggests Tone 4A (which could of course be used regardless of choice of language). Very straightfoward, lean and plaintive.

    The choral setting in Latin by Lassus (Lasso) is perhaps among the better known. It’s in 10 sections (the last two are the Gloria Patri), varying between SATTB and parts thereof (the last is SSATTB). It’s a splendid setting, perhaps fit for choral stations of the cross or a similar devotion.

    http://wso.williams.edu/cpdl/sheet/lass-dep.pdf

    Palestrina set the opening section:

    http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/De_profundis_%28Giovanni_Pierluigi_da_Palestrina%29

    A Bach tune, Aus Tiefer Not (8787887) from a cantata that used Psalm 130, has been adapted for use with metrical paraphrases, such as #240 in the current Presbyterian Hymnal and #295 in the current Lutheran Book of Worship.

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