Psalm 32

Psalm 32 appears somewhat more often in the Lectionary than Psalm 6. Twice it is sung on Ordinary Time Sundays: with two leprosy readings in cycle B, 6th week, and in cycle C on the 11th week (Father’s Day this year). Five other times in the daily Lectionary and for ritual Masses (but not anointing of the sick). In the Office, Psalm 32 is the second Vespers psalm on Thursday, week I.

I did forget to mention in my post on Psalm 6 that both that psalm and this are recommended as “songs” for the three scrutinies of RCIA, an option rarely taken by parishes, liturgists, and catechumenate directors.

Here’s the NRSV text, and right off, we see a pair of “beatitudes,” followed by a personal complaint of the psalmist’s physical condition:

1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

The link of infirmity with sin would be in keeping with the Jewish sense of a disruption of the relationship with God erupting into one’s physical life. While not perhaps a direct punishment from God, we do know that the troubles of one’s inner life, be it spiritual or emotional or psychological, will often manifest themselves in one’s outer shell.

At any rate, the psalmist does confess:

5Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

… and then immediately offers a confident prayer for the godly:

6Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

… which alludes to many other Scripture passages, the protection in God’s wings of Psalm 91, the danger of the waters of Psalm 42:7, Psalm 69:2-3, if not Noah’s flood or Exodus 14.

Is the following passage an example of the “voice of God,” or is it the now-confident (and healed) psalmist undertaking the role of rabbi for the “faithful?”

8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

The psalm ends with a brief note of warning for sinners, followed by a call to rejoice, which echoes Jesus’ conclusion to his Beatitudes (Mt 5:12) :

10Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

This would be a great piece to set to music. I could see five or six separate movements depending on what a composer might do with verse 5: joined to verses 3-4 or not. Anyone aware of a choral setting for this psalm? I’m hard-pressed to think of a decent one in the literature for congregational song.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Psalm 32

  1. Pingback: Reconciliation Lectionary: Psalm 32 | Catholic Sensibility

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