The 103rd is one of nine ordinary time common psalms, and one of three of those that appear in the official wedding lectionary. It’s a fairly common choice, in the top five of the seven or so choices a couple considers.
Sometimes the musical setting drives the choice, and on occasion, a North American couple might choose a psalm setting or paraphrase of a wedding psalm or another psalm. Perhaps in a future post in this series, I might explore other psalms that might have been chosen for the official Lectionary. But as we look at the psalmody for the liturgy of the Word, I’ll confine myself to the official texts.
The Church gives a choice of two refrains for responsorial singing, based on verses 8 and 17 respectively:
The Lord is kind and merciful.
The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.
The first stanza of the text corresponds to the first two verses of the psalm. It sets the tone of a song of praise–very suitable for a wedding celebration.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
The common psalm for the Sunday Lectionary uses a different second stanza. Verses 3-4 elaborate on God’s “benefits,” namely, forgiveness, healing, and redemption from destruction. I would caution taking care about those verses if details are important to you. The actual wedding psalm gives a sampling of Psalm 103’s second (vv6-10) and third (vv11-18) sections, namely verses 8 and 13:
Merciful and gracious is the Lord,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
The Church seems to want to emphasize God’s grace instead of an explicit litany of what slowly angers God or inspires divine kindness. I’d hope the framers of the Lectionary didn’t just cherry-pick verses with family references. I’m a bit disappointed that verses 11-12 didn’t make the cut: “As the heavens tower over the earth, so God’s love towers over the faithful. As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us.”
This opening salvo in the psalm’s third section sets the tone of God loving us so much we cannot stretch our mortal arms wide enough to demonstrate. And it would keep in the forefront that our rejoicing is due in part to God’s forgiveness of our sins. And no marriage can have too much forgiveness.
As it is, the third stanza touches upon the principle of covenant, mentioning a promise of grace to future generations because of it:
But the kindness of the Lord is from eternity
to eternity toward those who fear him,
And his justice towards children’s children
among those who keep his covenant.
There are any number of nice setting of Psalm 103 available in the repertoire of church music. Of the wedding choices, I’d say only Psalm 34 surpasses in terms of overall quantity. A couple can certainly choose a psalm based on the attractiveness of the musical setting. But I would recommend serious couples take a look at the texts of their choices.
Psalm 103 as a text has a lot to commend. It’s worth reading the twenty-two verses as a whole. The passage is very accessible and understandable. The entire psalm begins and ends as a song of praise to God. In between we read a reflection very appropriate for a couple attuned to the human need for God. We need mercy, healing, and inspiration for goodness. We also need assurance that God cares for us and will be near when misfortune or injustice strikes. We also need the reminder that as believing Christians, we have entered into a serious relationship with God, a covenant. This covenant serves as a model for marriage, giving the family a commitment that deepens the initial bonds of attraction, legality, and the external aspects of housekeeping, finances, etc..
Psalm 103 would be a good fit for either Creation reading, or for either Tobit reading. But it’s not a bad foundation on which to build a liturgy of the word as a starting point either.
Anybody use or thinking of using Psalm 103? If so, did you or will you get the right verses?