Scripture scholars suggest that Psalm 27 is really two distinct pieces, often designated as sections A, a song of trust in God (verses 1-6) and B, which is effectively a lament (7-13) with an appendix of praise. (verse 14). Many renderings of this psalm in the Lectionary combine both portions, and I have no problem with the shift from speaking of God in the third person to second person, nor with the insertion of the lament in what we are given as the third stanza.
Two refrains are given in the Funeral Lectionary:
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
Practically speaking, the second is on the edge of too long, especially for people unaccustomed to worship and singing. If it were in my power to do so, I would suggest the following as an editorial possibility: I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord. On the other hand, I think a composition might employ a call-and-response structure to the entire refrain.
Psalm 27:1 is a Scripture that should be memorized by every Catholic:
The LORD is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink?
Verse 4 treats the longing for God, and the desire for unity in God’s house. When the Israelites sang of God’s Temple, we sing of heaven:
There is one thing I ask of the LORD;
for this I long:
To live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
To savor the sweetness of the LORD,
to behold his temple.
Section B catches the psalmist with a direct petition on her or his lips. When you check the rest of verses 8-13 in your Bible, you will note that the edge is taken off the lament. We do lament when confronted with the death of a loved one, but the Lectionary composers have toned it down:
O LORD, hear my voice when I call;
have mercy and answer.
It is your face, O LORD, that I seek;
hide not your face.
And the final acclamation of praise concludes the Lectionary edit:
I am sure I shall see the LORD’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the LORD!
I suspect this psalm is chosen often (no lower than a number three choice behind Psalm 23 and maybe Psalm 25) because it combines the two main strains of funeral planning as I’ve encountered them in many parishes. One can choose Scripture passages because they speak something of the deceased. Mourners might also be drawn to passages that comfort them in their grief. Psalm 27 might cover both bases, as Psalm 23 does, I think.
A person of faith (even if they don’t have it memorized) can easily pray verse one, acknowledging God as savior. The experience of death can, at times, be harrowing and full of pitfalls. But often the dying gain a focus on God, and long for the ultimate union we cannot find in this life.
While the third stanza above usually applies to a dying person, it might well reference the strain of life in those who are bereaved. Indeed, the beginning of healing from grief might involve an honest statement of 27:13.
When in pain, I often do not see, especially through squinted and teary eyes. But my faith informs me that someday I might see. Someday I will have enlightenment, and this time of sorrow will gain meaning. Meanwhile, I will move forward with trust.
Perhaps these A and B sections are not so disconnected as scholars suppose. Verse one of this psalm opens with a statement of faith–a creed, if you will. Verse fourteen finds us in prayer, reflecting back on the light. If we are professing faith in the light in a time of darkness, the expected outcome of prayer will be the ability to see. Our beloved dead see now–this is our hope. We too shall come to see–not only a loving and fond vision of our absent loved ones, but our own reunion with them and with God in eternal life.
Would you choose this psalm? With which Old Testament reading would you pair it?