Psalm 63 is one of the nine common psalms for ordinary time. It is also one of the choices for a funeral Mass. This is probably one of my favorite psalms. It expresses an intimate desire for God. (Possibly too intimate; often verse 7 is excised. The psalmist refers to lying in bed and longing for God. My own sense it is somewhat reminiscent of Eli and young Samuel in the temple as told in 1 Samuel 3:1-10.)
This psalm is also a prominent on for Morning Prayer, and is featured in Sunday Lauds, week I, as well as many cathedral office celebrations as a “common” psalm of sorts.
The refrain is, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life;
my lips shall speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
You have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
Psalm 63 in its entirety offers something of a mixture of styles. The first stanza seems like a lament. In stanza two, the lament shades to an expression of thanksgiving, and continues in stanza three (vv. 5-6). By the last stanza, the psalmist has settled into an attitude of trust in God. It seems like the entire experience of grieving encapsulated into just a few Bible verses. Perhaps the 63rd is better as an expression of the pilgrimage of the deceased, if indeed that person has experienced the journey from longing to thanksgiving to confident trust.
Overall, a lovely piece, but very rarely chosen for funerals. Most people get hung up on 23, 25, or 27, and don’t look beyond. Speaking for myself, I hope they use this psalm at my funeral. And if that’s not enough to scare you off, you might consider it too.
As for musical settings of this psalm, I leave it to our commentariat to make suggestions and give links, if you can or wish.