Reconciliation Lectionary: Psalm 36

mary-the-penitent.jpgThe 36th Psalm doesn’t appear at all in the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Sundays and feasts. It makes but one appearance among the daily readings, Thursday of the 16th week of Year 2. It’s a special text for me (because of the setting I composed for my brother’s funeral), and I hope you will find it fruit for prayer and reflection, also.

How precious is your mercy, Lord.

O LORD, your mercy reaches to heaven;
your faithfulness, to the clouds.
Our justice is like the mountain of God:
your judgments like the mighty deep;

How precious is your mercy, Lord.

How precious is your mercy, O God!
The children of (earth*) take shadow in the refuge of your wings.
They have their fill of the prime gifts of your house;
from your delightful stream you give them to drink.

How precious is your mercy, Lord.

For with you is the fountain of life,
and in your light we see light.
Keep up your mercy toward your friends,
your just defense to the upright of heart.

How precious is your mercy, Lord.

The whole psalm is here. Maybe the explicit description of the wicked was a bit offputting to those who did not read further when assembling the Lectionary. I find section 2 of this psalm to be masterful–the verses used for this selection in the Rite of Penance. It moves into something of a hymn style with these verses. Verses 12-13 pick up on the lament of the initial section. But Mitchell Dahoud of the Anchor Bible series also sees Wisdom elements in this Psalm.

It’s good that Psalm 36 is so hard to categorize. Maybe that’s what I like about it.

I also like the twofold description of God’s mercy: precious and yet vast. The first stanza guides my thought to the immensity of the created universe. Earth to the utmost skies: that’s billions of miles. And yet the second stanza describes the tender intimacy of God. We are gathered under protective wings of a bird. We are sustained with nourishment.

Water and light are the images of stanza three, and they call to mind baptism, if not the overflowing generosity of God. The Psalmist returns to the theme of the believer beset by troubles in verse 11: God does not ignore or remain indifferent to our trials. God intercedes with “just defense” for his own.

Sometimes that’s all a penitent needs to hear: God is on my side.

* The Lectionary gives “men,” the NABRE gives “Adam,” and the old Grail gives “earth.” The Anchor Bible suggests the phrase is “gods and men take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Taking shadow in the refuge–this Lectionary phrase seems awkward too. It’s not repeated in the new Grail, either. Curious decisions.

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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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