We treated the 31st Psalm earlier in this series, looking at verses 2 and 4-6. This psalm also appears as a suggestion for the sample penitential services in appendix II of the Rite of Penance under the title of “sin and conversion.”
Verse 15 gives us the antiphon for this selection:
My trust is in you, O God.
The three choices of Gospel readings for this theme are all chosen from the Passion. So perhaps there is no surprise that Psalm 31 is also utilized on Good Friday in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. Verses 15 through 17 are shared with that Lectionary. But verse 10 is prescribed for Penance:
Have pity on me, O Lord,
for I am in distress;
with sorrow my eye is consumed;
my soul also, and my body.
Psalms 22 and 31 each have verses which are connected to Jesus’ utterances during his Passion. Verse 10 seems more suitable for a penitent’s utterance than for Jesus to speak of in conversation with the Father, perhaps. But if sin has harmed us to the point of moving us toward conversion, this is a great text on which to reflect.
Stanza two shares verses 15-17 with the Triduum:
But my trust is in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your mercy.
If we have a sense of the evil one assailing us, perhaps these verses make good sense. I can certainly relate to a prayer to deliver me from my addictions and compulsions–the most demonic of my life’s experiences.
Stanza three is a final utterance of thanksgiving for God’s grace:
How great is your goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store for those who fear you,
And which, toward those who take refuge in you,
you show in the sight of (people).
These excerpts from a longer psalm are diverse and complex. They describe the experience of awareness of sin in terms of contrition and sorrow to the point of physical ailment. They suggest forces outside of ourselves that drive us or lure us into wrongdoing. And they complete the lament with a plea to God: praising him in confident hope.
If a parish were celebrating a communal penance liturgy during Holy Week, this Psalm, coupled with one of the Passion excerpts, seems appropriate. But if there is a thought of healing in the preaching of Penance, then Psalm 31 with these verses also seem appropriate. Though the 32nd Psalm is a bit more explicit in that regard.