One of the more recognized psalms, the 130th is fairly well-known by the first two words in the Latin: De Profoundis. Out of the depths.
We covered this piece in the series on funerals here. I asked Liam to write up another view, which follows after the text:
Out of the depths I call to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, keep account of sins,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
and so you are revered
I wait for the Lord,
my soul waits and I hope for his word.
My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels wait for daybreak.
More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all its sins.
Psalm 130 (Psalm 129 in the Vulgate: De Profundis) is one of the seven penitential psalms. It has three parts: The first three verses are a lamentation. The next two and a half verses are an expression of trust in God’s mercy. The remainder of the psalm pivots to address the people of Israel, much as Psalm 22, another penitential psalm, does.
During the liturgical cycle, Psalm 130 is the responsorial psalm appointed for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year A, the day of the Third Scrutiny, where it joins the periscope from the Gospel of St John of the raising of Lazarus. It is also the responsorial psalm appointed for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B (which often gets displaced by higher-ranking observances in late spring), where it follows God’s curse upon Adam and Eve, and precedes the reading of Mark 3:20-25 in which Jesus is accused by his family and the teachers of the Law. It is also appointed as a funeral psalm, with a different response. Under the preconciliar ritual of Christian burial, this psalm was appointed for the sprinkling rite before the candlelit procession with the body from the mortuary or home of the deceased to the church (or upon entrance in the vestibule of the church). In the Jewish tradition, Psalm 130 is recited as part of the liturgy for the High Holidays.
That said, I find it helpful to note that, even though it is a penitential psalm, Psalm 130 has layers of meaning beyond sorrow for sin that merit consideration even when it is being used as a penitential psalm. Notably, Psalm 130 is appointed as the second psalm of Evening Prayer II of Christmas Day and for Evening Prayer of the days of the Christmas octave, with the following antiphon: “With the Lord there is unfailing love; great is His power to set men free.” The use for evening prayer is interesting: it is used at the beginning of the evening, when daybreak is at furthest remove; similarly, using this Psalm for a sustained week of vespers after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere underscores the yearning for spiritual dawn that is the hallmark of Christmastide, the fulfillment of which came first with the dawn of the first Easter Sunday, and that we pray comes again with our awaking to eternal life after our death. With a different antiphon, Psalm 130 is likewise the second psalm of Evening Prayer II of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is also set as the second psalm of Evening Prayer I for Sunday of Week 4 in the ongoing Liturgy of the Hours, including for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, with varying antiphons.
In this larger context of liturgical use, Psalm 130 is better appreciated as an act of faith and hope – a lament that turns into a celebration of God’s mercy. In eight short verses, Psalm 130 exemplifies metanoia that bears the fruits of faith and hope. I think this psalm models what the conciliar reform of the ritual of the sacrament of Penance was intended to more clearly convey to penitents and the faithful. May I commend its use by confessors in the ritual with this insight in mind?
St Augustine commented on the first verse that Jonah cried from the deep of the ocean and from the whale’s bodily entrails, yet that ocean and body did not prevent his prayer from bursting out and reaching God. Augustine analogized that mortal life is the “deep” for each person, from which we cry out, groan, and sigh for deliverance.
Pope Benedict XVI observed: “The personal salvation that the praying person implores at the outset is now extended to the entire community. The Psalmist’s faith is grafted on to the historical faith of the people of the Covenant, ‘redeemed’ by the Lord not only from the distress of the Egyptian oppression but ‘from all its iniquity’. Only think that it is we who are now the chosen people, the People of God. And our faith grafts us on to the common faith of the Church. In this very way it gives us the certainty that God is good to us and sets us free from our sins. Rising from the shadowy vortex of sin the supplication of the De profundis reaches God’s shining horizon where ‘mercy and fullness of redemption’ are dominant, two great characteristics of God who is love.”