Funeral Lectionary: Psalm 23:1-3, 4, 5, 6

One of the most-loved passages in all of the world’s sacred Scriptures.

The funeral lectionary version, given below, is significantly different from the RNAB version on which it is based. An expert on the inner workings on translations and preparation for liturgy could give you a concrete answer. I don’t have it.

Two refrains are given in the Order of Christian Funerals. One is the first verse of the Psalm–that’s the more common. The other, verse 4ab, was requested by a family in my parish recently, and I set it to music:

Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me.

This choice highlights the mind of the Church in seeing the funeral as an outreach and ministry to the mourners. It is perhaps not a catechetical moment on the Last Things, and possibly not an explicit call for repentance and conversion. Rather than sinner-centered, the 23rd Psalm is about God. It is a prayer of gratitude for a generous God who is faithful. For the Jew, God remains faithful to the covenant.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit.

He guides me along the right path
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort.

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing.

Surely, goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life;
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever.

One of my professors once mentioned the Hebrew sense of that verb translated into English as “follow.” Think of it as more like “pursue.” How can God fail in pursuit of a beloved? The end result is God’s presence, acknowledged by us or not.

I suppose when we acknowledge God’s presence we experience the graces described early in the Psalm: we are led to good places; we feel revival, or a newness in life; we are guided when times are difficult.

The final verses bring us to an expression of ancient hospitality in which we are the wanderers and desperate for rest and recovery, God invites us in. Where we English readers see “kindness,” the Hebrew language gives : חֶסֶד or hesed. Loving-kindness. Mercy.

Mourners and funeral planners often see the 23rd as their go-to Psalm. It’s not a bad choice at all. But perhaps the choice for a funeral liturgy invites some reflection. And in this Jubilee of Mercy, perhaps we can note this Psalm describes the principle of accompaniment–God walking with us; God who loves us so much, he pursues us to find us and make himself known. Even in moments of darkness. Even when confronted by death.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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