Psalm 85 is recommended to follow Malachi 3 and precede Luke 3:1-17 in an Advent Penance liturgy given in Appendix II of the Rite. It is one of the two common psalms for the season of Advent. Even if one uses the psalm of the day, Psalm 85 should be a part of a parish’s musical repertoire. At least one good setting.
The antiphon given in the rite is the same as for the seasonal Lectionary:
Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
Scripture scholars divide this piece into two parts. First, a lament from a people in Exile. (This probably was composed or compiled during the Babylonian Captivity.)
You once favored, LORD, your land,
restored the captives of Jacob.
You forgave the guilt of your people,
pardoned all their sins.
You withdrew all your wrath,
turned back from your burning anger.
Restore us, God of our salvation;
let go of your displeasure with us.
Will you be angry with us forever,
prolong your anger for all generations?
Certainly you will again restore our life,
that your people may rejoice in you.
Show us, LORD, your mercy;
grant us your salvation.
And you recognize this last stanza as utilized for one of the options in the Roman Rite’s entrance rites. You might also notice that the text does not contain an explicit confession of sin. The presumption seems to be that people have already acknowledged their sin. They are waiting for God to respond in mercy.
I like the ICEL translation which rendered this A section of Psalm 85 in short phrases. Verses 5-8, for example:
Bring us back,
End your wrath.
Will it stop,
or drag on for ever?
Turn, revive us,
nourish our joy.
Show us mercy,
save us, Lord!
I can imagine tearful gulps and sputtering people spitting out these lines. But even in the RNAB, there’s not much beating around the bush on the part of the penitents. “Show us … grant us …” are direct and to the point with no qualifying words like “beseech” or “beg.”
Part B of the psalm is an oracle, the message of God coming through in response to the nation’s plea:
I will listen for what God, the LORD, has to say;
surely he will speak of peace
To his people and to his faithful.
May they not turn to foolishness!
Near indeed is his salvation for those who fear him;
glory will dwell in our land.
Love and truth will meet;
justice and peace will kiss.
Truth will spring from the earth;
justice will look down from heaven.
Yes, the LORD will grant his bounty;
our land will yield its produce.
Justice will march before him,
and make a way for his footsteps.
This is more lyrical, a message of consolation (in the Biblical/prophetic sense) for the people in response to their petition to God in the first half of this psalm.
This is an obvious good choice for any penance liturgy, especially during Advent. The Rite of Penance suggests the whole psalm, and that might be lengthier than expected for the Liturgy of the Word.
My suggestion would be to sing the first half after the first reading, then use the oracle section as a song of praise, a musical meditation, or as a prayer card.