Every so often, I get the itch to suggest an addition to the Roman Lectionary. If I had been asked to consult on the new Order for Celebrating Matrimony, I would have offerred we make room for what is admittedly one of my favorite psalms, the 121st.
The obvious antiphon is verse 2:
Our help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
And the eight verses of the text are arranged into these stanzas:
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
From whence shall come my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
or your guardian to sleep.
Behold, the guardian of Israel
never slumbers nor sleeps.
The LORD is your guardian;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your soul.
The LORD will guard your coming and going
both now and forever.
Bible experts know this is the second of fifteen psalms (120-134) used for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Today, we think of pilgrimages as safe vacations. We travel by plane or bus. We are herded to gawk at religious sites. We enrich the local economy. We make spiritual connections with other pilgrims and with our God. But in the time of the psalmist, the journey to Jerusalem was one of potential danger: robbers lurking in highland passages, the possibility of illness or injury far from home. The psalmist also doesn’t mince words about the presence of evil.
In a way, a wedding is a commencement for a couple beginning a great pilgrimage. There will be hazards and dangers–we should not kid ourselves nor our newlyweds. Honeymoons on beaches and in gardens or on cruise ships sound nice. But the long haul of a marriage is nothing to take for granted. For times of trouble, or even for the steady maintenance on a relationship, who will we call upon for help? Why not the Lord God, maker of the universe? Could we ask for more assurance than protection from serious error, ready assistance night and day, and a guard wherever we may travel?
Perhaps you readers are thinking about a musical setting. This parish’s music ministry does a creditable job on the Joncas setting, which goes back to the late 70s. I recall it from many celebrations of the cathedral office around my home diocese of Rochester. I was surprised to see the whole setting of Evening Praise still in print here. It was included in the 90s edition of Gather Comprehensive.
If I were setting this psalm, I might make verse 1 a preliminary proclamation, probably a cappella. Following this, the psalmist would intone the antiphon and the people repeat. Then, just three stanzas as given above, settings verses 3 through 8.
Some Lectionary readings suggest Christ’s relationship with the Church as one image of marriage. Another appropriate metaphorical connection is marriage and pilgrimage. What better way to send a couple off into life and sacrament together than recall the blessing of God’s protective care, and that our troubles need never overwhelm us?