Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Psalm 6

One of the rarest Psalms in the Catholic liturgy is the 6th. You have to look deep into the Lectionary, to the ritual Mass for Anointing of the Sick, to find it. In the Liturgy of the Hours, one appearance in the four-week cycle, but you must be praying the Office of Readings to find it.

As you might guess, it is an individual lament. It comes from a time when illness was seen as a sign of God’s disfavor. The psalmist recognizes God’s judgment, and confesses physical infirmity:

Do not reprove me in your anger, LORD,
nor punish me in your wrath.

Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are shuddering. (2-3)

More, this trembling has extended into the spiritual realm. Disease may well be a consequence of sinful self-treatment, but even if it is not, we know that serious maladies or injuries take their toll on our faith.

My soul too is shuddering greatly—
and you, LORD, how long?

Turn back, LORD, rescue my soul;
save me because of your mercy. (4-5)

The honesty of the psalmist shines through, unafraid to ply the Almighty with a bit of guilt:

For in death there is no remembrance of you.
Who praises you in Sheol? (6)

Even in pain and sorrow, the psalmist has the audacity to remind God that the living (and the healthy) praise God. If all believers were struck, nobody would be left to honor the Divinity.

When used as a Lectionary Psalm, verses 7-8 are omitted, but for personal prayer, these serve as the emotional high point, at least for me:

I am wearied with sighing;
all night long I drench my bed with tears;
I soak my couch with weeping. (7)

The image is powerful: the psalmist has cried so much the furniture is soaked. So easily could this image be used for a shattered love affair. In a way, that is the kind of intimacy brought to the personal relationship with God. This is not an experience to be trifled with. It touches on the deepest of our interpersonal dealings as human beings. We rightfully see “me-and-God” in the same way. If we love him.

My eyes are dimmed with sorrow,
worn out because of all my foes. (8)

The psalmist can’t resist a zing to opponents. Maybe they are like certain Biblical companions, insisting that Job must be at fault somehow, and feeling free to make speeches about it. The psalmist resists, and offers a final acclamation of confidence. God has already noticed the soaked cushions and bed sheets. Help is on the way:

Away from me, all who do evil!
The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD will receive my prayer. (9-10)

A final jab at the enemies, and the piece closes out:

My foes will all be disgraced and will shudder greatly;
they will turn back in sudden disgrace. (11)

I realize that editors for the Lectionary and the rites made some choices to abbreviate the Psalms for communal singing. But as a prayer in its own right, Psalm 6 is brief and I would advocate for using it whole.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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