Office for the Dead: Evening Prayer Psalms

As we get deeper into a look into the Office for the Dead, a reminder of our discussion of the funeral rites almost ten years ago. I would offer caution that funerals are not the time for promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as a “cause.” When I might say that personally I’d prefer the Office to the Liturgy of the Word, that’s expressed as my choice. Not necessarily the optimal option for every believer or community.

I’m going to begin with Evening Prayer or Vespers in this 2020 study of the funeral rites. Early evening is a more common time for the gathering of mourners and friends outside of Mass.

In OCF 388, the following rubric is given:

During the psalms and canticle,* all may sit or stand, according to custom.

That footnote reads:

The method for singing each psalm and canticle as presented here is one way that may be used; other ways may also be used.

More in red:

FIRST PSALM–The cantor sings the antiphon and all repeat it; the cantor then sings the stanzas of the psalm and all repeat the antiphon after each stanza.

The first text given is Psalm 121 with the following antiphon:

The Lord will keep you from all evil. He will guard your soul.

This is essentially how most Catholics experience the psalms in a Liturgy of the Word. It may be the best choice, but it’s not the only possibility as the footnote suggests.

The rubric for the second Psalm, the 130th offers an alternative:

The cantor sings the antiphon and all repeat it. Two groups alternate singing the stanzas of the psalm; the last stanza, the doxology, is sung by all. The antiphon may be repeated by all after the the doxology.

The given antiphon:

If you kept a record of our sins, Lord, who could escape condemnation?

I have a response to those who claim the post-conciliar Church has whitewashed the possibilities of sin, condemnation, and hell. Look at the Scriptures and other texts of the liturgy. I find a balance. If some ministers avoid difficult talks about final things, that’s on them. Not the Council or its fruits.

The New Testament canticle is Philippians 2:6-11. The antiphon is an interesting composition I’ve not seen set to music in the thirty-plus years since the promulgation of the OCF:

As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to whom he wills.

One thing struck me in my recent review of this. There is a lovely progression in these antiphon texts. One advantage in this is that it gives the liturgy a sense of narrative and progression. It’s not just texts randomly dropped in on random days of the week. It’s probably not a surprise each of these Old Testament texts are part of the pilgrimage songs in Psalms 120 through 134.

In this narrative, we are reminded that God protects us from evil on our journey. But we know we do fall prey to sin. The notion that God keeps a record book is dashed. The Church reminds us that none of us can honestly claim justification. We are also reminded of Christ’s agency in salvation and that he has gone where we will one day follow. We can have hope our beloved dead will follow. This is the choice of the Judge, of Christ himself. Not the Church. Not secular authorities. And not any of us, based on an earthly reputation. If it makes us uneasy about the eternal fate of the beloved, we can pray. But we don’t presume anything.

Are these the only psalms that could be used? OCF 347 provides an ample Psalter for use “in various places within the rites,” and I would assume that includes the Liturgy of the Hours.



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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