The 71st Psalm is assigned to the Holy Week Lectionary for Tuesday. It has an echo with Good Friday’s Psalm 31. It is also a possibility for the pastoral care for people who are sick and dying.
Scripture scholars classify this work as a lament. As such, the psalmist is in distress. Here, particularly, this is old age. There is an outcry against enemies in verses 10-13–probably why these have been largely eliminated from consideration for liturgy. Although one of the suggested antiphons for this psalm, when prayed responsorially, is from verse 12, My God, come quickly to help me.
Every Biblical lament ends with an expression of praise and hope. God hasn’t saved me yet, the psalmist sings, but deliverance will come, as verse 23 suggests in the alternate antiphon: My lips, my very soul will shout for joy: you have redeemed me.
What is redemption? In ancient Israel it was something of a legal and cultural patronage. Needy family members were the responsibility of an elder. Wealth and provision were intended to be shared when necessary. The appeal to God is not only a religious and devotional act. In a way it is claiming the Almighty as a (literal) godfather who has a legal and cultural obligation to watch over the one in lament, to assist in making things right.
The Psalm is moderately long; those who assembled the Lectionary for Pastoral Care of the Sick chose select verses, 1-2, 5-6, 8-9, and 14-15 for its four stanzas. Praying the psalm in its entirety is another choice. When, you might ask? The Pastoral Care rites (Cf. 297) in listing Scripture passages, suggest them for use at Mass, when visiting the sick, or when praying for the sick. The Psalms are perhaps overlooked as material for personal prayer of the sick person. These liturgical offerings may well be suggested for the quiet moments when lament is strong, helpers seem absent, and the danger closes in.
In you, LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue and deliver me;
listen to me and save me!
You are my hope, Lord;
my trust, GOD, from my youth.
On you I have depended since birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength;
my hope in you never wavers.
My mouth shall be filled with your praise,
shall sing your glory every day.
Do not cast me aside in my old age;
as my strength fails, do not forsake me.
I will always hope in you
and add to all your praise.
My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds,
day after day your acts of deliverance,
though I cannot number them all.
The psalmist’s conclusion of optimism is a cure against the oft-spoken, “What have you done for me lately?” Assistance from God is so ample, we cannot track it. An optimism more of aspiration for most of us when we are seriously sick. Illness and injury tend to keep us in the moment. A longer perspective through the years may be of use to the one in recovery.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.