The twenty-seventh psalm surfaces often in the Roman Rite. It is one of nine common psalms for Ordinary Time, a substitution option for a liturgy when the day’s assigned text gives no known or better option for singing.
One can also choose it for a funeral, as we wrote here. Or as part of the prayer of penance or confession. Years ago, an engaged couple inquired about using Psalm 27 for their wedding. A good impulse, because the text of the first seven verses function as a “song of trust,” as Scripture scholars observe.
But today, we look at this psalm through the lens of sickness and perhaps the nearness of death. Where does our gaze first land? The suggested antiphon is derived from verse 14, an expression of confidence:
Put your hope in the Lord, take courage and be strong.
The psalmist appears to be encouraging the temple worshipers to move beyond life’s laments. In putting the texts of the Bible to music, we lay people are often given the words of the worship leader, the priest, or even God. Nothing wrong with this; it is part of the human condition to echo the good words we are given in life. Loved ones are certainly rooting for us during our time of suffering, so repeating their encouragement might help it take deeper root.
In personal prayer, I might suggest the praying of the entirety of Psalm 27. In a liturgical format, I’d probably recommend a division of the text into six “stanzas,” something like this:
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek:
To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.
For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble,
He will conceal me in the cover of his tent;
and set me high upon a rock.
Hear my voice, LORD, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.
“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”;
your face, LORD, do I seek!
Do not hide your face from me;
do not repel your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off;
do not forsake me, God my savior!
Even if my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will take me in.
1 – So often fear is the human reaction to experiences we fail to understand. Serious injury we can blame on an event, our fault or another’s. Illness may or may not have a connection to an ill-considered practice of our past. Still, the frequent message of angels is “Ne timeas,” or, do not fear. This can be a tall ask of a person facing the end of life as they’ve known it.
4 – Many saints had a single-mindedness about their lives. That saying linked to Saint John Paul II, totus tuus, totally yours, is part of that vector. We might quibble about “one thing” becoming two, “to dwell” and “to gaze,” but these are two aspects of that total commitment to being close to God. We live with God in a single place of sanctity and our eyes behold the totality of the experience.
5 – Another lyrical contrast of a tent, protection, and a high rock, triumph and perspective.
7 – This verse begins a passage of lament. To lament is to tell the truth, and in the tradition of Judaism, to be bold about expressing it. To object to a significant life’s change, and especially the end of life is worth complaining about. Giving voice, and placing in the context of prayer does God no harm–the Almighty is well aware of the interior emotions of his daughters and sons. For some people, it’s the only firm ground at hand.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.