Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Psalm 42-43

Scholars consider the numbers 42 and 43 to be one psalm. How it got numbered separately, that must be a matter of the unknown stretches of religious history. The text is also to be found at the Easter Vigil if a parish uses the seventh reading from Ezekiel 36.

How do we assert 42-43 is one? Mainly from the thrice-repeated refrain in verses 42:6, 12, and 43:5. Those who assembled the Pastoral Care lectionary omitted those verses, and most of the 42nd Psalm.

It is a lament, as many psalms chosen for the sick and dying are. The feeling of loss is directed at joining with others for worship. And many homebound people of faith do indeed miss the opportunity to gather with others for live worship. YouTube just doesn’t do it for most folks.

The antiphon is much loved, and much set to music in the Christian tradition:

Like a deer that longs for running streams,
my soul longs for you, my God

In the NABRE the stanzas are of varying lengths. The first, verse 42:3, restates a very personal longing for God, not unlike other expressions we pray in Psalms 63 or 84.

42:3
My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
When can I enter and see the face of God?

The psalmist gets personal as memories are recalled. Certainly the person at home has ample time to bring worship and other social experiences to mind:

5
Those times I recall as I pour out my soul,
When I would cross over to the shrine of the Mighty One,
to the house of God,
Amid loud cries of thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.

The psalmist searches for a route back through the darkness, and the seriously ill person certainly identifies with that.

43:3
Send your light and your fidelity,
that they may be my guide;
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place of your dwelling,

The invocation from the old Latin Mass is invoked, though with the inclusion of a plucked string instrument:

4
That I may come to the altar of God,
to God, my joy, my delight.
Then I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

The entire text of Psalm 42-43 is a worthy inclusion for the prayer of anyone feeling loss or separation from their usual routines. The images are of nature: a thirsty animal, the power of surging waters, the joy of light in darkness. As with many laments, there is a contrast between the present experience of wishfulness and the recollection of good times. One of my favorite psalms, even when I’m not sick.

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

About catholicsensibility

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

1 Response to Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Psalm 42-43

  1. Liam says:

    If you’ve ever witnessed true, agonizing thirst, this psalm (and Christ’s words from the Cross, “I thirst”) become much more indelible. It’s not the thirst from working. This is the thirst of life and death.

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