Over a decade ago, we blogged on section 347 of the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF). According to the Church, these psalms may be “chosen for use in various places within the rites.” Mostly, I think this section was designed for the Liturgy of the Hours. But liturgists and musicians might do well to consider a text like Psalm 134 not only for Compline (its traditional use in the Roman Rite) or Evening Prayer (a thought), but perhaps for other times when prayer with a pastoral touch is needed.
Two options are given for an antiphon:
Bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord.
In the stillness of the night, bless the Lord.
This is one of the shortest Psalms in the Bible. Maybe a good call for an exhausted family at the bedside of the deceased, or at the Vigil:
O come, bless the LORD,
all you who serve the LORD,
who stand in the house of the Lord
in the courts of the house of our God.
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the LORD through the night.
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made both heaven and earth.
This is the text given in the OCF. It’s the old Grail translation–the new version differs in some phrasing–I think it’s a bit inferior to the 1963 text which was used in the 1989 revision of the funeral rites.
When I work with families to plan a funeral, I suggest that three considerations can guide their choices. Is the Scripture text about God, or some teaching on death, resurrection, etc.. In other words, of general interest. A second choice is a Bible passage that highlights some aspect of the deceased’s qualities–like the worthy wife in Proverbs 31.
Psalm 134 strikes me as a third category, a ministry to the mourners. Loved ones have waited for death to come, faithful at the hospice bed, keeping sleepless nights, worrying about the suffering of the dying one.
The house of the dying person is certainly a house of the Lord. It is a place where sacred things happen, perhaps reconciliations or confessions or intense prayer. When we are in a sacred place, we rarely slouch. We might be on our knees. The Psalmist suggests we stand, a gesture of confidence and hope. We lift up hands, and in doing so we acknowledge the ultimate power in the universe. God’s blessings are available, and the created universe–not just the holy places–are locations to receive these blessings.