Sometimes the death of a loved one is an occasion for quiet resignation. The anger is gone. Our emotions are spent. Perhaps there has been some conflict within a family or among friends. Perhaps the circumstances of death are troubling or controversial.
When this site looked at the funeral lectionary over a decade ago, we mentioned section 347 of the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF). This section immediately precedes the unit on the Liturgy of the Hours. But the antiphons usually associated with Psalm 123 at Mass are used here. There is a choice of two:
Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy
To you. O Lord. I lift up my eyes.
And the psalm itself is divided up into three neat stanzas:
To you have I lifted up my eyes,
you who dwell in the heavens.
Behold, like the eyes of slaves
on the hand of their lords.
Like the eyes of a servant
on the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes are on the LORD our God,
till he show us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy.
We are filled with contempt.
Indeed, all too full is our soul
with the scorn of the rich,
with the proud (one’s) disdain.
The context of this Psalm is important if you are considering it for a celebration of the Eucharist, a Word service, or the Liturgy of the Hours. The 123rd was part of the pilgrimage experience to the Jerusalem Temple. It was a time after the Babylonian Exile, and the experience of the psalmist may have personalized the disdain and scorn heaped on the ancient Jews from neighboring lands. A once-proud nation, conquered and its population scattered, tries to rebuild. Why bother, the rich ask. It can be easier to go along, and blend into the surrounding culture.
Today, some family members might feel pressed upon by others. The deceased was unworthy of a church funeral. A funeral is old-fashioned, too expensive, and opens up too many wounds. What does the loyal Christian do? Join with the psalmist in lifting one’s gaze to God. Turn one’s eyes from other people who unsettle and perturb our efforts to mourn and even celebrate.
You might be surprised at the number of funerals where the undercurrent in the family or parish is troubling. If you feel it, don’t be afraid of trotting out Psalm 123 as a suggestion or an expression of faith.
Note: the new Grail translation and the old Grail, above, are identical until the last two lines of stanza three. This version of the Psalms will soon replace the translation we have sung and heard in the Lectionary the past half-century. It is adaptable to more styles of singing or chanting.