Jonah’s Lament

Image credit: By Diliff, CC BY 2.5,

I was thinking of the prophet Jonah earlier today. Specifically, his psalm that is featured in chapter two of the book of that name.

In liturgy, how would this lyric fit? It doesn’t appear in the Sunday or daily Lectionary of the Roman Rite. It’s not part of the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, though I believe the Anglicans use the text.

If we’re aware of the state of mind of the prophet, maybe this passage is good for reconciliation–in Jonah’s admission of fault for running away from God. As an expression of rescue, maybe it fits for pastoral care of the sick.

I’d attach the frequently heard antiphon from Psalm 116:9:

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

Out of my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me;
From the womb of Sheol I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,
and the flood enveloped me;
All your breakers and your billows
passed over me.

Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!
How will I again look upon your holy temple?”
The waters surged around me up to my neck;
the deep enveloped me;
seaweed wrapped around my head.

I went down to the roots of the mountains;
to the land whose bars closed behind me forever,
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD, my God.

When I became faint, I remembered the LORD;
My prayer came to you in your holy temple.
Those who worship worthless idols
abandon their hope for mercy.

But I, with thankful voice,
will sacrifice to you;
What I have vowed I will pay:
deliverance is from the LORD.

(2:3, 4, 5-6, 7, 8-9, 10)

Maybe because the lyric is similar to previous laments in Psalms 40, 42-43, 69, 116. Maybe because this expression of thanksgiving is buried in a prophetic book. Given the repetition we see often in psalm repeats through the Lectionary and the Hours, I think it’s a worthy addition. Verse 7 stands out for me: a real expression of hitting bottom. You can’t get lower than the roots of mountains and still be in the Earth’s crust.

Some Scripture scholars see this as an older psalm inserted into the scroll of the reluctant prophet. Maybe I would say a brief meditation touching on small excerpts of psalm texts. Or not. I think the book of Jonah is older than the last few books of the Psalter. The best fit for genre is a thanksgiving. The psalmist relates an experience of falling so low it is nearly a time of death. Certainly it is a humiliation. But God lifts us up, rescues us, gives us reasons to be grateful.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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