Funeral Lectionary: Psalm 119 XIX

Over a decade ago, we blogged on section 347 of the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF). There we read that these psalms may be “chosen for use in various places within the rites.” For the most part I think this section was designed for the Liturgy of the Hours.

That massive meditation on the Law, the 119th Psalm, contributes the verses below (145-152). In the Divine Office, one usually finds this text assigned in eight-verse sections during the daytime hours. The Church also prays these verses in Saturday morning prayer, weeks one and three.

In the Hebrew original, the first letter of the first word is the nineteenth in the alphabet of that language, Qoph, hence the designation of “XIX,” not a Hebrew number obviously. The suggested antiphon for the funeral rites:

I cry for your help, O Lord. Your word is my hope.

And four stanzas of two verses each read:

I call with all my heart; LORD, hear me.
I will keep your commands.
I call upon you; save me,
and I will do your will.

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your word.
My eyes watch through the night,
to ponder your promise.

In your love, hear my voice, O LORD;
give me life by your decrees.
Those who harm me unjustly draw near;
they are far from your law.

But you, O LORD, are close;
your commands are truth.
Long have I known that your will
is established forever.

How does this fit for the occasion of death, especially since the morning or daytime might be occupied with a funeral? The Law might be a distracting topic at the time of death when mourners might be needful of comforting or desirous of Scripture that reflected something of a quality in the beloved or a teaching of Jesus or the Church about eternal life.

That said, this text is a quite honest plea for help from God in a time of difficulty. When a loved one has died, we might well suffer some sleeplessness–worry, regret, anxiety over the future ahead. For the faithful Jewish believer, the Torah, the Law was a source of comfort. Just as the sacraments and the Eucharist are for many Christians today.

Verses 147-148 describe what could be a lengthy day of mourning: hope in the dark morning before sunrise, a pondering in the night after dusk. A lament of sorts continues: the psalmist is hassled by injustice and its perpetrators. And isn’t it sadly true that those who gather wealth and resources in our world care little for the trials of a person who has suffered a death in the family or a close friend who has passed from this life? Maybe these verses are worth a look and a prayer after all.

About catholicsensibility

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