Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Psalm 109

The vehemence of Psalm 109 sparked my prayer recently. It is one of the major imprecatory psalms we discussed here two months ago. After the curses and ill-wishes, there is a tenderness in the appeal to God. I was wondering how the last third of the work would fit for the pastoral care Lectionary.

If it weren’t for an apostolic feast a week from Thursday, some of these verses make an appearance in the daily Mass Lectionary. I might suggest something a bit different from 21-22, 26-27, 30-31, assigned for Thursday of the 30th week. From the revised Grail, perhaps these:

But you, O LORD, my Lord,
do with me as befits your name.
How good your merciful love! Deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is pierced within me. (21-22)

I fade like an evening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak from fasting;
my body is thin and gaunt. (23-24)

I have become an object of scorn;
when (others) see me they shake their heads.
Help me, LORD my God;
save me with your merciful love. (25-26)

Loud thanks to the LORD are on my lips.
I will praise him in the midst of the throng,
for he stands at the right hand of the poor,
to save (their) soul(s) from those who condemn (them). (30-31)

Verse 26 is a natural antiphon:

Help me, LORD my God;
save me with your merciful love.


The Roman practice with Lectionary psalms often finds a selective picking of verses, so I wouldn’t have a problem with the post-curse section of Psalm 109.

Once the Psalmist’s anger at persecutors is spent, the following lament is heartfelt. I like the inclusion of verses 23-24, which don’t find their way into the Scriptures at Mass. The imagery: a shadow fading into the darkness of night, or feeling as insignificant as an insect–something with which the modern worshipper might find identification.

Modern Western culture certainly finds serious illness a challenge, often something to be avoided. Our health and fitness-conscious sensibilities sometimes dismiss the sick too easily. And even within the medical establishment, there are problems. I think of male doctors dismissing the health concerns of women, preferring to treat them instead as female men. We also know that persons of color in many areas of the US often get a level of health care that wouldn’t be out of place in the Third World. Is that worth a curse from a sickbed? I wouldn’t shush someone who felt that way.

The practice of the Biblical lament is always to include an utterance of confidence. While the overall mood of Psalm 109 might see such an offering of praise as out of place, I think a faithfulness to our Jewish forebears on this point is important. Sick people are abused, certainly. But trust in God, and in the healing companionship of Jesus Christ is a constant for the disciple.

Use with caution, I suppose. Especially if a reference to the whole of the psalm is called for. But a very rich expression of reliance on God in time of personal pain and suffering.

Looking for an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites? Then check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago. The text of The Revised Grail Psalms are Copyright © 2010, Conception Abbey/The Grail, admin. by GIA Publications, Inc., All rights reserved.

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.

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