Friday, March 8, 2019

The Penitential Psalms & Lent

Morning Prayer seems most beneficial when it results in some searching beyond the provided texts and “learning” of some new things about Sacred Scripture, theology, or Church history. The quotes around that word in the previous sentence suggest that I don’t usually remember much from such searches and depend on some personally written summary I can refer to later. There is joy in organizing and summarizing information in a way that will be useful. So, here is one such simple summary.

Today (3/8/2019), one of the Morning Prayer readings is Psalm 51. I was inspired (or inclined) to look it up in the Catholic Study Bible, 2nd Edition (NABRE) and found this commentary: “A lament, the most famous of the seven penitential Psalms…” The first word of Psalm 51 in Latin is Miserere (have mercy).

For the record, here are the seven Penitential Psalms including a key phrase from each:
  • Psalm 6: Have pity on me Lord, for I am weak (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 32: Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide (vs. 5)
  • Psalm 38: I acknowledge my guilt and grieve over my sin (vs 19)
  • Psalm 51: Have mercy on me God, in accord with your merciful love (vs. 3)
  • Psalm 102: Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you (vs. 1)
  • Psalm 130: But with you (Lord) is forgiveness and so you are revered (vs. 4)
  • Psalm 143: Show me the path I should walk, for I entrust my life to you (vs. 8b)

All seven have traditionally been identified as Psalms of King David, famous for his adultery, murder, disobedience, and love of and by God.  No wonder these Psalms are associated with and used during Lent!

I was aware of the Penitential Psalms but not of the first documentation of Christian recognition of them nor of recognizer Cassiodorus, sixth century monastery founder and author of Exposition of the Psalms. An interesting quote is in this link about the exposition: “Cassiodorus, like many patristic commentators, saw the psalms as the necessary starting point for Scriptural study: one should learn the psalms first, he suggests, and only then move on to the New Testament, for they serve as preparation for it.” Anybody out there who has “learned the Psalms?”

And according to this link, the seven were part of Jewish liturgy as early as the third century and have sometimes been associated with the Seven Deadly Sins.

And below is some penitential music, Miserere Mei.