The Psalm for Sunday’s Mass

On Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul.

The first reading on Sunday – from Acts of the Apostles – tells of martyrdom and of the imprisonment and liberation of Peter.

Having heard that reading, the Church invites us to pray verses from Psalm 34.

The whole psalm is given below, with the verses set for the Liturgy of the Word marked in bold.

A few observations first.

  • The biblical superscription to the Psalm contains an error! David feigned madness before the Philistine king Achish (cf 1 Samuel 21.14), not Abimelech (cf Genesis 20).
  • The opening verses of the psalm apply most directly to the reading from Acts, but the latter verses are those maybe most directly related to 1 Samuel.
  • Psalm 34 is one the Psalter’s acrostic psalms. Beginning with the first line, each line of the psalm begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet (though the 6th letter is missing, for some reason). The acrostic is not replicated in the English translation used at Mass, or the new translation given below, but it was there in the Knox translation. You can find that at the end of this post!
  • The psalm exhibits calm confidence in God, echoing aspects of the wisdom tradition that meets with challenge in the Book of Job.
    • Those reading on into the psalm might wonder how (or whether) it is true that ‘Many are the trials of the just man,/ but from them all the Lord will rescue him.’ The traditional answer in Christianity is that even if we meet with a martyr’s death in this life (cf James in the first reading on Sunday, and of course – later – both Peter and Paul) the Lord promises us eternal life.
    • The Psalm encourages us to trust in the saving love of God capable of defending the faithful in ways that we can trust in, but not necessarily comprehend. The words of Jesus come to mind: he offers us peace such that the world cannot give…

Psalm 34 (33)

1Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

2              I will bless the Lord at all times;
            praise of him is always in my mouth.
3           In the Lord my soul shall make its boast;
            the humble shall hear and be glad.


4           Glorify the Lord with me;
            together let us praise his name.
5           I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
            from all my terrors he set me free.

6           Look toward him and be radiant;
            let your faces not be abashed.
7           This lowly one called; the Lord heard,
            and rescued him from all his distress.


8           The angel of the Lord is encamped
            around those who fear him, to rescue them.
9           Taste and see that the Lord is good.

            Blessed the man who seeks refuge in him.

10         Fear the Lord, you his holy ones.
            They lack nothing, those who fear him.
11         The rich suffer want and go hungry,
            but those who seek the Lord lack no blessing.

12         Come, children, and hear me,
            that I may teach you the fear of the Lord.
13         Who is it that desires life
            and longs to see prosperous days?

14         Guard your tongue from evil,
            and your lips from speaking deceit.
15         Turn aside from evil and do good.
            Seek after peace, and pursue it.

16         The Lord turns his eyes to the just,
            and his ears are open to their cry.
17         The Lord turns his face against the wicked
            to destroy their remembrance from the earth.

18         When the just cry out, the Lord hears,
            and rescues them in all their distress.
19         The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
            those whose spirit is crushed he will save.

20         Many are the trials of the just man,
            but from them all the Lord will rescue him.
21         He will keep guard over all his bones;
            not one of his bones shall be broken.

22         Evil brings death to the wicked;
            those who hate the just man are doomed.
23         The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants.
            All who trust in him shall not be condemned.

Psalm-prayer
(Psalm-prayers are an optional feature of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. They provide an opportunity for those who have read the psalm to pause and apply it to their own situation)

Graciously hear us, Lord, for we seek only you.
You are near to those whose heart is right.
Open yourself to accept our sorrowful spirit;
calm our bodies and minds with the peace which surpasses understanding.

The Knox translation:

(Of David, when he feigned madness at the court of Abimelech, so that Abimelech sent him away, and he escaped. )
2 At all times I will bless the Lord; his praise shall be on my lips continually.
3 Be all my boasting in the Lord; listen to me, humble souls, and rejoice.
4 Come, sing the Lord’s praise with me, let us extol his name together.
5 Did I not look to the Lord, and find a hearing; did he not deliver me from all my terrors?
6 Ever look to him, and in him find happiness; here is no room for downcast looks.
7 Friendless folk may still call upon the Lord and gain his ear, and be rescued from all their afflictions.
8 Guardian of those who fear the Lord, his angel encamps at their side, and brings deliverance.
9 How gracious the Lord is! Taste and prove it; blessed is the man that learns to trust in him.
10 It is for you, his chosen servants, to fear the Lord; those who fear him never go wanting.
11 Justly do the proud fall into hunger and want; blessing they lack not that look to him.
12 Know, then, my children, what the fear of the Lord is; come and listen to my teaching.
13 Long life, and prosperous days, who would have these for the asking?
14 My counsel is, keep thy tongue clear of harm, and thy lips free from every treacherous word.
15 Naught of evil cherish thou, but rather do good; let peace be all thy quest and aim.
16 On the upright the Lord’s eye ever looks favourably; his ears are open to their pleading.
17 Perilous is his frown for the wrong-doers; he will soon make their name vanish from the earth.
18 Roused by the cry of the innocent, the Lord sets them free from all their afflictions.
19 So near is he to patient hearts, so ready to defend the humbled spirit.
20 Though a hundred trials beset the innocent, the Lord will bring him safely through them all.
21 Under the Lord’s keeping, every bone of his is safe; not one of them shall suffer harm.
22 Villainy hastes to its own undoing; the enemies of innocence will bear their punishment.
23 The Lord will claim his servant as his own; they go unreproved that put their trust in him.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Psalm: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photograph (c) 2016, Allen Morris. David. Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

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