The Psalm the church sings at Mass this Sunday – even if most of us earthly congregants are confined to saying it! – is a much reduced version of the source-psalm, a psalm of praise, and confession of faith – but also of worry and confusion.
The need for such trimming is maybe self-evident, but in our more private reflection we have the advantage of being able to linger over more of its verses… (and complexity of thought and feeling beyond what is presented in the Lectionary).
The psalm praises the One God, the God of Israel, who holds David close and safe, and makes covenant with him to cherish and keep safe his descendnts.
We who are spiritual descendants, joined with Israel, through Jesus, Son of David, do well to rejoice at the blessings we too share in.
Towards its end the psalm moves into lament, placing before God the trials and tribulations of the people. We would do well to do the same, not least this year as we grapple still with things that cause of suffering – for example, the Pandemic; failures in the Church to protect the vulnerable and bring the guilty to justice; economic pressures on families, especially where work has dried up because of the health crisis; loneliness; sickness. There are so many things.
In the Psalm it is as though David then runs out of words but, after some pause, returns quietly to praise God, who he continues to find steadfast in his commitment to his people.
Actually the last line of the psalm is not part of the psalm at all, but a prose conclusion to the third book of the Psalter as presented in the Scriptures.
The Psalm itself ends, in fact, mid lament.
- Where are we in our ‘talk’ with God?
- Mid lament?
- Not daring yet to bring our lament to God?
- Able to reaffirm God’s trustworthiness despite everything ?
Speak with God about that – about how your relationship with God has developed over this past year.
Responsorial Psalm for the 4th Sunday of Advent
(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)
Psalm 89 (88)
1 A Maskil. For Ethan the Ezrahite.
2 I will sing for ever of your mercies, O LORD;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your fidelity.
3 I have declared your mercy is established for ever;
your fidelity stands firm as the heavens.
4 ‘With my chosen one I have made a covenant;
I have sworn to David my servant:
5 I will establish your descendants for ever,
and set up your throne through all ages.’
6 The heavens praise your wonders, O LORD,
your fidelity, too, in the assembly of your holy ones.
7 For who in the skies can compare with the LORD,
or who is like the LORD among the heavenly powers?
8 A God to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
great and wondrous above all around him.
9 O LORD God of hosts, who is your equal?
You are mighty, O LORD, and fidelity surrounds you.
10 It is you who rule the raging of the sea;
it is you who still the surging of its waves.
11 It is you who crush Rahab underfoot like a corpse;
you scatter your foes with your mighty arm.
12 The heavens are yours, the earth is yours;
you have founded the world and its fullness;
13 it is you who created the North and the South.
Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at your name.
14 Yours is a mighty arm.
Your hand is strong; your right hand is exalted.
15 Uprightness and justice are the pillars of your throne;
mercy and fidelity walk in your presence.
16 How blessed the people who know your praise,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
17 who find their joy every day in your name,
who make your uprightness their joyful acclaim.
18 For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favour it is that our might is exalted.
19 Behold, the LORD is our shield;
he is the Holy One of Israel, our king.
20 Then you spoke in a vision.
To your faithful ones you said,
‘I have bestowed my help on a warrior,
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
21 I have found my servant David,
and with my holy oil anointed him.
22 My hand shall always be with him,
and my arm shall make him strong.
23 The enemy shall never outwit him,
nor shall the son of iniquity humble him.
24 I will beat down his foes before him,
and those who hate him I will strike.
25 My mercy and my faithfulness shall be with him;
by my name his might shall be exalted.
26 I will stretch out his hand to the Sea,
and his right hand upon the Rivers.
27 He will call out to me, “You are my father,
my God, the rock of my salvation”.
28 I for my part will make him my firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
29 I will keep my faithful love for him always;
with him my covenant shall last.
30 I will establish his descendants for ever,
and his throne as lasting as the days of heaven.
31 If his descendants forsake my law
and refuse to walk as I decree,
32 and if ever they violate my statutes,
failing to keep my commands:
33 Then I will punish their offenses with the rod;
then I will scourge them on account of their guilt.
34 But I will never take back my mercy;
my fidelity will never fail.
35 I will never violate my covenant,
nor go back on the promise of my lips.
36 Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness.
“I will never lie to David.
37 His descendants shall continue for ever.
In my sight his throne is like the sun;
38 like the moon, it shall endure for ever,
a faithful witness in the heavens.”’
39 But yet you have spurned and rejected,
you are angry with the one you have anointed.
40 You have renounced your covenant with your servant,
and dishonoured his crown in the dust.
41 You have broken down all his walls,
and reduced his fortresses to ruins.
42 All who pass by despoil him;
he has become the taunt of his neighbours.
43 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
44 You have turned back the edge of his sword;
you have not upheld him in battle.
45 You have brought his glory to an end;
you have hurled his throne to the ground.
46 You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have heaped disgrace upon him.
47 How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself for ever?
How long will your anger burn like a fire?
48 Remember the shortness of my life,
and how frail you have made the children of Adam.
49 What man can live and never see death?
Who can save himself from the grasp of Sheol?
50 Where are your mercies of the past, O Lord,
which you swore in your faithfulness to David?
51 Remember, O Lord, the taunts to your servant,
how I bear in my breast the scorn of many peoples.
52 Thus your enemies lift up a taunt, O LORD,
taunting your anointed at every step.
* * *
 Blest be the LORD for ever.
Amen and amen!
~ Translation of Psalm: From Abbey Psalms and Canticles, prepared by the monks of Conception Abbey © 2008, 2010 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC ~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2018, Allen Morris. Sacre Coeur, Paris.