By Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min
Psalm 130 — Prayer for Pardon and Mercy
Gifted writers from Oscar Wilde to Alfred Lord Tennyson to Dorothy Parker have used the informal title of this psalm, “De profundis,” as the title for one of their works. Those two words—the Latin for “Out
of the depths”—and the Psalm they symbolize have come to evoke the
sense of despondency and emotional torment that poets often feel more
keenly than the rest of us. And yet, who among us is unacquainted with
the sentiments communicated here? We most often hear this Psalm at times
of mourning, when we bury our dearly departed. In that context, it
expresses our earnest prayer for God’s mercy on the deceased, relying on
God to toss aside the ledger of the person’s sins and judge instead out
of his bountiful compassion.
But for centuries the Church has
presented this as a preeminent prayer for sinners who feel the weight of
the burden they have brought upon themselves, of those who feel like
they’ve sunk to the depths of the sea, a place of chaos and alienation.
Imagine yourself engulfed in violent waters, dragged to the bottom
amidst swirling eddies of turgid water with nothing to grasp, no light
to find your bearings, sinking ever deeper into cold and murky darkness.
That is the premise of this brief Psalm which does overtly what all the
Penitential Psalms seek to do, invite us to join the psalmist in
turning to the Lord to confess our sins and beg his mercy.
note that the longer half of the Psalm expresses the psalmist’s hope,
his stalwart trust in God who is mercy and redemption. The psalmist
models the attitude of a sincere penitent: he doesn’t deny or hide his
sin; he knows God is more mercy than vengeance; he hopes sincerely that
dawn will bring the light of mercy, a word of hope, the healing rain of
redemption. At the Easter Vigil we sing “O happy fault; O necessary sin of Adam”
referring to the trespass that brought about the Incarnation and our
merciful salvation in Christ. The words “O happy fault” could issue only
from the mouth of one who, like the psalmist, understands that where
sins abounds, grace and mercy abound the more.
Questions for Reflection
In a letter he wrote from prison, Oscar Wilde quotes these words of Goethe:
‘Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the midnight hours
Weeping and waiting for the morrow,—
He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.’
Do you agree that knowing sorrow is necessary for a full, mature relationship with God?
In what ways has sorrow deepened your own relationship with the Lord?
Can we genuinely repent our sins if we have not truly recognized the darkness they bring into our lives and into the world?
What helps you to find the hope in God’s mercy that the psalmist describes so palpably here?
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