Psalm 102 - New American Bible, Revised Edition
The Seven Penitential Psalms
During times when we wish to express repentance and especially during Lent, it is customary to pray the seven penitential psalms. The penitential designation of these psalms dates from the seventh century. Prayerfully reciting these psalms will help us to recognize our sinfulness, express our sorrow and ask for God’s forgiveness.
We are featuring here the newly released translations of the seven penitential psalms from the New American Bible, Revised Edition with reflections and discussion questions from Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min.
Psalm 102: Audio | Commentary
Prayer in Time of Distress
1The prayer of one afflicted and wasting away whose anguish is
poured out before the LORD.
2LORD, hear my prayer;
let my cry come to you.
3Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.a
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
4For my days vanish like smoke;b
my bones burn away as in a furnace.
5My heart is withered, dried up like grass,
too wasted to eat my food.
6From my loud groaning
I become just skin and bones.
7I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
8I lie awake and moan,
like a lone sparrow on the roof.
9All day long my enemies taunt me;
in their rage, they make my name a curse.*
10I eat ashes like bread,
mingle my drink with tears.c
11Because of your furious wrath,
you lifted me up just to cast me down.
12dMy days are like a lengthening shadow;e
I wither like the grass.
13But you, LORD, are enthroned forever;
your renown is for all generations.f
14You will again show mercy to Zion;
now is the time for pity;
the appointed time has come.
15Its stones are dear to your servants;
its dust moves them to pity.
16The nations shall fear your name, LORD,
all the kings of the earth, your glory,g
17Once the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in glory,
18Heeding the plea of the lowly,
not scorning their prayer.
19Let this be written for the next generation,
for a people not yet born,
that they may praise the LORD:h
20*“The LORD looked down from the holy heights,
viewed the earth from heaven,i
21To attend to the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”j
22Then the LORD’s name will be declared on Zion,
his praise in Jerusalem,
23When peoples and kingdoms gather
to serve the LORD.k
24He has shattered my strength in mid-course,
has cut short my days.
25I plead, O my God,
do not take me in the midst of my days.*l
Your years last through all generations.
26Of old you laid the earth’s foundations;m
the heavens are the work of your hands.
27They perish, but you remain;
they all wear out like a garment;
Like clothing you change them and they are changed,
28but you are the same, your years have no end.
29May the children of your servants live on;
may their descendants live in your presence.n
* [Psalm 102] A lament, one of the Penitential Psalms. The psalmist, experiencing psychological and bodily disintegration (Ps 102:4–12), cries out to God (Ps 102:1–3). In the Temple precincts where God has promised to be present, the psalmist recalls God’s venerable promises to save the poor (Ps 102:13–23). The final part (Ps 102:24–28) restates the original complaint and prayer, and emphasizes God’s eternity.
* [102:9] They make my name a curse: enemies use the psalmist’s name in phrases such as, “May you be as wretched as this person!”
* [102:20–23] Both Ps 102:20–21 and Ps 102:22–23 depend on Ps 102:19.
* [102:25] In the midst of my days: when the normal span of life is but half completed, cf. Is 38:10; Jer 17:11.
a. [102:3] Ps 69:18; 143:7.
b. [102:4–6] Ps 38:7–9.
c. [102:10] Ps 42:4; 80:6.
d. [102:12] Ps 109:23; 144:4; Jb 8:9; 14:2; Eccl 6:12; Wis 2:5.
e. [102:12] Ps 90:5–6.
f. [102:13] Ps 55:20; 90:2; 93:2; 135:13; 145:13; Lam 5:19; Heb 1:12.
g. [102:16] Is 59:19; 66:18.
h. [102:19] Ps 22:31–32.
i. [102:20] Ps 11:4; 14:2.
j. [102:21] Ps 79:11.
k. [102:23] Is 60:3–4; Zec 2:15; 8:22.
l. [102:25] Ps 39:5; 90:10; Jb 14:5.
m. [102:26–28] Heb 1:10–12.
n. [102:29] Ps 69:36–37.
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Prayer in Time of Distress
We live in more sterile and politically correct times than did the psalmist. Today, heads would wag if we composed such prayers as this that dares tell God what to do. Notice the number of imperatives within the first six lines: “hear my prayer,” “let my cry come,” “do not hide your face,” “turn your ear to me.” But the more striking difference between then and now is not the audacity of these verses, but the psalmist’s willingness to admit his sin and abandon all excuses. Today, we prefer euphemisms and so “sins” become “mistakes,” “indiscretions,” “errors,” “slip-up,” “problems” or what have you. Not so here. The psalmist begs for mercy, and that requires an admission of sin. He begs to be spared the consequences that flow from all his sins, so he can’t deny having committed them.
It’s said that when he was dying, St. Augustine asked that the Psalms be hung from the wall facing his bed. Famous for his years of flagrant sinning, Augustine sought the comfort of the Psalms as he prepared to meet God face to face. The Psalms ought to give us courage and confidence as we reflect on our own lives and on the struggles, sins, and “enemies” that afflict us. They teach us to plead without restraint, to hold nothing back in begging for God’s mercy. I’m “skin and bones,” says the psalmist. “7I am like a desert owl,/ like an owl among the ruins” whose mournful cry and solitary life make it the very emblem of desolation. Such talk is not born of arrogance or overconfidence, but from a deep conviction that God is merciful and loves us like a parent.
It will be this compassion that overwhelms the nations and fills them with awe. They will have no choice but to glorify God when they see the marvel of his merciful love. It’s that conviction that enables the psalmist to ask that God not end his life too soon and that God let his children and their children stand before him in peace. The psalmist’s conviction must be ours. Knowing Jesus also prayed these Psalms, we can make these words our own means of turning to the Lord with passion and sincerity.
Do you ever turn to the Lord with the kind of open, honest and passionate pleading we see in this Psalm? Do you trust God enough to storm heaven’s gates with your prayers?
A requisite for praying the Penitential Psalms is an awareness of our sinfulness. Can you look honestly in the mirror admitting what you see? If that is challenging, can you be patient with yourself and ask God for the gift of trust?
When you pray, do you focus more on the chasm between your sin and God’s goodness or on the ocean of God’s mercy vs. your need?