Psalm 130 - 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 130: Audio | Commentary
Prayer for Pardon and Mercy
1A song of ascents.
Out of the depths* I call to you, LORD;
2Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.a
3If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
Lord, who can stand?b
4But with you is forgiveness
and so you are revered.*
5I wait for the LORD,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word.c
6My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak.d
More than sentinels for daybreak,
7let Israel hope in the LORD,
For with the LORD is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption,e
8And he will redeem Israel
from all its sins.f
* [Psalm 130] This lament, a Penitential Psalm, is the De profundis used in liturgical prayers for the faithful departed. In deep sorrow the psalmist cries to God (Ps 130:1–2), asking for mercy (Ps 130:3–4). The psalmist’s trust (Ps 130:5–6) becomes a model for the people (Ps 130:7–8).
* [130:1] The depths: Sheol here is a metaphor of total misery. Deep anguish makes the psalmist feel “like those descending to the pit” (Ps 143:7).
* [130:4] And so you are revered: the experience of God’s mercy leads one to a greater sense of God.
a. [130:2] Ps 5:2–3; 55:2–3; 86:6; Lam 3:55–56; Jon 2:3.
b. [130:3] Na 1:6.
c. [130:5] Ps 119:81.
d. [130:6] Is 21:11; 26:9.
e. [130:7] Ps 86:15; 100:5; 103:8.
f. [130:8] Ps 25:22; Mt 1:21.
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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.
But 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?