Psalm 32 - 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 32: Audio | Commentary
Remission of Sin
1aOf David. A maskil.
Blessed is the one whose fault is removed,
whose sin is forgiven.
2Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no deceit.
3Because I kept silent,* my bones wasted away;
I groaned all day long.b
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength withered as in dry summer heat.
5Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.c
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
6Therefore every loyal person should pray to you
in time of distress.
Though flood waters* threaten,
they will never reach him.d
7You are my shelter; you guard me from distress;
with joyful shouts of deliverance you surround me.
8I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk,
give you counsel with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding;
with bit and bridle their temper is curbed,
else they will not come to you.
10Many are the sorrows of the wicked one,
but mercy surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous;
exult, all you upright of heart.e
* [Psalm 32] An individual thanksgiving and the second of the seven Penitential Psalms (cf. Ps 6). The opening declaration—the forgiven are blessed (Ps 32:1–2)—arises from the psalmist’s own experience. At one time the psalmist was stubborn and closed, a victim of sin’s power (Ps 32:3–4), and then became open to the forgiving God (Ps 32:5–7). Sin here, as often in the Bible, is not only the personal act of rebellion against God but also the consequences of that act—frustration and waning of vitality. Having been rescued, the psalmist can teach others the joys of justice and the folly of sin (Ps 32:8–11).
* [32:3] I kept silent: did not confess the sin before God.
* [32:6] Flood waters: the untamed waters surrounding the earth, a metaphor for danger.
a. [32:1] Is 1:18; Ps 65:3; Rom 4:7–8.
b. [32:3] Ps 31:11.
c. [32:5] Ps 38:19; 51:5.
d. [32:6] Ps 18:5.
e. [32:11] Ps 33:1.
LINKS NOT WORKING? Please note that the citation and footnote links on these texts are not yet live. We are working to bring the New American Bible, Revised Edition texts to you in a new, improved format later this year, at which point, all links will be live.
Remission of Sin
Sin is inevitable. Because we fall short of the glory of God, because sin abounds in the world—though grace abounds the more!—it is inevitable that we humans fall into sin. But faith tells us sin is not the final word, and the author of this psalm knows that truth well.
The Psalms have endured for millennia because they are so personal and real; sometimes, so real they’re raw. They name our experience because they come out of lived experience. The author grasps the deep truth of the old maxim, “Confession is good for the soul.” He understands the value of confession because he first tried to resist it. He hid his faults, sealed his heart and lips and would not speak his sins, but the result was agony and groaning all the day. Because he “kept silent,” his “bones wasted away.” Would that we, too, could feel the weight of our sins upon us. Would that they would drive us to our knees so we, too, could experience the grace and the unburdening, the freedom and the joy the psalmist finds at last.
Finally, he says, finally “I declared my sin to you;/ my guilt I did not hide.” And rather than shame or wagging fingers, the psalmist finds relief. Read again the opening line: “Blessed is the one whose fault is removed,/ whose sin is forgiven.” Notice that blessing is given not to the blameless or the sinless (they don’t exist!), but to the sinner who, through confession, has had his sin removed. What’s more, in the Bible, the removal of sin removes the effects of sin on us. That’s why the psalmist’s frustration, fading enthusiasm, and loss of joy vanish the moment he experiences God’s mercy.
Therefore every loyal person should pray to God, he says, because God longs to shelter us and surrounds us with shouts of joy. But sin remains inevitable. And because we are so often dumb as oxen and stubborn as mules, God admonishes us to be docile and humble, putting our trust in him so he can shower his mercy on us.
Questions for Reflection:
Fewer Catholics today avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Why do you think that is? If the psalmist’s experience is typical, the floodgates of grace open once we admit and repent our sins. What would help you be more open to the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Do you think talk of sin is helpful or is it better to speak instead of God’s love and mercy? Does one make sense without the other?
Do you approach God with confidence or temerity?
Do you find harmony or dissonance between the spirituality of these Penitential Psalms and the spirituality of Jesus and the New Testament?