February 22: Psalm 6
Ash Wednesday—First Penitential Psalm
Beginning of Lent
Long Meter Double 88.88 Before the Throne of God Above
Sweet Hour of Prayer, p. 119
In anger, Lord, do not rebuke, nor judgment in Your wrath decide.
My weakness, Lord, pity and heal, for in my bones I’m terrified.
My soul is in me terrified. O Lord, and yet how long You take!
Return, O Lord; my soul set free, and save me for Your mercies’ sake.
For none can remember in death, or there shall your memory keep,
And who can give You praises then, within the confines of the deep.
My groaning all day wearies me, through ev’ry night till morn appears,
My grieving makes my bed to swim and waters all my cot with tears.
Because of my enemies all this grief is consuming my eyes.
Then let evil men all depart! The Lord has heard my weeping cries.
The Lord hears my suppliant cries. The Lord has my prayers brought to mind.
My foes shall be vexed and ashamed, and sudden shame they all will find.
Psalm 6 is the first and shortest of what are popularly known as the Seven Penitential Psalms, canticles of contrition and lamentation accompanied by pleas for divine forgiveness. This psalm begins with a forceful recognition of divine wrath. This divine wrath is not some sort of irritation; God does not become peeved or annoyed. The wrath of God is infinitely more serious than a temper tantrum. It is a deliberate resolve in response to a specific state of the human soul. Every deliberate and willful sin is a step in the direction of hardness of heart. Psalm 6, as a penitential psalm, takes sin very seriously. Sin has entered deeply into human experience, and it is felt in our inner frame, our very bones, as it were. The psalmist then speaks of death, for by sin death entered into the world. Death is sin rendered visible. What we see death do to the body, sin does to the soul. Death is the externalizing of sin. Death is no friend. Apart from Christ, the Bible sees death as the realm where God is not praised. As the bitter fruit of sin, death is the enemy; indeed, it is the “last enemy,” says 1 Cor. 15:26. Even as he makes his plea for mercy, nonetheless, the man of faith already knows that God hears him: “For the Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.” (Reardon, p.11-12)
Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison
Every Wednesday during Lent, beginning today with Ash Wednesday and ending with the Wednesday of Holy Week, we will sing one of the seven penitential psalms ending with this refrain from early church liturgy…Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.