From the Hebrew collection of psalms known as the “Gradual Psalms” or the “Psalms of Ascent,” the Church selected for the sixth of her Penitential Psalms the song of hope and yearning which is Psalm 130.   Often referred to by the opening words of its Latin translation, De Profundis, this brief psalm has been associated with penance and with prayer for the departed since the early days of Christian monasticism.  It is likely that St. Francis and his first friars, known as the joyful penitents of Assisi, prayed the seven Penitential Psalms regularly and thus often encountered Psalm 130 as a psalm of repentance.  The Seraphic Patriarch, in his Earlier Rule, legislated that the brothers who were obliged to pray the Divine Office, were also to say the De Profundis with the Our Father [daily] for the deceased brothers.  Thus the early Franciscans also experienced Psalm 130 as a Scriptural prayer for the departed.

 

The theology of Psalm 130 is captured in the paradox between its title, A Song of Ascents, and its opening words, Out of the depths.  The life of faith is a pilgrimage along the ascending ways of the spiritual life.  Yet man, by his own power, is incapable of reaching the summit of the Christian pilgrimage which is life on high in Christ Jesus Phil. 3:14.  The reason is made clear when we recognize the nature of the “depths” from which the fallen one cries out to God.  The Hebrew noun used in Psalm 130 for “depths” does not refer to the watery deep but to the “muddy depths” in which there is no foothold. cf. Psalm 69  Even on the physical plane, it is obvious that someone “stuck in the mud” needs outside help in order to be freed.  How much more the one whose mortal clay has grown heavy and burdensome because of sin?

 

From the early days of his conversion, Francis of Assisi knew what it was to cry out to God from the depths of his sinfulness.  He felt the weight of his vanity, ambition and pride pulling him down.  He experienced the darkness of the long night of waiting for the Lord to reveal His will.  But the Little Poor Man also knew the joy of daybreak, the daybreak of the Resurrection when the fullness of God’s redeeming mercy was revealed.  That is why he, like the psalmist of old, could offer Psalm 130 not only as a personal petition but also as prayer for universal redemption. 

 

The Church’s liturgy shines another light on Psalm 130.  This prayer of the penitent and plea for the departed is also a song of the Incarnation.  It is highly significant that Psalm 130 is said (or, sung) at Vespers of the three great feasts of the Incarnation – the Annunciation of the Lord, the Nativity of the Lord and the Presentation in the Temple. For our salvation, the Eternal Word leapt down from His royal throne into the muddy depths of human history.  Taking human flesh, Christ’s voice became one with the voice of humanity, His yearning united with ours, and He revealed to us the riches of the Father’s mercy and the fullness of His redeeming love.  Psalm 130 showed St. Francis, and it shows us, just how much we can count on God’s word.  Through the long, dark night of faith, watching for mercy, we can be certain that we never wait in vain.


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Psalm 130

 

 

 

Out of the depths

I cry to you, O Lord,

Lord, hear my voice.

O let Your ears

 be attentive

 to the voice

of my pleading.

If You, O Lord,

should mark our guilt,

Lord,

who would survive?

But with You

 is found forgiveness:

for this we revere You.

My soul is waiting

 for the Lord,

I count on His word.

My soul is longing

for the Lord

more than watchmen

 for daybreak.

Let the watchmen

 count

on daybreak

and Israel on the Lord.

Because with the Lord

 there is mercy

and fullness of redemption,

Israel indeed

He will redeem

from all its iniquity
Watching for Mercy
PART 11