Psalm 51, 18 March 2018

Image Wikimedia commons

St Patrick’s Day slides by largely unremarked. (I did have a Celtic style song based on last week’s Psalm 107 up my sleeve; however, our singers’ rendition of Everett’s three-part refrain for 107, repeated in PFAS, was a pleasing and inspiring addition.)

This week we preview that well-used Psalm 51, thereby moving into more sober territory of the fourth of the seven Penitential Psalms. It is also an important addendum to the powerful story of David, Bathsheba and the brave prophet Nathan who called him out. (2 Samuel 11)

Psalm 51 ‘Miserere mei’ in the 10th C. Bosworth Psalter, British Library MS 37517 f32r. A gloss in Old English has been added later in the margins of the original Latin Text.

Well-used it is; for centuries it has been a popular choice. Often sung during Lent, here on Lent 5 but also on Ash Wednesday and Tenebrae services, the poem is the source of many texts, such as that concluding vespers or other ‘Propers’. Fragments appear frequently in matins and other prayers:

“Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me”. (v.10)

Anyone who sang in the Anglican tradition will remember this, for example, from the first 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, still in use in the rite for morning prayer:

Officiant: O Lord, open thou our lips.
People: And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Let’s not forget the hyssop in verse 7. In the Latin it begins: Asperges me (see the chant extract shown from the Liber Usualis). This is not an admission by David that he has an unusual personality condition, but:ps51-aspergesme-lu

Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.


Being a famous penitential song of David and widely quoted, settings of this poem abound:

More humbly, South Woden will hear a simple refrain using the well-known verses 10 and 15 quoted at the outset.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 51, 18 March 2018

  1. Reduced to commenting on my own posts: did anyone get the dual reference of the Celtic harp image to both St Patrick’s day and King David’s harp? Such grand gestures, being based largely on rumour and fable rather than fact and historical data, are truly wafer-thin. Still, we need our ill-informed but enjoyable traditions. And I had fun — as usual.

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