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Expositions on the Psalms: Psalm 130
“Out of the depths I have cried to thee o Lord!” (Ps. 130:1) It should be noted that the psalmist is addressing God in the first person, thus showing that the psalmist is himself in agony. The “depths” of which the psalmist speaks could refer to Purgatory, but St. Augustine suggests that “... this mortal life is our deep” (Augustine 1) meaning that our life here on earth is the depths from which we cry out to God. This is a beautiful image reminding us that we are only journeying through this life, with the hope of spending eternity with Jesus in heaven, gazing upon the beatific vision. St. Augustine also says that the speaker of the Psalm can be understood to be the prophet, Jonah, crying to God from the belly of the whale. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites this verse in paragraph 2559, referring to this cry as one of humility and contrition, and not one of pride. This shows that we must ask God for forgiveness with humility, and own up to our mistakes, instead of trying to make excuses for ourselves.
“Lord, hear my voice! Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If thou O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” (Ps. 130:2-3) These verses show that the psalmist is truly contrite for the sins he has committed, but also hopeful in the Lord's mercy. “It is significant that reverent awe, a sentiment in which respect and love are mingled, is not born from punishment but from forgiveness. Rather than sparking his anger, God’s generous and disarming magnanimity must kindle in us a holy reverence.” (Benedict 2) Haydock's Commentary sums up the meaning of these verses beautifully, “We all stand in need of mercy, as none can stand before the rigors of divine justice.” (Haydock, Psalm 129)
“But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Ps. 130:4-6) By this point in the Psalm, the psalmist is now ever more hopeful that he will be forgiven, with an eagerness compared to that of watchmen. Pope Benedict XVI comments on these verses saying: “Expectation, hope, the certainty that God will speak a liberating word and wipe away the sin are now blossoming in the heart of the repentant Psalmist.” (Benedict 3) The “word” in which the psalmist is hoping in, refers to God's remission of the sin the psalmist has committed. St. Augustine believes that Verse 5 refers to the resurrection of Christ: “The words mean this: that the Lord, through whom our sins have been remitted, arose from the dead at the morning watch, so that we may hope that what went before in the Lord will take place in us. For our sins have been already forgiven: but we have not yet risen again...” (Augustine 4)
“O Israel hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption.” (Ps. 130:7) “The personal salvation that the praying person implores at the outset is now extended to the entire community.” ( Benedict 3) This verse, as does the whole psalm, reminds us that God is a God of love and that He will always forgive those who ask it of Him. Here in verse 7, the Hebrew word hesed is used for “steadfast love”. When speaking of God, hesed means God's grace and fidelity, loyalty, goodness, mercy, and compassion.
“And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Ps. 130:8) This psalm could have been written during the Babylonian Exile, and thus the redemption of Israel that is hoped for. It could possibly mean a return to the promised land, and an end to the Babylonian dictatorship. This verse is also foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah and the redemptive death of Christ. Jesus is the redeemer of his people: “...behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mat. 1:20-21) [Emphasis added] The redemption of Israel, stated in the psalm, is fulfilled allegorically in Jesus Christ, when Christ took our sins, and the sins of Israel unto Himself at the crucifixion, to destroy them and thus free us from sin.
In the end, then, Psalm 130 is extremely important in the Church's tradition, in that it reflects the poor souls in purgatory. It is about begging for the forgiveness of sins, hope in that forgiveness, and the sure knowledge that God will redeem his people if they are truly penitent.
Psalm 130, commonly referred to as the De Profundis is one of the 7 most well-known penitential Psalms. According to Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, Psalm 130 could have been attributed to David after his sin with Bathsheba, other commentaries say that this Psalm references the Babylonian exile. It is more likely though, that this psalm represents all sinners and especially the poor souls in purgatory. It is commonly used at funeral services and is used by many of the faithful, as a novena for the poor souls in purgatory. The Catholic Encyclopedia comments on this psalm: “...it is the psalm of the holy souls in purgatory, the words of the Psalmist applying well to the longing and sighing of the souls exiled from heaven.” In fact, many movies like We Were Soldiers and The Keys of the Kingdom have characters who pray the De Profundis after someone's death.
Liturgically, Psalm 130 has an important role. It has been traditionally prayed at Compline or Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours on Wednesdays. Pope Benedict XVI also points out, that Psalm 130 is “inserted into the liturgy of Vespers for Christmas and for the whole Octave of Christmas, as well as in the liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Easter and of the Solemnity of the Annunciation.” (Benedict 1) Also, the Catholic Encyclopedia says that “The De Profundis is one of the fifteen Gradual Psalms, which were sung by the Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.”
Benedict XVI, General Audience on Psalm 130 (19 October 2005). At the Holy See, http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20051019.html
St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 130. New Advent: Church Fathers, https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801130.htm
Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/psalms-129.html
The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04738b.htm