Psalm 51

| | Comments (5)

This is the only Friday of the year on which we do not pray Psalm 51. And, frankly, I miss it. I know that we are in the season of light and joy; and yet, I find psalm 51, despite its penitential tone to be full of light and joy."O purify me, then I shall be clean;/O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow." And these lines are so perfectly consonant with the antiphon for the first psalm on Easter Sunday: "The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone on the people redeemed by his blood, alleluia."

In the before times--times before I had become Catholic, and times that were somewhat more conservative and more prone to the influence of traditional thought, there was much emphasis among the protestant crowd on being "washed in the blood of the lamb." I haven't heard this much among the Catholics I've associated with, but it has a long protestant tradition and stems directly from several passages in scripture. This is one of the holdovers I have from the before times, and I still think in these terms. I am redeemed by His blood and it has been placed on the doorpost and on the lintel of the door to my soul--I am marked by God by my confirmation, my baptism, and my reception of the sacraments. I am among His chosen people so long as I choose to be. The only thing my will can effect that is not inspired by grace is to reject this great gift. I can choose at any time to reject the Lord, to say no to His gift, to walk away from His people. This is a very real possibility, AND it is the only possibility that lies outside His grace; however, it does not lie outside of His permissive will. The Lord is not a rapist, He will not force His love on those who choose to reject it.

But in thinking through these things, I begin to understand where the "once saved, always saved" error intrudes into some Protestant thought. When one enters the Church and/or accepts Christ as one's savior (allies one's will to the will of God), the desire to continue in Church, to receive the sacraments, to discover more about this magnificent heritage, to worship the God who gave all this to us grows. Yes, it can be dimmed by our own sin, it can be rejected by pique or by rebellion. But the reality is that it is hard to reject these things once one has partaken of them and understands what one has tasted. They are extraordinary. How many of us converts would return to the fold from which we have come? I daresay, despite the many problems in the Church, it would be precious few. I know what I have found here and what I was never able to find elsewhere, and it is far too valuable to throw away no matter what the provocation. So, too, I suspect with any person who willingly embraces the faith and comes to love God. Salvation is not assured, but it becomes difficult to reject God. There is always the intent to follow. It can be suppressed and crushed, but Jesus is there to revive it, to seek out the one lost.

Truly, once marked by the blood of the Lamb, and accepting that mark ourselves and making it our own, I become one of the sheep of his flock. I grow in love for the Lord by His constant attention. Nevertheless, just as a man can walk away from a woman at any time, no matter how profoundly he has declared His love, it is entirely possible for me to walk away from the Lord. And though the mark is indelible, the gift that comes with it need not be accepted.

These are the thoughts that occur to me with the recitation of psalm 51. Wash me and I shall be white than snow. When I pray that line, I am renewing my humility, my willingness to be near and with the Lord. Each Friday is a day of joy because I can unload that sinfulness (in one sense--though not the sacramental sense) and dance once again in the presence of Him who washes me clean.

Another thought occurs as I write this. When I say "Wash me and I shall be clean," I am also becoming as one of the little ones. Few adults ask others to wash them; some are forced to accept the ordeal, but few take it upon themselves. Whereas we all know that small children are washed and cleaned by their parents. It is a moment of parent/child intimacy that will linger with the child throughout his or her life, even if it is unconscious rather than conscious. When we pray this way, we are admitting our littleness, our infancy in the face of the Lord; how can he help but react as every reasonable parent reacts and take us up in His arms, and hold us tight to Him.

"O wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."

Bookmark and Share


Last night when praying the decade "Baptism at the River Jordan" of the Rosary, I visualized a lamb. I simply attributed this to mean that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world. It's not my intention to inflate myself, in fact I feel humbled, that God sent the above post for me to read this morning. Praise and thank you, God. (And thank you Steven for allowing God to speak through you.)

In the last sentence of the first paragraph, is "lies" supposed to be "lines?"

... I hope so, anyway.


This is the only Friday of the year on which we do not pray Psalm 51.

I have your blog RSS-feeding into my email client, so I saw the title of this post before I read it. My first thought as the page was loading was: "Did I do something wrong in Morning Prayer this morning?" :) So, on the only Friday that we don't say the Miserere, that is where your thoughts go. I guess it's like covering the crucifix on Good Friday, by taking something away it makes it all the more present.

How many of us converts would return to the fold from which we have come?

Wow, not me. Not even a consideration. Not for a moment. ;)


[T]here was much emphasis among the protestant crowd on being "washed in the blood of the lamb." I haven't heard this much among the Catholics I've associated with...

You need to pray some of the Latin hymns for Easter. :-) Of course, they're centuries old, so you'd only be associating with those people remotely, but still...

Dear Brad,

One of the difficulties of being your own proofreader is that you see exactly what you expect to see. Thank you for this.

Dear Jack,

I take your point. But I know that the concept is a little foreign and quite frisson-producing amongst modern Catholics. Whereas it is very natural speech for many of our more fundamentalist protestant brethren.

Dear Brandon,

Yes, it's odd. But I was thinking what enormous comfort I receive from that Psalm every Friday. Today was jarring. I didn't get my weekly dose. So, I prayed it anyway on my own. It's grown to be a favorite and has got its hooks in. Of course, I didn't do it as part of Morning Prayer.





About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 21, 2006 9:19 AM.

Get Serious About Prayer was the previous entry in this blog.

The Dark Secret of Vocations is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll