Thursday, October 19, 2006

Psalm 91 and funerals

Fr. Michael Joncas’s “On Eagle’s Wings” is probably the most popular setting/paraphrase of Psalm 91 in use today. It frequently sees use in connection with funerals, in which context it usually functions as consolation for the grieving.

What is most surprising, then, is to observe that this psalm, unlike other psalms frequently used at funerals (e.g. “The Lord is my shepherd”, “My soul is thirsting”, ...), is entirely absent from the Roman Rite’s liturgical books for funeral Masses.

Moreover, the places where this psalm does appear are all in connection with Lent - the first Sunday of Lent in particular, where it is the responsorial psalm in year C, and all of the day’s proper chants in the Roman Gradual (and a few of them in the Simple Gradual) come from this psalm. On top of that, this psalm appears nowhere else (that I can find) in the liturgical books (its use as a common resp. psalm during Lent notwithstanding).

What ends up happening, then, in practice is that if OEW, or another Ps. 91 setting, gets used during Mass, people associate it more strongly with their loved one’s funeral than with the liturgical use. And in the case of Lent, this can really screw things up, prompting people to confuse the season of repentance (Lent) with a day of mourning (funeral). The (I assume) traditional association between Psalm 91 and Lent is obscured, and in a way, the liturgy’s formational efficacy is diluted.

And of course, there is the concern of whether the psalm text itself is really appropriate, all things else besides. Here I don’t know that I feel entirely confident venturing a yes or no, having not the Biblical nor theological background to make an informed judgement. It seems ok to me, but of course in the context of the liturgical year, I would say it’s a poor choice for any liturgical activity other than observance of Lent.


At Thursday, October 19, 2006 12:04:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

You know, I had the same thought while looking through the Gelineau Psalter. I think, looking at the text, that it is appropriate for a funeral. Now, as for Eagle's Wings, that's another matter. I'd say it corrupts the text enough that it can't legitimately be considered as a "metric psalm". I'd also add that because of its usage, the psalm has become appropriate (although not by rule) for a funeral, again stating that about the PSALM, not the song.

I've often wondered how Psalm 23 became common for funerals. Outside of tradition and rule, I don't see how it relates to the situation much. If you ask me, Psalm 91 is more appropriate. Just my opinion.

At Thursday, October 19, 2006 4:00:00 PM, Blogger Puff the Magic Dragon said...

Eagles wings for funerals is another example of what happens when church musician give the congregations what they want as opposed of giving the congregation what is appropriate.

Psalm 23 speaks of God leading the faithful "to lie down in green pastures/beside restful waters he gives me repose." and you don't see how it suits funerals. OK, I must be reading more into it then There is apologies

Psalm 91 refers to how God protects us in times of trouble. To rotect us from the traps and snares of the Devil, who tries to trick us to damnation. Fighting Satan and our own sinful is what Lent is all about, and of course, we can't fight evil on our own, we must have God with us at all times. We ask God to protect us. How evil will not touch us, and we being subservient to God, will triumph in our lifetime, against sin and Satan.

When one dies troubles and the fight are over. We hope in the Green pastures and the refreshing waters of heaven. We beg to be received as a lamb comingback to the shepherd after being in the field of life.

But then again, what do I know?

At Thursday, October 19, 2006 5:30:00 PM, Blogger Todd said...

Psalm 91 appears outside of Lent in the Lectionary. I've had it requested for weddings as well, and it's not in the Lectionary for that either.

Lent is about more than penance; it points the Christian faithful to the celebration of the Paschal mystery and to baptism. And that is an aspect it shares with Christian funerals.

And I'm not sure that funerals are always and completely about mourning either. The Order lists many other purposes, one being a focus on Christ as the bearer of the promise for eternal life. It's not exclusively about the deceased, not the family.

At Thursday, October 19, 2006 6:21:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Ah, ok - it does appear a couple times in the weekday Lectionary and once on a memorial.

I haven’t had anyone ask for OEW at a wedding, but I would say Ps. 91 is inappropriate for weddings. That aside, I would not stand in Bridezilla’s way when/if she requests it beyond just stating its most prominent liturgical use. Not worth the hassle.

I would contend that Lent really does not point the way to Easter. Whereas Advent does point to Christmas, becoming “brighter” with each approaching week, Lent does just the opposite, getting darker and darker until the burst of light at Easter.

I think whoever wrote the instruction to the Ordo exsequiarum wasn’t the same party that assembled the Missal prayers for funerals; the OCF seems to emphasize consolation more, while the actual liturgical texts focus more specifically on the deceased and salvation.

At Friday, October 20, 2006 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Gavin said...

I don't think it's the case (I may be wrong) that Psalm 91 is illegal for funerals. I think we could all debate about which psalms are good for funerals until our fingers fall off, but in the end we don't make those decisions for people under our care. To defend my point a bit more, Psalm 91 IS about God's care for us, but doesn't that care extend also past death? Seems to me that's the Christian take on things. Verse 2 exhorts people to trust in God and verse 3 says that God will rescue those who trust in him. Shouldn't we be looking to God's promises at a funeral? The primary point of a funeral Mass is prayer for the deceased, and what good is that if God has not promised His faithfulness? Again, I think it's a highly subjective matter, so in the end we can preach to the relatives of the deceased all we like, but they still choose the psalm.

As far as OEW at a funeral, I would not ban it. I would be adamant that it not be used as a psalm, but funerals are not times to play Mr. Liturgical Nazi. As my boss told me when I was hired, "You are in charge of making sure that nothing inappropriate for church pops up at a wedding or funeral, and if you run into any problems, I will back you up. However, at a funeral, so long as they don't want anything terribly bad, you WILL approve of their wishes."

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous behr said...

Night prayer for the Office for the Dead is the same as for every Sunday, so 91 is the psalm. (The clergy often hog the good psalms for themselves :))

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 1:20:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

Ding ding! We have a precedent! :)

At Tuesday, October 24, 2006 1:46:00 PM, Blogger Brian Michael Page said...

I don't think the Bishops will ever have intentions on making Eagle's Wings a responsorial Psalm (and hopefully, IMO, it will stay that way). Somewhere else in the Mass (Communion, Offertory) is fine.

At Monday, November 13, 2006 8:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a book on Psalm 91, Terror rest prayer by Ed Morris, which is the most indepth study of that psalm.

Ed mentions that in the JEWISH FUNERAL the Psalm is said a number of times.

So there is a Judeo tradition.

At Thursday, January 04, 2007 3:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm getting married this spring, and the music is being provided by a 16 voice a cappella choir.

I had planned on having them perform Mendelssohn's version of the 91st psalm in lieu of a responsorial psalm. ("For he shall give his angels ..." From Elijah).

Until now, I"d always viewed this psalm as reflecting God's love and protection for his people throught their lives. Am I wrong? Should I seek out another psalm? (This is a favorite of mine, and they perform it exceedingly well).

Guidance is welcome.

At Thursday, January 04, 2007 4:18:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Congratulations on your engagement!

Weddings are a tricky occasion for choosing liturgical texts. What you find in the propers is not the love-and-sweetness that we have come to expect, but a much sterner message of “this is going to be hard, but God will be with you”. (Of course, not that most couples care so much to have “Fear the Lord, all you His people” at their wedding!) In that sense, Ps. 91 would seem appropriate for weddings - as would “Be Not Afraid”.

From another perspective, the psalm does have a very strong association with Lent - more so than with any other season, esp. the first Sunday. Using it for weddings might, from that viewpoint, seem a little like singing “Joy to the World” outside Christmas. Jesus quotes Ps. 91 when He goes into the desert, which is why that psalm traditionally is sung during Lent (our own “40 days in the desert”).

Of course, it’s not that we need pigeon-hole the psalms: Ps. 23 gets used all over the place, and Ps. 130 (“from out of the depths I cry to you”) is one of the psalms for Christmas in the Liturgy of the Hours.

I can’t make your decision for you, but those are my thoughts. Personally, I would avoid it, but you have to make the choice of what texts are best suited not just to your own celebration, but to the faith of those gathered.

At Friday, March 27, 2009 4:12:00 AM, Blogger shiny said...

Please, Can anyone help me out to get Book named TERROR REST PRAYER?
I want that book. Its very urgent...


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