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Psalm 50 (51)

Have mercy on me, God
"You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature of God's creating" (Eph 4, 23-24)

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
  In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
  and cleanse me from my sin.

My offences truly I know them;
  my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
  what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
  and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
  a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
  then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
  O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
  that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
  and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
  put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
  nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
  with a spirit of fervour sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
  and sinners may return to you.

O resucue me, God, my helper,
  and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
  and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
  burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
  A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favour to Sion:
  rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
  holocausts offered on your altar.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 50 (51)
General Audience, Wednesday 24 October 2001 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Friday, Week 1 - Against you alone have I sinned

"1. We have just heard the Miserere, one of the most famous prayers of the Psalter, the most intense and commonly used penitential psalm, the hymn of sin and pardon, a profound meditation on guilt and grace. The Liturgy of the Hours makes us pray it at Lauds every Friday. For centuries the prayer has risen to heaven from the hearts of many faithful Jews and Christians as a sigh of repentance and hope poured out to a merciful God.

The Jewish tradition placed the psalm on the lips of David, who was called to repentance by the severe words of the prophet Nathan (cf. vv. 1-2; 2 Sam 11-12), who rebuked him for his adultery with Bathsheba and for having had her husband Uriah killed. The psalm, however, was enriched in later centuries, by the prayer of so many other sinners, who recovered the themes of the "new heart" and of the "Spirit" of God placed within the redeemed human person, according to the teaching of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (cf. v. 12; Jer 31,31-34; Ez 11,19. 36,24-28).

2. Psalm 50 outlines two horizons. First, there is the dark region of sin (cf. vv. 3-11) in which man is placed from the beginning of his existence: "Behold in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived" (v. 7). Even if this declaration cannot be taken as an explicit formulation of the doctrine of original sin as it was defined by Christian theology, undoubtedly it corresponds to it: indeed, it expresses the profound dimension of the innate moral weakness of the human person. The first part of the Psalm appears to be an analysis of sin, taking place before God. Three Hebrew terms are used to define this sad reality, which comes from the evil use of human freedom.

3. The first term, hattá, literally means "falling short of the target": sin is an aberration which leads us far from God, the fundamental goal of our relations, and, consequently, also from our neighbour. The second Hebrew term is "awôn, which takes us back to the image of "twisting" or of "curving".

Sin is a tortuous deviation from the straight path; it is an inversion, a distortion, deformation of good and of evil; in the sense declared by Isaiah: "Woe to those who call good evil and evil good, who change darkness into light and light into darkness" (Is 5,20). Certainly, for this reason in the Bible conversion is indicated as a "return" (in Hebrew shûb) to the right way, correcting one's course.

The third term the psalmist uses to speak of sin is peshá. It expresses the rebellion of the subject toward his sovereign and therefore an open challenge addressed to God and to his plan for human history.

4. If, however, man confesses his sin, the saving justice of God is ready to purify him radically. Thus we come to the second spiritual part of the psalm, the luminous realm of grace (cf. vv. 12-19). By the confession of sins, for the person who prays there opens an horizon of light where God is at work. The Lord does not just act negatively, eliminating sin, but recreates sinful humanity by means of his life-giving Spirit: he places in the human person a new and pure "heart", namely, a renewed conscience, and opens to him the possibility of a limpid faith and worship pleasing to God.

Origen spoke of a divine therapy, which the Lord carries out by his word and by the healing work of Christ: "As God prepares remedies for the body from therapeutic herbs wisely mixed together, so he also prepared for the soul medicines with the words he infused, scattering them in the divine Scriptures.... God gave yet another medical aid of which the Lord is the Archetype who says of himself: "It is not the healthy who have need of a physician but the sick'. He is the excellent physician able to heal every weakness, and illness" (Origen, Homilies on the Psalms, From the Italian edition, Omelie sui Salmi, Florence, 1991, pp. 247-249).

5. The richness of Psalm 50 merits a careful exegesis of every line. It is what we will do when we will meet it again at Lauds on successive Fridays. The overall view, which we have taken of this great Biblical supplication, reveals several fundamental components of a spirituality which should permeate the daily life of the faithful. There is above all a lively sense of sin, seen as a free choice, with a negative connotation on the moral and theological level: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, I have done what is evil in your sight" (v. 6).

There is also in the psalm a lively sense of the possibility of conversion: the sinner, sincerely repentant, (cf. v 5), comes before God in his misery and nakedness, begging him not to cast him out from his presence (v. 13).

Finally, in the Miserere, a rooted conviction of divine pardon " cancels, washes, cleanses" the sinner (cf. vv. 3-4) and is able to transform him into a new creature who has a transfigured spirit, tongue, lips and heart (cf. 4-19). "Even if our sins were as black as the night, divine mercy is greater than our misery. Only one thing is needed: the sinner has to leave the door to his heart ajar.... God can do the rest.... Everything begins and ends with his mercy", so writes St Faustina Kowalska (M. Winowska, The Ikon of Divine Mercy, the Message of Sister Faustina, from the Italian version, L'Icona dell'Amore Misericordioso. Il messaggio di Suor Faustina, Rome, 1981, p. 271)."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 50
General Audience, Wednesday 8 May 2002 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Friday Week 2 - Have mercy on me, O Lord

"1. Every week, in the Liturgy of Lauds for Friday, we pray Psalm 50, the Miserere, the pentitential Psalm, that is so much beloved, sung and meditated upon. It is a hymn raised to the merciful God by the repentant sinner. We have already had the chance in a previous catechesis to give a general overview of this great prayer. First of all, the Psalmist enters the dark region of sin to bring into it the light of human repentance and divine forgiveness (cf. vv. 3-11). Then he goes on to exalt the gift of divine grace, that transforms and renews the repentant sinner's spirit and heart: this is a place of light, full of hope and confidence (cf. vv. 12-21).

In our reflection, we will comment on the first part of Psalm 50[51] selecting a few key items for comment. Right from the beginning, we want to present the marvellous proclamation of Sinai that is the perfect portrait of God who is praised in the Miserere: "The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Ex 34,6-7).

2. The person praying prays to God first of all for the gift of purification that, as the Prophet Isaiah said, makes "white as snow" "like wool" our sins even though they are more like "scarlet" and "red as crimson" (cf. Is 1,18). The Psalmist confesses his sin candidly, without hesitation: "I know my transgressions.... Against you, you only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight" (Ps 50,5-6).

Now there comes into play the personal conscience of the sinner who is ready to perceive his wrongdoing honestly. This experience involves freedom and responsibility, and leads him to admit that he has broken a bond and has preferred to build a life different from that of the divine Word. The result is a radical decision to change. All this is contained in the verb "recognize", that in Hebrew implies not just an intellectual agreement but also a vital choice.

Unfortunately, many do not make this step as Origen warns: "There are some who after sinning are absolutely at peace and give no further thought to their sin; nor are they troubled by the knowledge of the evil they have committed but live as though nothing had happened. Such people would certainly not be able to say: my sin is ever before me. Instead, when, after committing a sin, one feels miserable and troubled by it, nagged by remorse, tormented without respite and undergoing inner revolt in his spirit when he tries to deny it, one rightly exclaims: my sins give my bones no peace.... Thus when we set before the eyes of our heart the sins we have committed, when we look at them one by one, recognize them, blush and repent for what we have done, then, overcome with remorse and terrified, we can rightly say that there is no peace in our bones on account of our sins ..." (Origen, Omelie sui Salmi, Florence, 1991, p. 277-279 [Homilies on the Psalms]). The admission and consciousness of sin are the fruit of a sensitivity acquired through the light of God's Word.

3. In the confession of the Miserere there is a noteworthy emphasis: the sin is described not only in its personal and "psychological" dimension but above all what is described is the theological reality. "Against you, against you alone have I sinned" (Ps 50[51],6) exclaims the sinner, whom tradition claims to be David, conscious of his adultery with Bathsheba and of the Prophet Nathan's denunciation of this crime and of the murder of Uriah, her husband (cf. v. 2; II Sm,11-12).

Sin is not just a psychological and social matter, but an event that corrodes the relationship with God, violating his law, refusing his plan in history and overturning his set of values, "putting darkness for light and light for darkness", in other words, "calling evil good and good evil" (cf. Is 5,20). Before finally injuring man, sin is first and foremost a betrayal of God. The words the prodigal son says to his father, whose love is so abundant, capture it well: "Father, I have sinned against Heaven (that is, against God) and before you" (Lk 15,21).

4. At this point the Psalmist introduces an angle that is more directly connected with human reality. It is a sentence that has given rise to many interpretations and has been linked with the doctrine of original sin: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps 50[51],7). The praying person wants to indicate the presence of evil in our whole being, as is evident in his mention of conception and birth, as a way of expressing the entirety of existence, beginning with its source. However, the Psalmist does not formally connect his state with the sin of Adam and Eve; he does not speak explicitly of original sin.

It is still clear, according to the text of our Psalm, that evil is rooted in man's innermost depths, it is inherent in his historical reality, so the request for the mediation of divine grace is crucial. The power of God's love exceeds that of sin, the forceful river of evil is less powerful than the fruitful water of forgiveness: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5,20).

5. In this way the theology of original sin and the whole biblical vision of man as a sinner are indirectly recalled in a way that at the same time gives an intuition into the light of grace and salvation.

As we will have the chance to discover later on, when we return to this Psalm and the later verses, the confession of sin and the consciousness of one's misery do not lead to terror or the nightmare of judgement, but indeed, to the hope of purification, liberation and the new creation.

In fact God saves us, "not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Ti 3,5-6)."


"I extend a special greeting to the young people of Toronto, gathered at the University to pray the Rosary in a Television link-up with the young people of the University La Sapienza in Rome. Dear Friends, I hope to see many Canadians at the World Youth Day. Coming together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will commit yourselves to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Norway, Sweden, India, South Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française, en particulier les jeunes. Que le Seigneur rende fructueux votre pèlerinage ! Chers jeunes de Toronto, cet été, avec vos évêques, vos prêtres et de nombreux fidèles, nous célébrerons ensemble le Christ ressuscité, Lui qui est le sel de la terre et la lumière du monde. Au cours de ces journées, il nous donnera force et joie pour notre mission quotidienne. Avec la Bénédiction apostolique.

Ich heiße die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher herzlich willkommen. In besonderer Weise begrüße ich die Angehörigen und Freunde der Päpstlichen Schweizergarde, die anläßlich der Vereidigung der neuen Rekruten nach Rom gekommen sind. Gerne erteile ich Euch und Euren Lieben daheim sowie allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, den Apostolischen Segen.

Amados peregrinos do Brasil e dos restantes países de língua portuguesa, aproxima-se a festa da Ascensão do Senhor ao Céu, cuja ocorrência me sugere os votos que vos faço duma vida orientada para as coisas do Alto, onde Cristo se encontra sentado à direita de Deus. A minha Bênção desça sobre todos vós, vossas famílias e comunidades cristãs.

Saludo a los fieles de lengua española; en especial a los Parroquianos de San Saturnino, de Alcorcón, al grupo de peregrinos de Jumilla y al de la Misión católica española de Wintenthur, Suiza. Invito a todos a pedir confiadamente la misericordia de Dios, para alcanzar así su gracia. Gracias por vuestra atención.

Een woord van welkom aan alle Nederlandse en Belgische pelgrims! Ik wens u toe dat u, zoals Maria, Moeder van de Verrezen Heer, in uw leven de wondere werking van de heilige Geest mag ervaren, zodat u nog intenser aan het leven van de Kerk kunt deelnemen. Van harte verleen ik u de Apostolische Zegen. Geloofd zij Jezus Christus !

Vítám poutníky z Blanska! V pondělí jsme slavili svátek svatého Jana Sarkandra. Tento kněz dokázal žít z velikonočního tajemství: Spasitel byl pro něho sílou i v mučednické smrti. Nechť i vy nacházíte všechnu sílu v Kristově kříži a v jeho zmrtvýchvstání. Z celého srdce vám žehnám. Chvála Kristu!

Isten hozott Benneteket, kedves magyar hívek! Szeretettel köszöntöm Mindnyájatokat. Május a Szûzanya hónapja. Forduljatok imáitokkal Égi Édesanyánkhoz. Szívbôl adom apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!"

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua polacca:

San Stanislao, Patrono nostro, Protettore della nostra Patria, prega per noi! Oggi celebriamo San Stanislao, patrono della Polonia e patrono di Cracovia. Dio benedica tutti i miei connazionali che hanno come patrono san Stanislao vescovo e martire.

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai fedeli della parrocchia dello "Spirito Santo" in Avezzano, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo Monsignor Lucio Renna, e qui convenuti in occasione dell’inaugurazione della loro chiesa. Carissimi, il nuovo edificio di culto susciti in ciascuno di voi il desiderio di essere pietre vive del tempio spirituale che è la Chiesa, Popolo di Dio.

Mi rivolgo ora ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. In questo giorno, dedicato alla Madonna di Pompei invito voi, cari giovani, a sforzarvi di imitarla, confidando sempre nella sua materna intercessione. Essa vi aiuti a portare un raggio di serenità dove c’è tristezza e solitudine. Auguro a voi, cari malati, di vivere con l’aiuto di Maria la vostra condizione, fiduciosamente abbandonati alla volontà del Signore. Maria sostenga voi, cari sposi novelli, perché possiate trovare gioia ed entusiasmo nella vostra reciproca fedeltà e siate sempre testimoni dell’amore."


"Today in New York the General Assembly of the UN is beginning a special session on children. The important meeting calls attention to the scourges that continue to afflict little children, the precious but also vulnerable treasure of the human family. I am thinking of the wars, the poverty, the abuses and injustice of every kind of which they are the victims.

In these days in which representatives of countries from around the world are meeting to reflect on the conditions in which little children have to live, I invite everyone to pray for the success of these deliberations. I also hope that this important meeting may call forth a renewed commitment of the international community in favour of children, so that every type of social action that affects them may be inspired by a genuine promotion of human dignity and full respect of their fundamental rights."