Psalm 137 Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly for Sunday 21A

Psalm 137 is a great hymn of thanksgiving. It thanks God for such “steadfast love”.  In fact, those two words form a framework for the whole psalm starting in verse 2 and ending in verse 8.

The singer places herself in three contexts: firstly “in the presence of the angels” in verses 1-3; then “in the presence of the kings of the whole earth. Verses 4-6; and finally, even “in the presence of  enemies” in verses 7-8. As cantors, we may usefully see ourselves not just as an individual performing a task but as a singer in the wider context of liturgical prayer, where we are at Mass caught up into the universal prayer of Christ to the Father.

The psalmist prays “with all my heart”, using a clear voice for the “words of my mouth”, and bowing in adoration as verse one puts it. She is praying with the body as well as the mind. 

The psalmist, who has lots to be thankful for, does thank God for what has already been accomplished but in verse 8 looks to the future, waiting for the Lord to keep on completing the petition. “You stretch out your hand and save me, and your hand will do all things for me, for your love is eternal”.

This universal outreach echoes the saving themes of the keys in Isaiah 22 and the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20.

This psalm, as well as offering a text for prayer, teaches us how to pray, with whole heart and mind and body. Yes, our body language prays too!

Ps 137:words (c) The Grail, England; music Gerry Fitzpatrick (c) St Mungo Music; recorded by Grace Buckley