Vital Signs

On the Sullivan Translation of David, Part II

This is the second part of a speech on poet Alan Sullivan that Timothy Murphy has delivered to Catholic and Protestant congregations on the High Plains.  (The first part appeared in the October issue.)  Mr. Sullivan, a frequent contributor to Chronicles, died on July 9, right after finishing his last work of translating David into meter.


Now let us consider Psalm 51, perhaps the greatest of the Penitential Psalms, which we hear in the Ordinary of the Mass.

Every Solemn High Traditional Latin Mass begins with the Asperges me, verse 7 of Psalm 51:

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,


Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

In the Novus Ordo Mass we no longer hear this great antiphon, which reads (in a common translation) “Purify me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be cleansed.  Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”  But before the consecration in every Mass the priest prays verse 2 of Psalm 51: “Wash away my iniquities and cleanse me of my sin.”

Similarly, we hear verse 17 in our Masses, our catechism, in innumerable homilies: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, God, you will not despise.”  We are told...

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