Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 6:1-6 + Luke 18:9-14
March 10, 2018
Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices, burnt offerings and holocausts.
Psalm 51 is sometimes referred to as the “Miserere”, which is the first word of the psalm in Latin. Psalm 51 is one of seven psalms known as the “Penitential Psalms”. Not surprisingly, these seven psalms are especially interwoven through the Sacred Liturgy during the Season of Lent. Some would consider Psalm 51 to be the best known of the seven. Throughout the year, this psalm is prayed almost every Friday in the Church’s Lauds (Morning Prayer).
In Psalm 51, there are contrasts made between the exterior sacrifices of animals, and interior subjective sacrifice. In verse 18, the Psalmist declares to God: “you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.” Some take these words—and similar ones elsewhere in Scripture—to mean that exterior sacrifices, such as those that Catholics practice during Lent or on Fridays throughout the year, are un-biblical.
But by the last verse of the psalm, the Psalmist sings to God that “Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices, burnt offerings and holocausts.” What accounts for the change in God’s consideration of exterior sacrifices? The change which is the focus of Psalm 51 is the active purification of the individual, including the purification of the desires which motivate his sacrifices. It’s only through grace that the Psalmist’s—and our—entreaty may come true: “Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.” When this comes true, we may and must offer fitting sacrifices of praise to God.