The original historical context for Psalm 63 is not clear: the title claims Davidic authorship, and the style and language seems to support this, so some modern commentators have suggested that it may refer to David’s early days at Saul’s court, when enemies plotted to bring about his downfall.
The Fathers, however, gave it an entirely Christological interpretation, as Cassiodorus explains:
“The words of this heading, as has often been remarked, are wholly related to the Lord Christ, who is to speak through the entire psalm. These words are written without historical narration; the clarity of the heading seems to waft the light of the coming psalm over us. The Lord will speak of His passion, which has afforded life to the world and has poured on us the light of belief…initially prays that He be freed from fear of the Jewish people, as He relates their deceits and impious deeds as if they have already been performed. He teaches that they have failed in their acts of persecution, whereas He has attained the glory of resurrection.”
This psalm points to the great works done this Holy Saturday night, and reminds us that we must all choose to be whether part of the 'assembly of the malignant' (verse 2), resolute in wickedness (v6) or to join the just, the upright of heart.
The Apostles preached the works of the Lord (v10) to those who had crucified Jesus, offering them the chance of redemption. And many of those same persecutors were indeed converted, as the life of St Paul attests.
Exaudi, Deus, orationem meam cum deprecor; a timore inimici eripe animam meam.
Protexisti me a conventu malignantium, a multitudine operantium iniquitatem.
Quia exacuerunt ut gladium linguas suas; intenderunt arcum rem amaram,
ut sagittent in occultis immaculatum.
Subito sagittabunt eum, et non timebunt; firmaverunt sibi sermonem nequam. Narraverunt ut absconderent laqueos; dixerunt : Quis videbit eos?
Scrutati sunt iniquitates; defecerunt scrutantes scrutinio.
Accedet homo ad cor altum, et exaltabitur Deus.
Sagittæ parvulorum factæ sunt plagæ eorum, et infirmatæ sunt contra eos linguæ eorum.
Conturbati sunt omnes qui videbant eos, et timuit omnis homo.
Et annuntiaverunt opera Dei, et facta ejus intellexerunt.
Lætabitur justus in Domino, et sperabit in eo, et laudabuntur omnes recti corde.
Hear O God, my prayer, when I make supplication to you: deliver my soul from the fear of the enemy.
You have protected me from the assembly of the malignant; from the multitude of the workers of iniquity.
For they have whetted their tongues like a sword; they have bent their bow a bitter thing, to shoot in secret the undefiled.
They will shoot at him on a sudden, and will not fear: they are resolute in wickedness. They have talked of hiding snares; they have said: Who shall see them?
They have searched after iniquities: they have failed in their search.
Man shall come to a deep heart: And God shall be exalted. The arrows of children are their wounds: And their tongues against them are made weak.
All that saw them were troubled; and every man was afraid.
And they declared the works of God, and understood his doings.
The just shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall hope in him: and all the upright in heart shall be praised.
Tenebrae of Holy Saturday
Nocturn I: Psalms 4, 14, 15
Nocturn II: Psalms 23, 26, 29
Nocturn III: Psalms 53*, 75*, 87*
Lauds: 50*, 91, 63, [Is 38], 150