The first time I heard Gregori Allegri's Misere Mei Deus was on Ash Wednesday Morning in the College Chapel at my Theological School, Westcott House in Cambridge. It was performed by a small group of choristers taken from the Ordinands who made up the college population, and they did a wonderful job of it, and its placement in the service of penitence and Eucharist was perfect as it inspired reflection on both the beauty and brokenness of this world, and indeed of our lives.
Since then I have heard many versions and it never fails to move me, and remind me of that mix of beauty and brokenness which God loves in us. A God who loves us for who we are, for all our failings, fragilities, achievements and abilities, not despite them.
In the music and the words, the reminder of the bigger story of our faith and life, and in the beauty of this piece, I do indeed catch a glimpse of God!
1 Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness; ♦
according to the abundance of your compassion
blot out my offences.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness ♦
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my faults ♦
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned ♦
and done what is evil in your sight,
5 So that you are justified in your sentence ♦
and righteous in your judgement.
6 I have been wicked even from my birth, ♦
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
7 Behold, you desire truth deep within me ♦
and shall make me understand wisdom
in the depths of my heart.
8 Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; ♦
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, ♦
that the bones you have broken may rejoice.
10 Turn your face from my sins ♦
and blot out all my misdeeds.
11 Make me a clean heart, O God, ♦
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence ♦
and take not your holy spirit from me.
13 Give me again the joy of your salvation ♦
and sustain me with your gracious spirit;
14 Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked ♦
and sinners shall return to you.
15 Deliver me from my guilt, O God,
the God of my salvation, ♦
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.
16 O Lord, open my lips ♦
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
17 For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it; ♦
you take no delight in burnt offerings.
18 The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; ♦
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
19 O be favourable and gracious to Zion; ♦
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
20 Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness,
the burnt offerings and oblations; ♦
then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.