“Blessed is the one whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven.” Reflecting upon Dante the poet’s use of the first verse of Psalm 32 in Canto 29 is a great way to connect the Purgatorio and the entire Divine Comedy with the Year of Mercy. It wonderfully celebrates the good news of our salvation in Christ.
I remember the first time I heard the story of salvation. It came as an amazing revelation to me. I was on retreat with the Cornell Catholic Community at Mount Savior Monastery in the southernmost part of the diocese of Rochester, NY. We were led by a religious sister in one of the retreat talks through the story of Salvation History. In a manner that would have been clear even to children, she told the story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the efforts God repeatedly made to bring His people back to Himself through the Exodus, the Covenant at Mount Sinai, the call to renew the covenant from the prophets, and finally through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It was a story I had never heard, such a simple story of God’s love reaching out to us again and again to restore us to what He had wanted for us from the beginning. Though I am a cradle Catholic who at the time had received all my sacraments and attended Mass weekly and had even been on various retreats and was involved in liturgical ministry and community service and mission trips, I had never heard the Good News articulated in such a clear and simple fashion. In fact, as a Resident Advisor in the Cornell Campus Residence Halls, I created a bulletin board about world religions. I could summarize other world religions, but I could not succinctly explain my own faith tradition.
Though the sister leading the retreat did not refer to Dante, Canto 29 of the Purgatorio celebrates that same Good News. And Dante indicates it with his quoting of Psalm 32 and the subsequent parade of allegorical figures from salvation history.
Dante’s use of Psalm 32 puts a cap on the journey Dante has travelled to this point. Dante’s journey through both the Inferno and Purgatory mirrors the experience of the psalmist. In the Inferno, Dante saw the ways of the unrepentant and how they suffered. So also the psalmist, in the unrepentant phase of his life, experienced his own living hell: “Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat.” (Ps 32:3-4 NAB)
As the psalmist repents, though, he is shown the mercy of God and restored. And the guilt of his sin is taken away. Dante sees this same forgiveness active in his journey through Purgatory. Along his path up the seven story mountain, Dante has seen many souls undergo this merciful restoration in their time of purgation.
And as the psalmist celebrates, so too does Dante in what is termed by different translations as the “parade of divine revelation” or the “Church triumphant in the garden” (Hollander). This allegorical procession uses beautiful images, poetic descriptions and the symbolic figures representing the virtues and the books of the Scriptural canon. It is a procession that parades before our eyes the entirety of the history of salvation. It is a telling of the story of God’s efforts to reach out to us, to cover over our sin, and to restore our lost Eden. It is indeed a beautiful parade of events, an exulted celebration—especially when viewed all at once or in hindsight.
In my own life, the journey I was on before, during and after the time I first heard the entire story of the history of salvation, has been my own Inferno and Purgatory. I am still on this journey, still striving toward the virtues that will counteract the vices and sins of my youth (and adulthood). I look to the psalmist who found hope and mercy in confession. I also find encouragement as I travel alongside Dante in his experience of Purgatory.
This is the mercy of God that brings me hope. This is the hope that energizes my striving toward virtue. This is the virtue that casts out vice and purifies my soul. God grants me mercy, enlivens my hope, and strengthens my virtue so that I might obtain the life that He has for all of us.
“Blessed is the one whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven.”
Colleen Trevisani is a lay minister and certified teacher, with experience teaching from Pre-K to college. She has ministered in the areas of liturgy, music, retreats, faith formation and youth ministry. She has an MDiv and an MEd in Inclusive Education. Currently the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at St. Kateri in Irondequoit, NY, she lives with her husband and two small boys in Henrietta, NY.