Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Caph: On feasting and fasting as we wait in hope


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Today in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, the stanza caph, the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus we reach the halfway point in this exploration of the longest of the psalms.

And that pretty much matches up with our progress through the penitential days of Lent (ie excluding Sundays), since we are now at day 19 of the notional forty days, foreshortened this year by a number of solemnities depending on where you live and what calendar you follow, viz St Patrick, St Joseph, St Benedict and the Annunciation.

In the traditional Benedictine Office, it is opens Sunday None; in the 1962 Roman it is said at Sunday Sext.

Longing for Easter

The theme of the stanza, Cassiodorus points out, is the longing of the pilgrim people for the Coming of the Messiah:

“The pilgrim people on this earth sing the eleventh letter, in which they happily confess their extreme longing for the Lord's coming. They further relate their great sufferings from the persecution of the proud. Finally they ask that by the Lord's gift they may persevere in His commandments.”

We can I think interpret this in the Lenten context as our longing for the end of Lent and the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ!

I suspect our fervent longing for this, however, mostly falls far short of that urged by the psalm. St Robert Bellamine comments on the first verse that:

"My desire of eternal salvation has been so great, that I have nearly fainted in consequence. “And in thy word I have very much hoped;" still your promises held out great hopes to me. Thus, while the delay to one's salvation makes one faint, the hope built on promise strengthens and supports."

Fasting and feasting

Traditionally, of course, this longing would have been made more symbolically manifest during Lent by the exclusion from communion of the penitents as they undertook their penances prior to readmission to communion at Easter time. In these days when frequent communion is encouraged this older symbolism of spiritual fasting to sharpen the appetite has been lost, save perhaps for the growing number of us who practice less frequent communion for practical reasons such as allergies or intolerances!

Moreover the token nature of the Lenten fast practiced by most people these days when it comes to food and drink further dilutes the symbolism of our longing for good things being strengthened through fasting from them, that we might feast with God at the end.

We need, then, in my view, to find ways in our own spiritual practices of recovering this idea of fasting and feasting, ways of intensifying our longing for salvation to the point of the fainting for it as suggested by this stanza, intensify our pleas for God’s grace, that we might be given the strength to endure to the end.

Verse by verse

81. Defécit in salutáre tuum ánima mea: et in verbum tuum supersperávi.
My soul has fainted after your salvation: and in your word I have very much hoped

deficio, feci, fectum, ere 3 to fail, to be wasted, spent, consumed, cease to be, come to an end, vanish, long for, pine for,
salutaris, e a Savior, Helper, used of God; help, saving help, rescue, salvation,
anima, ae, soul
verbum, i, n.,word, command, edict, also a promise; saying, speech; Law, the Eternal Son
superspero, avi, atum, are, with prep, in with the ace. or abl., to hope or trust in greatly.

Defécit in salutáre tuum ánima mea= My soul has pined/fainted/failed/longed for your salvation

The psalmist is expressing intense longing, a burning love for the saviour.

et in verbum tuum supersperávi= and in your word I have hoped greatly/relied

82. Defecérunt óculi mei in elóquium tuum: dicéntes: Quando consoláberis me?
My eyes have failed for your word, saying: When will you comfort me?

deficio, feci, fectum, ere 3 to fail, to be wasted, spent, consumed, cease to be, come to an end, vanish, long for, pine for,
oculus, i, the eye..
dico, dixi, dictum, ere 3, to say, speak; to sing; in the sense of to think, plan, desire; to praise
eloquium, ii, n. , a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise.
quando when
consolor, atus sum, ari, Active, to comfort, console, encourage

Defecérunt óculi mei in elóquium tuum= My eyes have longed for your promise [Ie your promise of salvation, previous verse.]

What is referred to here is not exterior vision, but internal and spiritual, as Cassiodorus points out:

“They say that they have borne this most powerful fainting for so long until the anticipated incarnation of the Lord should appear to the eyes of their heart. So we clearly acknowledge that even if the just have not beheld the Lord's coming with their bodily eyes, they have ever gazed on it with the eyes of faith. As the Lord says in the gospel to His disciples: Abraham desired to see my day; he saw it, and was glad”

Dicéntes (participle) =saying

Quando consoláberis me= when will you comfort me?

83. Quia factus sum sicut uter in pruína: justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus.
For I have become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten your justifications.

quia, conj. for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed
sicut, adv., as, just as, like.
facio, feci, factum, ere 3, to make, do, cause, bring to pass
uter, utris, m., the skin of an amimal used as a bottle for wine, oil, etc.; a bottle, vessel, wine-skin.
pruina, ae, f frost.
obliviscor, oblitus sum, oblivisci to forget;

Quia factus sum =For I am made/have become

sicut uter in pruína=like a wineskin in the frost:

The Neo-Vulgate, following the Hebrew MT, makes it a skin in the smoke rather than a frost, and it has to be said that makes some sense in the context: a frost might crack the skin, whereas wine in bottles was smoked in order to mature it more quickly.

However, St Alphonsus Liguori, following the Fathers, offers an alternative explanation entirely consistent with the Vulgate, namely “The sufferings that I have endured have made me become like a skin grown slack by the damp, and then is contracted and hardened by the frost; that is to say, have made me become tepid.”

justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus= your statutes I have not forgotten

84. Quot sunt dies servi tui? quando fácies de persequéntibus me judícium?
How many are the days of your servant: when will you execute judgment on them that persecute me?

quot, adj. pi., indecl., how many?
dies, ei, m. and fem. a day, the natural day
persequor, secutus sum, sequi, to pursue, follow perseveringly, follow after, persecute.
judicium, i, n. judgment, decrees; law, commandment; the power, or faculty of judging wisely; justice.

Quot sunt dies servi tui? = How many are the days of your servant?

Ie How long will we have to continue to undergo suffering and misery?

quando fácies= When will you make

de persequéntibus me=about persecuting me = on those that persecute me

judícium = judgement

St Augustine suggests on this verse that these words echo Revelations 6:10-11, looking forward to the Last Judgment: "...these are the words of the Martyrs, and long-suffering is enjoined them until the number of their brethren be fulfilled."

85. Narravérunt mihi iníqui fabulatiónes: sed non ut lex tua
The wicked have told me fables: but not as your law.

narro, avi, atum, are to tell, relate, recount.
iniquus, a, um, unjust, godless, wicked; As a subst. the wicked, the godless, the unjust (man or men); evil-doers.
fabulatio onis, f a fable, an idle tale.

Narravérunt mihi = They [the wicked] have told me

iníqui fabulatiónes = the wicked fables/tales

The Neo-Vulgate follows the MT Hebrew instead of the Greek, making it instead something like ‘The proud have dug pits for me’. The Vulgate seems the better reading however! In an age where everything secular has become highly sexualized, where tv shows aimed at teenagers promote homosexuality and other sins, and where even those purporting to speak within the Church more often promote heresy than truth, this is a verse we can certainly take to heart!

sed non ut lex tua = but not as to/according to your law.

86. Omnia mandáta tua véritas: iníque persecúti sunt me, ádjuva me.
All your statutes are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly; help me.

omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything
veritas, atis, truth. grace, kindness ,goodness, fidelity to promises, Faithfulness
inique, unjustly, wrongfully, wickedly.
persequor, secutus sum, sequi, to pursue, follow perseveringly, follow after, persecute.
adjuvo, juvi, jutum, are, to help, assist, support.

Omnia mandáta tua véritas= All your commandments are truth

That is, in contrast to the false fables of the previous verse.

iníque persecúti sunt me= unjustly they have persecuted me

They persecute us for sticking to the truth.

ádjuva me = help me

87. Paulo minus consummavérunt me in terra: ego autem non derelíqui mandáta tua.
They had almost made an end of me upon earth: but I have not forsaken your commandments.

paulo minus, adv., nearly, almost
consumo, sumpsi, sumptum, ere 3, to destroy, annihilate, bring to naught, to come to an end, etc
terra, ae, f the earth; orbis terrae, the world; a country, esp. the Land of Israel
ego , pers. pro., I.
autem, adversative conj., but, on the contrary, however
derelinquo, liqui, lictum, ere 3, to abandon, forsake.

Paulo minus consummavérunt me in terra=They have nearly/almost destroyed/made an end of/annihilated me on the earth

Who are the ‘they’? All the enemies of our salvation, including our own inclinations to sin. This is an intense struggle, the psalmist tells us, leading almost to the death of the soul.

ego autem non derelíqui mandáta tua=but I have not forsaken your commandments

secundum +acc according to, by reason of, because of
misericordia, ae,, mercy, kindness, favor, compassion, loving-kindness.
vivifico, avi, atum, are to quicken, give life to, vivify.
custodio, ivi or li, itum, ire , to guard, watch, keep; to maintain, to hold steadfastly.
os, oris, n., the mouth.

Secúndum misericórdiam tuam vivífica me= According to your mercy revive me

et custódiam testimónia oris tui= and I will keep the testimonies of your mouth

The stanza ends with a final plea for life-giving grace.



You can find the next part of this series here.

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