Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) qof: Keeping vigil

Pope John Paul II gave two General Audiences on this stanza of Psalm 118 in his series on the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours (it is used at Lauds on Saturday of Week I), so today some extracts from his catechesis.

The first of his talks (Wednesday 14 November 2001) focuses on the ideal of keeping vigil that the psalm alludes to:

“In fact the scene at the centre of this set of 8 verses is nocturnal, but open to the new day. After a long night of waiting and of prayerful vigil in the Temple, when the dawn appears on the horizon and the liturgy begins, the believer is certain that the Lord will hear the one who spent the night in prayer, hoping and meditating on the divine Word. Fortified by this awareness and facing the day that unfolds before him, he will no longer fear dangers. He knows that he will not be overcome by his persecutors who besiege him with treachery (cf. v. 150) because the Lord is with him. The strophe expresses an intense prayer: "I call with all my heart, Lord; answer me.... I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your word ..." (vv.145.147). In the Book of Lamentations, we read this invitation: "Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands toward him" (Lam 2,19). St Ambrose repeated: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A). At the same time our strophe is also the exaltation of a certainty: we are not alone because God listens and intervenes. The one who prays, says: "Lord, you are near" (v. 151). The other psalms confirm it: "Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies!" (Ps 68,19); "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps 33,19)”

The second (January 2003) starts by looking at the stanza as an example of prayer as a dialogue:

“The stanza we have just heard is a strophe marked by the Hebrew letter qôf, that portrays the person at prayer who expresses his intense life of faith and prayer to God (cf. vv. 145-152).The invocation of the Lord is relentless because it is a continuing response to the permanent teaching of the Word of God. On the one hand, in fact, the verbs used in prayer are multiplied: "I cry to you", "I call upon you", "I cry for help", "hear my voice". On the other hand, the Psalmist exalts the word of the Lord that proposes decrees, teachings, the word, promises, judgment, the law, the precepts and testimonies of God. Together they form a constellation that is like the polar star of the Psalmist's faith and confidence. Prayer is revealed as a dialogue that begins when it is night before the first gleam of dawn (cf. v. 147), and continues through the day, particularly in the difficult trials of life. In fact, at times the horizon is dark and stormy: "In betrayal my persecutors turn on me, they are far from your law" (v. 150). But the person praying has a steadfast certainty: the closeness of God, with his word and his grace: "But you, O Lord, are close" (v. 151). God does not abandon the just in the hands of persecutors.”

Verse by verse

145 Clamávi in toto corde meo, exáudi me, Dómine: justificatiónes tuas requíram.
I cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord: I will seek/search out your justifications

Clamávi in toto corde meo, exáudi me, Dómine = I have cried out with my whole heart, hear me O Lord

Bellarmine comments that for our prayers to be effective, they must be heartfelt: “For, as we cannot hear one speaking in a subdued tone, and are sure to hear them when they shout, thus God seems to take no notice, as if he did not hear it at all, of a cold, distracted prayer, but is all attention to an ardent, earnest one, as if he could not avoid hearing it”

justificatiónes tuas requíram = your justifications I will seek out

Cassiodorus comments on the object of their intense prayer: “Observe too what they sought with their whole heart and strength; not worldly riches, not marriage with noble women, not momentary distinctions, but the Lord's justifications which the holy mind always desires and seeks above gold and the topaz.”

requiro, quisivi, quisitum, ere 3 seek, seek after, to care for, have regard for, take an interest in; to search out, observe

146 Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac: ut custódiam mandáta tua.
I cried unto you, save me: that I may keep your commandments

Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac = I have cried to you, save me

This is a plea for grace – we are saved by keeping the commandments which we need God’s help in order to do.

ut custódiam mandáta tua = that I may keep your commandments

146 Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac: ut custódiam mandáta tua.
I cried unto you, save me: that I may keep your commandments

Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac = I have cried to you, save me

This is a plea for grace – we are saved by keeping the commandments which we need God’s help in order to do. The neo-Vulgate changes mandata to testimonia, presumably to reflect the Septuagint Greek μαρτύριά which is usually translated in this psalm as testimonies.

ut custódiam mandáta tua = that I may keep your commandments

147 Prævéni in maturitáte, et clamávi: * quia in verba tua supersperávi.
I prevented the dawning of the day, and cried: because in your words I very much hoped

Prævéni in maturitáte, et clamávi = I have come before/anticipated/prevented dawn/maturity and I have called = I rose early

This verse is not easy to translate.

First, praeveni literally means prevent, but in the context, ‘anticipates’ might better convey what it is trying to convey, thus Augustine comments:

“If we refer this to each of the faithful, and to the literal character of the act; it oft happens that the love of God is awake in that hour of the night, and, the love of prayer strongly urging us, the time of prayer, which is wont to be after the crowing of the cock, is not awaited, but prevented. But if we understand night of the whole of this world's duration; we indeed cry unto God at midnight, and prevent the fullness of time in which He will restore us what He has promised, as is elsewhere read, Let us prevent His presence with confession.”

Secondly, there is some debate about just what time of night or morning is being referred to in this verse - St Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew makes this I rose in the darkness (tenebrae), and perhaps links it implicitly to verse 62 on rising at midnight.  Maturitas in the Vulgate literally means ripeness or maturity, the full or proper time for something, so 'I have prevented maturity'.  But the Hebrew and Greek seems more to be trying to convey the idea of rising before dawn in order to greet it in prayer (hence maturitas in the Vulgate is interpreted as meaning dawn; changed to diluculum in the neo-Vulgate to make this clearer).  The New English Translation of the Septuagint, for example, gives it as 'I got a head-start at an unseemly hour'. St Ambrose comments: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A).

praevenio, veni, ventum, ire, come or go before, precede, be beforehand, anticipate, prevent, forestall.
maturitas, atis, f maturity, ripeness; early morning, dawn.
diluculum, i, n. the dawn, daybreak, the early morning, morning twilight,.

148 Prævenérunt óculi mei ad te dilúculo: * ut meditárer elóquia tua.
My eyes to you have prevented the morning: that I might meditate on your words.

Prævenérunt óculi mei ad te dilúculo = My eyes have prevented to you the dawn = My eyes seek you before dawn/anticipate you at dawn

The neo-Vulgate substitutes vigilias or night watches for diluculum (dawn) here.

diluculum, i, n. the dawn, daybreak, the early morning, morning twilight,.

ut meditárer elóquia tua =in order to meditate on your words

149 Vocem meam audi secúndum misericórdiam tuam, Dómine: et secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your mercy: and quicken me according to your judgment.

Vocem meam audi secúndum misericórdiam tuam, Dómine = Hear my voice according to your mercy O Lord

et secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me = and according to your justice revive me

St Augustine comments: For first God according to His loving-mercy takes away punishment from sinners, and will give them life afterwards…

150 Appropinquavérunt persequéntes me iniquitáti: * a lege autem tua longe facti sunt.
They that persecute me have drawn near to iniquity; but they have gone far off from your law.

Appropinquavérunt persequéntes me iniquitáti = Those who are persecuting me have drawn near to /approached iniquity

appropinquo, avi, atum, are , to draw near,approach
persequor, seciitus sum, sequi, to pursue, follow perseveringly, follow after, persecute.
iniquitas, atis, f iniquity, injustice, sin.

a lege autem tua longe facti sunt = but from your law they have been made/have gone far off = but they are far removed from your law

longe, adv. far off, at a distance; as a substantive with a and de, afar off, from afar.
151 Prope es tu, Dómine: * et omnes viæ tuæ véritas.
You are near, O Lord: and all your ways are truth.

Prope es tu, Dómine = You are near O Lord

Ie in the midst of our persecution by evil-doers as mentioned in the previous verse.

prope, near, nigh.

et omnes viæ tuæ véritas = and all your ways are truth

151 Prope es tu, Dómine: * et omnes viæ tuæ véritas.
You are near, O Lord: and all your ways are truth.

Prope es tu, Dómine = You are near O Lord

Ie in the midst of our persecution by evil-doers as mentioned in the previous verse.

prope, near, nigh.

et omnes viæ tuæ véritas = and all your ways are truth

The neo-Vulgate changes viae to praececepta which reflects the Greek ἐντολαί used here.

152 Inítio cognóvi de testimóniis tuis: quia in ætérnum fundásti ea.
I have known from the beginning concerning your testimonies: that you have founded them for ever.

Inítio cognóvi de testimóniis tuis = I have known from the beginning/from of old about your testimonies

The Fathers see this as a reference back to the promises made to the Fathers, and events which foreshadow the coming of Our Lord.

initium, ii n beginning, commencement.
cognosco, gnovi, gnitum, ere 3, to know, see, learn, perceive, be come acquainted with.

quia in ætérnum fundásti ea = that you have established them forever

ie eternal truths are being referred to here

fundo, avi, atum, are to lay the foundation of, to found, establish

And for the next post in this series, continue on here.

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