Thursday, February 13, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 135

Allegory of the Holy Trinity, Perugia

Psalm 135, the second psalm of Vespers on Wednesday in the Benedictine Office,  is known in Jewish tradition as the 'Great Hallel', and is recited at the Passover meal after the "Lesser Hallel" (Psalms 112-117). It was almost certainly also used antiphonally in Temple worship.

Psalm 135 (136) – Confitemini Domino
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Alleluja.

1 Confitémini Dómino, quóniam bonus: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
Praise the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever.
2  Confitémini Deo deórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
2 Praise the God of gods: for his mercy endures for ever.
3  Confitémini Dómino dominórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
3 Praise the Lord of lords: for his mercy endures for ever.
4  Qui facit mirabília magna solus: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
4 Who alone does great wonders: for his mercy endures for ever.
5  Qui fecit cælos in intelléctu: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
5 Who made the heavens in understanding: for his mercy endures for ever.
6  Qui firmávit terram super aquas: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
6 Who established the earth above the waters: for his mercy endures for ever.
7  Qui fecit luminária magna: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
7 Who made the great lights: for his mercy endures for ever.
8  Solem in potestátem diéi : * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus
8 The sun to rule the day: for his mercy endures for ever.
9  Lunam et stellas in potestátem noctis: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
9 The moon and the stars to rule the night: for his mercy endures for ever.
10  Qui percússit Ægyptum cum primogénitis eórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
10 Who smote Egypt with their firstborn: for his mercy endures for ever.
11  Qui edúxit Israël de médio eórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
11 Who brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endures for ever.
12  In manu poténti, et bráchio excélso : * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
12 With a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endures for ever.
13  Qui divísit Mare Rubrum in divisiónes: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
13 Who divided the Red Sea into parts: for his mercy endures for ever.
14  Et edúxit Israël per médium ejus: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
14 And brought out Israel through the midst thereof: for his mercy endures for ever.
15  Et excussit Pharaónem, et virtútem ejus in Mari Rubro: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
15 And overthrew Pharao and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endures for ever.

16  Qui tradúxit pópulum suum per desértum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
16 Who led his people through the desert: for his mercy endures for ever.
17  Qui percússit reges magnos: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
17 Who smote great kings: for his mercy endures for ever.
18  Et occídit reges fortes : * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
18 And slew strong kings: for his mercy endures for ever.
19  Sehon, regem Amorrhæórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
19 Sehon king of the Amorrhites: for his mercy endures for ever.
20  Et Og, regem Basan: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
20 And Og king of Basan: for his mercy endures for ever.
21  Et dedit terram eórum hereditátem : * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
21 And he gave their land for an inheritance: for his mercy endures for ever.
22  Hereditátem Israël, servo suo : * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
22 For an inheritance to his servant Israel: for his mercy endures for ever.
23  Quia in humilitáte nostra memor fuit nostri: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
23 For he was mindful of us in our affliction: for his mercy endures for ever
24  Et redémit nos ab inimícis nostris: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
24 And he redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endures for ever.
25  Qui dat escam omni carni: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus
25 Who gives food to all flesh: for his mercy endures for ever.
26  Confitémini Deo cæli: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
26 Give glory to the God of heaven: for his mercy endures for ever.
27  Confitémini Dómino dominórum: * quóniam in ætérnum misericórdia ejus.
Give glory to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endures for ever

Psalm 135 is, in essence, about God's wondrous nature:  in itself (verses 1-4); as creator and sustainer of the world (verses 5-9; 25); and providentially guiding human history (verses 10-22).  Above all, it is the story of God's choice of Israel, the Church, as his people (verses 21-25).

There is a lot of overlap in content Psalm 135 and Psalm 134, as well as with Psalm 113 from Monday Vespers, and so in the next posts on the verses, rather than going over the same ground again, I'll try and draw out those connections.

For his mercy endures forever

The particularly distinctive feature of Psalm 135 is that it is structured as a litany.

Each verse can be understood as beginning, St Augustine tells us, as do the first four, 'give thanks to the Lord for...'.

Each verse concludes with the refrain 'for his mercy (steadfast love) endures forever'.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a General Audience provided this commentary on the refrain:

"Let us first reflect on the refrain "for his mercy endures for ever". At the centre of the phrase the word "mercy" rings out. In fact, it is a legitimate but limited translation of the original Hebrew term hesed. This is actually a word that belongs to the characteristic terminology used in the Bible to express the Covenant that exists between the Lord and his People. The term seeks to define the attitudes deriving from this relationship:  faithfulness, loyalty, love, and of course, God's mercy. We have here a concise summary that portrays the deep, personal bond established by the Creator with his creature. With this relationship, God does not appear in the Bible as an impassive and implacable Lord against whose mysterious power it is useless to struggle. Instead, he shows himself as a person who loves his creatures, watches over them, follows them on their way through history and suffers because of the infidelities with which the people often oppose his hesed, his merciful and fatherly love..."

God's transcendence and immanence

Psalm 135, like its predecessor, dwells on the nature of God, in terms of both his transcendence and immanence, as Pope Benedict's commentary on it suggests:

"The first part, therefore, addresses creation as a reflection of God's beauty, and the second part speaks of history and the good that God has done for us in the course of time. 

The Lord, of course, is transcendent as the Creator and Arbiter of being; but he is also close to his creatures, entering space and time. He does not remain far away, in a distant Heaven. On the contrary, his presence in our midst reaches its crowning point in Christ's Incarnation. This is what the Christian interpretation of the Psalm clearly proclaims, as the Fathers of the Church testified: they saw as the culminating point of the history of salvation and the supreme sign of the Father's merciful love his gift of his Son to be the Saviour and Redeemer of humanity (cf. Jn 3:16)."

And you can find the first in a series of notes on the verses of Psalm 135 here..

No comments:

Post a Comment