Sunday, July 24, 2016

Psalm 118 (Aleph) - Sunday Prime

Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci - Gradual from Santa Maria degli Angeli - folio 80 - Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon in an Initial B (Abegg-Stiftung).jpg
Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci - Gradual from Santa Maria degli Angeli
 - folio 80 -  (Abegg-Stiftung)

Psalm 118 - Aleph
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Alleluia
Alleluia
Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus; in toto corde exquirunt eum.
Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
3 Non enim qui operantur iniquitatem in viis ejus ambulaverunt.
For they that work iniquity, have not walked in his ways.
4 Tu mandasti mandata tua custodiri nimis.
You have commanded your commandments to be kept most diligently.
5 Utinam dirigantur viæ meæ ad custodiendas justificationes tuas.
O! That my ways may be directed to keep your justifications.
6 Tunc non confundar, cum perspexero in omnibus mandatis tuis.
Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all your commandments.
7 Confitebor tibi in directione cordis, in eo quod didici judicia justitiæ tuæ.
I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of your justice.
8 Justificationes tuas custodiam; non me derelinquas usquequaque.
I will keep your justifications: O! Do not utterly forsake me.

The first 'psalm' of Sunday Prime in the Benedictine Office is the first of the 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, of Psalm 118, the longest psalm in the Bible.  You can hear it read aloud here.

Christianity is above all, a philosophy of life, aimed at the achievement of happiness both now and for all eternity, and here the psalmist tells us that meditation on God’s law (thought of broadest sense) is the key to that happiness. These verses stress that the path to happiness lies in following God’s law. But it is not enough, they tell us, to simply think that we are doing the right thing; rather we are charged to actively seek out God's testimonies.

The opening verses of Psalm 118 really just recapitulate the ideas of verses 1-2 of Psalm 1, said on Monday at Prime, which point to the importance of meditation on God’s law as the path to happiness.

Psalm 1 says:

Beátus vir, qui non ábiit in consílio impiórum, et in via peccatórum non stetit,et in cáthedra pestiléntiæ non sedit. Sed in lege Dómini volúntas ejus, et in lege ejus meditábitur die ac nocte. 
“Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence: But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night”

Psalm 118 says:
Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini. Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus; in toto corde exquirunt eum. 
“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.”

The main difference between the two is that Psalm 1 talks of one man, Christ, appropriate to a Monday Office which St Benedict has, I think, shaped to focus on the Incarnation.  By contrast on Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection which opens up the way to heaven to the many, hence St Benedict perhaps thought the focus on the happiness of the blessed in the plural, particularly appropriate.

The Knox translation attempts to replicate the acrostic flavour of the original so is worth looking at:

Ah, blessed they, who pass through life’s journey unstained, who follow the law of the Lord!
Ah, blessed they, who cherish his decrees, make him the whole quest of their hearts!
Afar from wrong-doing, thy sure paths they tread.
Above all else it binds us, the charge thou hast given us to keep.
Ah, how shall my steps be surely guided to keep faith with thy covenant?
Attentive to all thy commandments, I go my way undismayed.
A true heart’s worship thou shalt have, thy just awards prompting me.
All shall be done thy laws demand, so thou wilt not forsake me utterly.


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