Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Psalm 56 - Christ prays to teach us; rises again to raise us

David spares Saul, Maciejowski Bible, c.1250
 Maciejowski Bible, c.1250

Psalm 56 (57): Miserere mei Deus, Miserere mei (Tuesday  Lauds)
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem, cum fugeret a facie Saul in speluncam.
Unto the end, destroy not, for David, for an inscription of a title, when he fled from Saul into the cave.
1 Miserére mei, Deus, miserére mei: * quóniam in te confídit ánima mea.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me: for my soul trusts in you.
2  Et in umbra alárum tuárum sperábo: * donec tránseat iníquitas.
And in the shadow of your wings will I hope, until iniquity pass away.
3  Clamábo ad Deum altíssimum: * Deum, qui benefécit mihi.
I will cry to God the most high; to God who has done good to me.
 Misit de cælo, et liberávit me: * dedit in oppróbrium conculcántes me.
He has sent from heaven and delivered me: he has made them a reproach that trod upon me.
5  Misit Deus misericórdiam suam, et veritátem suam, * et erípuit ánimam meam de médio catulórum leónum: dormívi conturbátus.
God has sent his mercy and his truth, and he has delivered my soul from the midst of the young lions. I slept troubled
6  Fílii hóminum dentes eórum arma et sagíttæ: * et lingua eórum gládius acútus.
The sons of men, whose teeth are weapons and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
7  Exaltáre super cælos, Deus: * et in omnem terram glória tua.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory above all the earth.
8  Láqueum paravérunt pédibus meis: * et incurvavérunt ánimam meam.
They prepared a snare for my feet; and they bowed down my soul.
9  Fodérunt ante fáciem meam fóveam: * et incidérunt in eam.
They dug a pit before my face, and they are fallen into it.
10  Parátum cor meum, Deus, parátum cor meum: * cantábo, et psalmum dicam.
My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing, and rehearse a psalm.
11  Exsúrge, glória mea, exsúrge psaltérium et cíthara: * exsúrgam dilúculo.
Arise, O my glory, arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.
12  Confitébor tibi in pópulis, Dómine: * et psalmum dicam tibi in Géntibus :
I will give praise to you, O Lord, among the people: I will sing a psalm to you among the nations
13  Quóniam magnificáta est usque ad cælos misericórdia tua, * et usque ad nubes véritas tua.
For your mercy is magnified even to the heavens: and your truth unto the clouds.
14  Exaltáre super cælos, Deus: * et super omnem terram glória tua.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens: and your glory above all the earth.


The obvious reason for this psalm's inclusion at Lauds is the reference to prayer early in the morning in verse 11.  As I noted yesterday, though, it shares a number of common motifs with the second Lauds psalms, with a little triptych of references to the protection of God's wings.

Today's psalm (like yesterday's) has a particular historical context, in the story of David and Saul in the cave, with a moral about truth and mercy, and the importance of God's protection of us.  There are, however, additional layers to it that need to be drawn out.

Christ in the psalms

St Augustine provides an extended explanation for the title of the psalm that goes to how the psalm relates to the life of Christ:
This Psalm is singing of the Passion of the Lord, see what is the title that it has: at the end. The end is Christ. (Romans 10:4) Why has He been called end? Not as one that consumes, but one that consummates. 
For David himself, for the inscription of the title; when he fled from the face of Saul into a cavern. If all things which then were being done, were figures of things future, we find there Christ, and by far in the greatest degree. For in them Saul was, in Christ David was.
 For that cavern wherein David hid himself did figure somewhat. But wherefore hid he himself? It was in order that he might be concealed and not be found. What is to be hidden in a cavern? To be hidden in earth. For he that flees into a cavern, with earth is covered so that he may not be seen. But Jesus did carry earth, flesh which He had received from earth: and in it He concealed Himself, in order that by Jews He might not be discovered as God. For if they had known, never the Lord of glory would they have crucified. 
Why therefore the Lord of glory found they not? Because in a cavern He had hidden Himself, that is, the flesh's weakness to their eyes He presented, but the Majesty of the Godhead in the body's clothing, as though in a hiding-place of the earth, He hid....
...For a cavern may be understood as a lower part of the earth. And certainly, as is manifest and certain to all, His Body in a Tomb was laid, which was cut in a Rock. This Tomb therefore was the Cavern; there He fled from the face of Saul. For so long the Jews did persecute Him, even until He was laid in a cavern. 
Whence prove we that so long they persecuted Him, until therein He was laid? Even when dead, and, on the Cross hanging, with lance they wounded Him.  But when shrouded, the funeral celebrated, He was laid in a cavern, no longer had they anything which to the Flesh they might do. 
Rose therefore the Lord again out of that cavern unhurt, uncorrupt, from that place whither He had fled from the face of Saul: concealing Himself from ungodly men, whom Saul prefigured, but showing Himself to His members. For the members of Him rising again by His members were handled: for the members of Him, the Apostles, touched Him rising again and believed and behold nothing profited the persecution of Saul. 
Cassiodorus notes that this as the fifth of the psalms which 'briefly recount the passion and resurrection of the Lord.'  He summarises the content of the verses as follows:
In the first section of the psalm the Lord Christ prays in His anxiety about His passion. He prays as the Man which with love beyond reckoning He deigned to become for our sake. God was so to say made human, but even when He took on flesh He did not cease to be God. Though He assumed the form of changeable man, He remained unchangeable; He did not diminish His own nature, but exalted the condition of mortality. He is one and the same Lord Christ who both performed great miracles of power in the form of God and endured the savagery of the passion in the form of a slave. 
In the second section He describes the glory of His resurrection with astonishing variety. 
In the third He promises to sing praises to the Lord Father after His most blessed resurrection.
The temple of Christ's body

The Fathers link today's psalm with the idea of Christ's divinity 'hidden in the temple of his body' as Cassiodorus puts it, so nicely linked to the theme of spiritual ascent to the heavenly of the day.  Indeed he sees the message of the psalm as being that:
Christ prays to teach us, rises again to raise us, praises the Father to instruct us. We rightly read of Him that He is our Way, our Redemption, our Advocate before the Father. 
At the Mass, some of these verses feature in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

You can find some previous notes I've written on this psalm here.

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