Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Liturgical uses of the psalms project: update

Just to let you know, that I now have at least one post for each psalm on the blog), accessible through the Psalms by the number page.

I've generally tried to provide at least an overview of the psalm, though some are more placeholders I hope to come back to eventually.

Liturgical uses table: abbreviations key

There is now, however, a table for each psalm for information containing at least some information its New Testament Scriptural uses, and its uses in the liturgy.

The key focus for the liturgical uses is in the traditional version of the Benedictine Office and the Sunday cycle of the EF Mass, but I've included other uses where possible as well.

The table below sets out the basic format of the entries and provides a key to the abbreviations:

NT references

RB cursus
Hour/day used at
Monastic feasts etc
 Psalms used for feasts and commons and their antiphons.
ID No = Hesbert, Corpus antiphonalium Officii
Roman pre 1911
 Office: Hour/day used at
 Responsories listed by Hesbert no only are not used in the 1962 Benedictine Office, but have been included where possible for completeness.
 Office: Hour/day used at
 Office: Hour/day used at
Office: Hour/day used at
Thesauris schemas
Benedictine 1975 schemas A-D
Roman post 1911
1911-62:  Office: Hour/day used at
1970: (liturgy of the hours)
Mass propers (EF)
IN = Introit
GR= Gradual
PP=Post Pentecost (Sunday or week)

In the case of Mass propers, antiphons and responsories, the relevant verse numbers are referenced.

Current project status

Currently the tables include data on the place of the psalm in the psalm cursi for the monastic and pre-1911, and 1911 Roman Offices; use of the whole psalm for monastic feasts; as well as for the Sunday EF cycle.

I'm currently in the process of adding in references to the responsories, antiphons, Mass Commons and feasts.

Eventually I hope to go back and ensure the other main older forms of the Western (and ideally Eastern) Office are also included.

Please do feel free to provide corrections or provide information for inclusion in the tables via the comments box for the relevant psalms.

If you have any suggestions on format and content, please do contact me.

Other projects

I will provide updates on assorted other projects on this blog soon - in particular, I am planning to start the second half of my series on the design of the Benedictine office in the near future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Psalm 139 - Overview

Psalm 139 is said on Thursdays in the Benedictine Office, a placement particularly appropriate given St Hilary of Poitiers' interpretation of it as relating to the events of Maundy Thursday.

The text of the psalm

In finem. Psalmus David.
Unto the end, a psalm of David.
1 Eripe me, Dómine, ab hómine malo: * a viro iníquo éripe me.
Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: rescue me from the unjust man.
2 Qui cogitavérunt iniquitátes in corde: * tota die constituébant prælia.
3 Who have devised iniquities in their hearts: all the day long they designed battles.
3 Acuérunt linguas suas sicut serpéntis: * venénum áspidum sub lábiis eórum.  
4 They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent: the venom of asps is under their lips.
4 Custódi me, Dómine, de manu peccatóris: * et ab homínibus iníquis éripe me.
5 Keep me, O Lord, from the hand of the wicked: and from unjust men deliver me.
5 Qui cogitavérunt supplantáre gressus meos: * abscondérunt supérbi láqueum mihi:
Who have proposed to supplant my steps: 6 The proud have hidden a net for me.
6 Et funes extendérunt in láqueum: * juxta iter scándalum posuérunt mihi.
And they have stretched out cords for a snare: they have laid for me a stumbling block by the wayside.
7. Dixi Dómino : Deus meus es tu: * exáudi, Dómine, vocem deprecatiónis meæ.
7 I said to the Lord: You are my God: hear, O Lord, the voice of my supplication.
8 Dómine, Dómine, virtus salútis meæ: * obumbrásti super caput meum in die belli.
8 O Lord, Lord, the strength of my salvation: you have overshadowed my head in the day of battle.
9 Ne tradas me, Dómine, a desidério meo peccatóri: * cogitavérunt contra me, ne derelínquas me, ne forte exalténtur.
9 Give me not up, O Lord, from my desire to the wicked: they have plotted against me; do not forsake me, lest they should triumph.
10 Caput circúitus eórum: * labor labiórum ipsórum opériet eos.
10 The head of them compassing me about: the labour of their lips shall overwhelm them.
11 Cadent super eos carbónes, in ignem dejícies eos: * in misériis non subsístent.
11 Burning coals shall fall upon them; you will cast them down into the fire: in miseries they shall not be able to stand.
12 Vir linguósus non dirigétur in terra: * virum injústum mala cápient in intéritu.
12 A man full of tongue shall not be established in the earth: evil shall catch the unjust man unto destruction.
13 Cognóvi quia fáciet Dóminus judícium ínopis: * et vindíctam páuperum.
13 I know that the Lord will do justice to the needy, and will revenge the poor.
14 Verúmtamen justi confitebúntur nómini tuo: * et habitábunt recti cum vultu tuo.
14 But as for the just, they shall give glory to your name: and the upright shall dwell with your countenance.

The psalm title

St Alphonsus Liguori points us to the literal interpretation of the title and psalm:
David implores help from God against Saul, and against those that spoke calumniously of him to that prince. 
St Cassiodorus, however, explained the relevance of the title of the psalm christologically:
Unto the end denotes the Lord Christ; as Paul says: For the end of the law is Christ, unto justice to everyone that believeth.' Let us lift up our hearts to Him with all our strength, for in this psalm as by the voice of a herald we are forewarned that He comes as a Judge, fearful and almighty but also devoted and the object of great longing.
The voice of the Christ

It is this Christological orientation that explains why the psalm features in the liturgy of Passiontide and Holy Week, and associated feasts.

It is an interpretation of it that goes back at least to St Hilary of Poitiers: verses 2-6 can be interpreted as the plotting of the Jewish authorities; the hand of the unjust man refers to Judas.

NT references
Romans 3:13,
Jas 3:8 (3)
RB cursus
Thursday Vespers+AN 1197 (2)
Monastic feasts etc
Triduum Vespers;
Comm. of Passion,
Five Wounds,
Seven Dolours (Vespers)
AN 1199(5), 3535 (14)
Roman pre 1911
Friday Vespers
Passion wk Tues v2 (207)
6666, 6671, 7203 (alt verse for Ne avertas) (2);
Wednesday Vespers
Friday Vespers
Thesauris schemas
A: Thurs Vespers;
B: Tuesday Vespers;
C: Tuesday Sext wk 1;
D: Thursday Matins wk 2
Roman post 1911
1911-62: Friday Vespers  .
1970: Friday wk 4 little hour omit vv. 10-12
Mass propers (EF)
Holy Tues, OF (4);
Good Friday TR (1-10, 14).

The voice of the Church

It can also though, be interpreted as speaking of the ongoing struggle of the Church against those seeking to subvert it from within and without, as Cassiodorus, for example, explained:
Holy Church speaks throughout the psalm. In the first section she entreats the Lord that He may deign to free her from the wicked devil who seeks to undermine the devotion of the faithful people with many deceits and traps. In the second, she begs not to be consigned to that most evil tempter, now that she is certainly delivered from bitter dangers by His protection. In the third, she says that vengeance at the future judgment will visit those who afflict His poor with senseless disturbances.
St Benedict's use of the psalm

St Benedict's use of Psalm 139 on Thursdays is one of several psalms that help give his Office the feel of a mini-Triduum each week because of its Christological interpretation in relation to the events of Maundy Thursday.

But it is worth noting that the psalm is also cited in the Rule in relation to the ninth degree of humility:
The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence,  not speaking until he is questioned.  For the Scripture shows  that "in much speaking there is no escape from sin" (Prov. 10:19) and that "the talkative man is not stable on the earth" (Ps. 139:12).
Indeed, the psalm can also be interpreted as a psalm about the spiritual warfare we must wage both against the devil and ourselves.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Psalm 140: Overview

Psalm 140 has long been regarded as the quintessential Vespers psalm: St John Chrysostom for example recorded that it was said daily at Lucernarium (Vespers) in his time, and interprets the reference to prayer rising like incense as referring to the substitution of the Office for the sacrifices of incense made in the temple in the morning and evening.

Psalm 140 and Maundy Thursday

Its placement on Thursday in the Benedictine Office, though, is surely not random, but rather reflects the Patristic interpretation of it (set out in both Chrysostom and Augustine for example) as specifically referring to Christ's sacrifice on the cross replacing the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.  And Cassian made a particular link to its appropriateness to a Thursday:
 "The lifting up of hands in an evening sacrifice" is a prophecy of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the benefits of which were given to the apostles on Maundy Thursday in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for their eternal salvation. 
Pope John Paul II on the psalm

Pope John Paul II gave a General Audience on this psalm in November 2003:
Verse two of this Psalm can be considered as the distinctive sign of the entire hymn and as the apparent justification of the fact that it has been included in the Liturgy of Vespers. The idea expressed reflects the spirit of prophetic theology that intimately unites worship with life, prayer with existence. The same prayer made with a pure and sincere heart becomes a sacrifice offered to God. The entire being of the person who prays becomes a sacrificial act, a prelude to what St Paul would suggest when he invited Christians to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God:  this is the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to him (cf. Rom 12: 1). Hands raised in prayer are a bridge to communication with God, as is the smoke that rises as sweet odour from the victim during the sacrificial rite of the evening. 
The Psalm continues in a tone of supplication, transmitted to us by a text which in the original Hebrew is unclear and presents certain interpretative difficulties (especially in vv. 4-7). The general sense may, however, be identified and transformed into meditation and prayer. Above all else, the person praying calls upon the Lord that He not permit his lips (cf. v. 3) and the motions of his heart to be attracted and enticed by evil, thus inclining him to commit "wicked deeds" (cf. v. 4). 
In fact, a person's words and actions express his or her moral choice. Evil exercises such an attraction that it easily provokes even the faithful to taste "the delights" that sinners can offer, sitting down at their table; that is, taking part in their perverse actions. The Psalm even acquires the character of an examination of conscience, which is followed by the commitment to always choose the ways of God. 
At this point, however, the person praying starts by bursting out with a passionate declaration that he will not associate with the evildoer; he will not be a guest of the sinner, nor let the fragrant oil that is reserved for privileged guests (cf. Ps 23[22]: 5) bear witness to his connivance with the evildoer (cf. Ps 141[140]: 5). To express his downright disassociation from the wicked with greater vehemence, the Psalmist then declares an indignant condemnation in his regard, in vivid images of vehement judgment. It is one of the typical imprecations of the Psalter (cf. Ps 58[57] and 109[108]), whose purpose is to affirm, in a realistic and even picturesque way, hostility towards evil, the choice of good and the certainty that God intervenes in history with his judgment of severe condemnation of injustice (cf. vv. 6-7). 
The Psalm closes with a final invocation of trust (cf. vv. 8-9): it is a hymn of faith, thankfulness and joy in the certainty that the faithful one will not be engulfed by the hatred that the perverse reserve for him and will not fall into the trap they set for him, after having noted his firm choice to do what is right. In this way, the righteous person is able to surmount every deceit unscathed, as it is said in another Psalm:  "We were rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare; broken was the snare, and we were freed" (Ps 124[123]: 7). 
Let us end our reading of Psalm 141[140] by returning to the first image: that of evening prayer as a sacrifice pleasing to God. John Cassian, a great spiritual master and native of the East, who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries and spent the last part of his life in Southern Gaul, re-read these words in a Christological vein: "Indeed, in them, one perceives an allusion made to the evening sacrifice in a more spiritual way, brought to fulfilment by the Lord and Saviour during his Last Supper and consigned to the Apostles when he sanctioned the beginning of the Church's holy mysteries. Or (might one perceive an allusion) to that same sacrifice that he offered of himself the following day in the evening, with the raising of his own hands:  a sacrifice prolonged until the end of time for the salvation of the whole world" (cf. Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche [The Cenobitic Institutions], Abbey of Praglia, Padua 1989, p. 92). 5 November 2003
The text of Psalm 140

Psalmus David.
A psalm of David.
1 Dómine, clamávi ad te, exáudi me: * inténde voci meæ, cum clamávero ad te.
I have cried to you, O Lord, hear me: hearken to my voice, when I cry to you.
2  Dirigátur orátio mea sicut incénsum in conspéctu tuo: * elevátio mánuum meárum sacrifícium vespertínum.
2 Let my prayer be directed as incense in your sight; the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.
3  Pone, Dómine, custódiam ori meo: * et óstium circumstántiæ lábiis meis.
Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips.
4  Non declínes cor meum in verba malítiæ: * ad excusándas excusatiónes in peccátis.
4 Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins.
5  Cum homínibus operántibus iniquitátem: * et non communicábo cum eléctis eórum
With men that work iniquity: and I will not communicate with the choicest of them
6  Corrípiet me justus in misericórdia, et increpábit me: * óleum autem peccatóris non impínguet caput meum.
5 The just man shall correct me in mercy, and shall reprove me: but let not the oil of the sinner fatten my head.
7  Quóniam adhuc et orátio mea in beneplácitis eórum: * absórpti sunt juncti petræ júdices eórum.
For my prayer shall still be against the things with which they are well pleased: 6 Their judges falling upon the rock have been swallowed up.
8  Audient verba mea quóniam potuérunt: * sicut crassitúdo terræ erúpta est super terram.
They shall hear my words, for they have prevailed: 7 As when the thickness of the earth is broken up upon the ground:
9  Dissipáta sunt ossa nostra secus inférnum: * quia ad te, Dómine, Dómine, óculi mei: in te sperávi, non áuferas ánimam meam.
Our bones are scattered by the side of hell. 8 But to you, O Lord, Lord, are my eyes: in you have I put my trust, take not away my soul.
10  Custódi me a láqueo, quem statuérunt mihi: * et a scándalis operántium iniquitátem.
9 Keep me from the snare, which they have laid for me, and from the stumbling blocks of them that work iniquity.
11  Cadent in retiáculo ejus peccatóres: * singuláriter sum ego donec tránseam.
10 The wicked shall fall in his net: I am alone until I pass.

Scriptural and liturgical uses of the psalm

NT references
Lk 1:10,
1 Tim 2:8,
Rev 5:8,
Rev 8:3-4 (2)
Gal 6:1 (6)
RB cursus
Thursday Vespers
Monastic feasts etc
Triduum Vespers
AN 2328(1), 2082 (9)
Roman pre 1911
Friday Vespers
6489 (1), 6458 (2)
Roman post 1911
1911-62: Friday Vespers .
1970: Week 1: Sunday EP-I omitting final verse
Mass propers (EF)
Lent Ember Saturday, GR (2);
Sept Ember Sat GR (2);
PP19 GR (2).

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Psalm 144/1:Overview

The first part of Psalm 144 concludes Friday Vespers in the Benedictine Office, and moves us on, perhaps from the suffering of the Passion, to its purpose, in this hymn of praise for the greatness of God's works.

It is an alphabetic psalm, and case where the Septuagint/Vulgate textual tradition is clearly the better, since in the Massoretic Text one of the Hebrew letters is missing.

St Alphonsus Liguori commented that:
The psalmist here exalts the perfection of God, and especially his goodness and mercy...Verses 1-2 announce the subject: praise of our Lord, God and King; 3-10, his grandeur, power, glory, justice, goodness, mercy, meekness, considered in his works...
Pope Benedict XVI on the psalm

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on the psalm which is worth a read:
We have just prayed Psalm 145[144], a joyful song of praise to the Lord who is exalted as a tender and loving King, concerned for all his creatures. The liturgy presents this hymn to us in two separate parts that also correspond to the two poetical and spiritual movements of the Psalm itself. We now reflect on the first part, which corresponds to verses 1-13.   
The Psalm is raised to the Lord who is invoked and described as "King" (cf. Ps 145[144]: 1), a depiction of the divine that is also dominant in other psalmic hymns (cf. Ps 47[46], 93[92]; 96[95]-99[98]).  Indeed, the spiritual centre of our canticle is constituted precisely by an intense and passionate celebration of the divine kingship. The Hebrew word malkut, "reign", is repeated in it four times, almost as if to indicate the four cardinal points of being and of history (cf. Ps 145[144]: 11-13).  
We know that this royal symbolism, which was also to be central in Christ's preaching, is the expression of God's saving project:  he is not indifferent to human history; on the contrary, he desires to put a plan of harmony and peace for human history into practice with us and for us.  The whole of humanity is called together to implement this plan in order that it comply with the divine saving will, a will that is extended to all "men", to "all generations", from "age to age".  It is a universal action that uproots evil from the world and instils in it the "glory" of the Lord, that is, his personal, effective and transcendent presence. 
The prayerful praise of the Psalmist, who makes himself the voice of all the faithful and today would like to be the voice of all of us, is directed to this heart of the Psalm, placed precisely at the centre of the composition. The loftiest biblical prayer is in fact the celebration of the works of salvation, which reveal the Lord's love for his creatures. In this Psalm the Psalmist continues to praise the divine "name", that is, the person of the Lord (cf. vv. 1-2), who manifests himself in his historical action:  indeed, his "works", "splendour", "wonderful works", "mighty deeds", "greatness", "justice", "patience", "compassion", "grace", "goodness" and "love" are mentioned. 
It is a prayer in the form of a litany which proclaims God's entry into human events in order to bring the whole of created reality to a salvific fullness. We are not at the mercy of dark forces nor alone with our freedom, but rather, we are entrusted to the action of the mighty and loving Lord, who has a plan for us, a "reign" to establish (cf. v. 11).  
This "kingdom" does not consist of power and might, triumph and oppression, as unfortunately is often the case with earthly kingdoms; rather, it is the place where compassion, love, goodness, grace and justice are manifested, as the Psalmist repeats several times in the flow of verses full of praise.Verse 8 sums up this divine portrait:  the Lord is "slow to anger, abounding in love". These words are reminiscent of God's presentation of himself on Sinai when he said:  "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34: 6).
We have here a preparation for the profession of faith in God of St John the Apostle, who simply tells us that he is love:  "Deus caritas est" (cf. I Jn 4: 8, 16).  Our attention, as well as being fixed on these beautiful words that portray to us a God who is "slow to anger" and "full of compassion", always ready to forgive and to help, is also fixed on the very beautiful verse 9 which follows:  "How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures". These are words to meditate upon, words of consolation, a certainty that he brings to our lives. In this regard, St Peter Chrysologus (c. 380 c. 450) says in his Second Discourse on Fasting:  "Great are the works of the Lord'; but this grandeur that we see in Creation is surpassed by the greatness of his mercy. Indeed, after the Prophet has said, "Great are the works of God', in another passage he adds:  "His compassion is greater than all his works'. 
Mercy, brothers and sisters, fills the heavens, fills the earth.... That is why the great, generous, unique mercy of Christ, who reserved every judgment for a single day, allotted all of man's time to the truce of penance.... That is why the Prophet who did not trust in his own justice abandons himself entirely to God's mercy; "Have mercy on me, O God', he says, "according to your abundant mercy' (Ps 51[50]: 3)" (42, 4-5:  Sermoni 1-62bis, Scrittori dell'Area Santambrosiana, 1, Milan-Rome, 1996, pp. 299, 301). And so, let us too say to the Lord, "Have mercy on me, O God, you who are great in your mercy". 

The text of the psalm

Laudatio ipsi David.
Praise, for David himself.
Exaltábo te, Deus meus, rex: * et benedícam nómini tuo in sæculum, et in sæculum sæculi.
I will extol you, O God my king: and I will bless your name for ever; yea, for ever and ever.
2  Per síngulos dies benedícam tibi: * et laudábo nomen tuum in sæculum, et in sæculum sæculi.
2 Every day will I bless you: and I will praise your name for ever; yea, for ever and ever.
3  Magnus Dóminus, et laudábilis nimis: * et magnitúdinis ejus non est finis.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised: and of his greatness there is no end
4  Generátio et generátio laudábit ópera tua: * et poténtiam tuam pronuntiábunt.
4 Generation and generation shall praise your works: and they shall declare your power.
5  Magnificéntiam glóriæ sanctitátis tuæ loquéntur: * et mirabília tua narrábunt.
5 They shall speak of the magnificence of the glory of your holiness: and shall tell your wondrous works.
6  Et virtútem terribílium tuórum dicent: * et magnitúdinem tuam narrábunt.
6 And they shall speak of the might of your terrible acts: and shall declare your greatness.
7  Memóriam abundántiæ suavitátis tuæ eructábunt: * et justítia tua exsultábunt.
7 They shall publish the memory of the abundance of your sweetness: and shall rejoice in your justice.
8  Miserátor, et miséricors Dóminus: * pátiens, et multum miséricors.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful: patient and plenteous in mercy
9  Suávis Dóminus univérsis: * et miseratiónes ejus super ómnia ópera ejus.
9 The Lord is sweet to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works

Scriptural and liturgical uses of the psalm

NT references
Rom 11:33 (3);
RB cursus
Friday Vespers+AN 2266 (2)
Monastic feasts etc

Roman pre 1911
Sat Vespers
7117 (Trinity Sunday no 7), v3
Roman post 1911
1911-62: Sat Vespers
1970: Vespers of Friday wk 4
Mass propers (EF)
Mass of several martyrs in Eastertime, IN 1, [10, 11]

Friday, May 22, 2020

Psalm 143 Pt 2: Overview

The second part of Psalm 143 is said at Friday Vespers in the Benedictine Office.

Pope Benedict XVI on the psalm

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on it in January 2006:
At this gathering of ours, I would like to take up once more the meditation on Psalm 144[143], proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers in two distinct moments (cf. vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-15). The tone is still hymnal and entering into the scene is, also in the second movement of this Psalm, the figure of the "Anointed One", that is, the "Consecrated One" par excellence, Jesus, who draws everyone to himself to make of all "one" (cf. Jn 17:11, 21). 
It is not by chance that the scene dominating the hymn is marked by prosperity and peace, symbols typical of the messianic era. For this reason, the hymn is defined as "new", a term which, in biblical language, evokes not so much the exterior novelty of the words, as the ultimate fullness that seals hope (cf. v. 9). It sings, therefore, of the destination of history where the voice of evil, described by the Psalmist as "lies" and "perjury", expressions which indicate idolatry (cf. v. 11), will finally be silenced. 
But this negative aspect is replaced by a more spacious positive dimension, that of the new world, a joyful one about to appear. This is the true shalom or messianic "peace", a luminous horizon that is articulated with a series of images drawn from social life: they too can become for us an auspice for the birth of a more just society.  It is above all the family (cf. v. 12) that is founded on generations of young people. Sons, the hope of the future, are compared to strong saplings; daughters are like sturdy columns supporting the house, similar to those of a temple. From the family we pass on to agriculture and farming, to the fields with its crops stored in the barns, with large flocks of grazing sheep and the working animals that till the fertile fields (cf. vv. 13-14). 
Our gaze then turns to the city, that is, to the entire civil society which finally enjoys the precious gift of public peace and order. Indeed, the city walls are never more to be "breached" by invaders during assaults; raids are over, that mean plundering and deportation, and finally, the "sound of weeping" of the despairing, the wounded, victims and orphans, the sad inheritance of war, is no longer raised (cf. v. 14). This portrait of a different yet possible world is entrusted to the work of the Messiah and also to that of his people. 
Under the guidance of Christ the Messiah, we must work together for this project of harmony and peace, stopping war's destructive action of hatred and violence. It is necessary, however, to make a choice, choosing to be on the side of the God of love and justice. It is for this reason that the Psalm ends with the words: "Happy the people whose God is the Lord" (v. 15). God is the Good of goods, the condition of all other goods. Only a people that knows God and defends spiritual and moral values can truly go towards a profound peace and also become a strength of peace for the world and for others; therefore, together with the Psalmist they can sing the "new song", full of trust and hope. 
Spontaneous reference is made to the new covenant, to the novelty itself of Christ and his Gospel. This is what St Augustine reminds us. Reading this Psalm, he also interprets the words: "I will play on the ten-stringed harp to you". To him, the ten-stringed harp is the law summed up in the Ten Commandments. But we must find the right peg for these ten strings, these Ten Commandments. And only if these ten cords of the Ten Commandments - as St Augustine says - are strummed by the charity of the heart do they sound well. Charity is the fullness of the law. He who lives the Commandments as a dimension of the one charity, truly sings the "new song". Charity that is united to the sentiments of Christ is the authentic "new song" of the "new man", able to create also a "new world". This Psalm invites us to sing "on the ten-stringed harp" with a new heart, to sing with the sentiments of Christ, to live the Ten Commandments in the dimension of love and to thereby contribute to the peace and harmony of the world (cf. Esposizioni sui Salmi, 143, 16: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, p. 677). 
The text of the psalm

10  Deus, cánticum novum cantábo tibi: * in psaltério, decachórdo psallam tibi.
9 To you, O God, I will sing a new canticle: on the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings I will sing praises to you.
11  Qui das salútem régibus: * qui redemísti David, servum tuum, de gládio malígno : éripe me.
10 Who give salvation to kings: who have redeemed your servant David from the malicious sword:
12  Et érue me de manu filiórum alienórum, quorum os locútum est vanitátem: * et déxtera eórum, déxtera iniquitátis.
11 Deliver me, And rescue me out of the hand of strange children; whose mouth has spoken vanity: and their right hand is the right hand of iniquity:
13  Quorum fílii, sicut novéllæ plantatiónes * in juventúte sua.
12 Whose sons are as new plants in their youth:

14  Fíliæ eórum compósitæ: * circumornátæ ut similitúdo templi.
Their daughters decked out, adorned round about after the similitude of a temple:
15  Promptuária eórum plena: * eructántia ex hoc in illud.
13 Their storehouses full, flowing out of this into that.
16  Oves eórum fœtósæ, abundántes in egréssibus suis: * boves eórum crassæ.
Their sheep fruitful in young, abounding in their goings forth: 14 Their oxen fat.
17  Non est ruína macériæ, neque tránsitus: * neque clamor in platéis eórum.
There is no breach of wall, nor passage, nor crying out in their streets.
18  Beátum dixérunt pópulum, cui hæc sunt: * beátus pópulus, cujus Dóminus Deus ejus.
15 They have called the people happy, that has these things: but happy is that people whose God is the Lord.

Scriptural and liturgical uses of the psalm

NT references
Rev 5:9; Rev 14:3 (10);
RB cursus
Friday Vespers
Monastic feasts etc
Roman pre 1911
 Sat Vespers
Roman post 1911
1911-62: Sat Vespers.
1970: Friday Vespers of wk 4 
Mass propers (EF)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Psalm 143 Pt 1: overview

This psalm is set for Friday Vespers in the Benedictine Office; Saturday in the Roman.  St Benedict divides it although it is not actually that long, and the Liturgy of the Hours follows this lead.

David and Goliath

Cassiodorus explains the typological significance of the title, David to Goliath:
The historical event represented by this heading took place in the early life of the prophet, before he became king, but the importance of its typology summons it from that outworn context to our attention to enable you to realise that everything uttered and written in the psalms bears an allegorical meaning, as we shall state more explicitly in the conclusion. 
It is fitting for us to be aware that this war of David was a prophecy of the Lord Christ's struggle. Just as David laid low Goliath by using a rock as the weapon of war, so the power of the devil was overcome by the Rock which is the Lord Christ. These parallels are accordingly observed in this psalm as well. Not only is the victory described here which is contained in the Book of Kings,nor are thanks offered for that victory alone; there are many comments apposite to the Lord Christ's struggle which we shall duly expound in their proper place... 
After the slaying of Goliath, which we have said was fulfilled as a deed of typological significance, the prophet in the first section thanks the Lord, saying that he has been delivered from danger in the fight now over. He prays that the Lord's coming may be swiftly an-nounced, for through it the devil was overcome, and the consummation of the spiritual conflict waged in figure by Goliath was achieved, for at that moment the faithful were freed from great danger. In the second section, the prophet promises to hymn the Lord in the New and the Old Testaments, since he has been freed from most wicked enemies who reposed their happiness in success in this world; he states that only those whose Lord is their God are truly happy... 
Though the Lord through the agency of this holy man has revealed many mysteries of His religion, this one is seen to have been devised to announce the Church's battles which she endures spiritually; thus the proud one could be brought low by the shepherd's rock when he boasted in the presumption of his strength. So we must interpret this as an exemplar of the whole faith, pregnant with a sense of this kind: Goliath must represent the devil and his agents, and David must typify the entire Christian people, which is known to have overcome its fearful enemy through the solidity of the Rock. We must also pay great attention to the fact that after this extended chain of numerous psalms, this appears to have been set as the close, so to say, of worldly matters; for after this psalm nothing is recounted about persecutions of the Church, the bitterness of the world, the sufferings of martyrs, the afflictions of penitents, the laments of the faithful, or the execrable arrogance of Antichrist...
General Audience

Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI provided commentaries on this part of the psalm as General Audiences; here is the one from Pope Benedict XVI, from January 2006.  Note that the allusion to the 'rock' though it appears in some modern translations, is absent from the Septuagint-Vulgate (and Neo-vulgate) tradition:
"He is my stronghold' : Our journey through the Psalter used by the liturgy of Vespers now comes to a royal hymn, Psalm 144[143], the first part of which has just been proclaimed: in fact, the liturgy divides this hymn into two separate sections. The first part (cf. vv. 1-8) shows clearly the literary character of this composition:  the Psalmist has recourse to citations of other texts of psalms, presenting them in a new project of song and prayer... represents the shining and glorious figure of the Messiah, whose triumph is no longer an event of war or politics but an intervention of liberation from evil. The "messiah" - a Hebrew word that means "anointed one", as was a sovereign - thus gives way to the "Messiah" par excellence, who in the Christian interpretation has the Face of Jesus Christ, "son of David, son of Abraham" (cf. Mt 1: 1). 
The hymn opens with a blessing, that is, with an exclamation of praise addressed to the Lord, celebrated with a brief litany of saving titles:  he is the rock, safe and sound, he is loving grace, he is the protected fortress, the stronghold of defence, liberation, the shield that keeps at bay any assault by evil (cf. 144[143]: 1-2). There is also the martial image of God who trains his faithful one for battle so that he will be able to face the hostilities of the environment, the dark powers of the world. 
Before the all-powerful Lord, the person of prayer feels weak and frail, despite his royal dignity. He therefore makes a profession of humility that is formulated, as was said, with words from Psalms 8 and 39[38]. Indeed, he feels like "a breath", similar to a fleeting shadow, ephemeral and inconsistent, plunged into the flow of time that rolls on and marked by the limitations proper to the human creature (cf. Ps 144[143]: 4). 
Here then, is the question:  why does God care for and think about this creature who is so wretched and ephemeral? This question (cf. v. 3) elicits the great manifestation of the divine, the so-called theophany that is accompanied by a procession of cosmic elements and historical events, directed at celebrating the transcendence of the supreme King of being, of the universe and of history. Here, mountains smoke in volcanic eruptions (cf. v. 5), lightning like arrows routs the wicked (cf. v. 6), here are the "mighty waters" of the ocean that are the symbol of the chaos from which, however, the king is saved by the action of the divine hand itself (cf. v. 7). 
In the background remain the wicked who tell "lies" and swear false oaths (cf. vv. 7-8):  a practical depiction, in the Semitic style of idolatry, of moral perversion and evil that truly oppose God and his faithful. 
Now, for our meditation, we will reflect initially on the profession of humility made by the Psalmist, and entrust ourselves to the words of Origen, whose commentary on our text has come down to us in St Jerome's Latin version. "The Psalmist speaks of the frailty of the body and of the human condition", because "with regard to the human condition, the human person is nothing. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity', said Ecclesiastes". But the marvelling, grateful question returns: ""Lord, what is man that you manifested yourself to him?'... It is a great happiness for men and women to know their Creator. In this we differ from wild beasts and other animals, because we know we have our Creator, whereas they do not". 
It is worth thinking a bit about these words of Origen, who sees the fundamental difference between the human being and the other animals in the fact that man is capable of recognizing God, his Creator, that man is capable of truth, capable of a knowledge that becomes a relationship, friendship. It is important in our time that we do not forget God, together with all the other kinds of knowledge we have acquired in the meantime, and they are very numerous! They all become problematic, at times dangerous, if the fundamental knowledge that gives meaning and orientation to all things is missing:  knowledge of God the Creator. 
Let us return to Origen. He says: "You will not be able to save this wretch that is man unless you take it upon yourself. "Lord..., lower your heavens and come down'. Your lost sheep cannot find healing unless it is placed on your shoulders.... These words are addressed to the Son: "Lord, lower your heavens and come down'.... You have come down, lowered the heavens, stretched out your hand from on high and deigned to take our human flesh upon yourself, and many believed in you" (Origen-Jerome, 74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms, Milan, 1993, pp. 512-515). 
For us Christians God is no longer a hypothesis, as he was in the philosophy that preceded Christianity, but a reality, for God "lowered the heavens and came down". Heaven is God himself and he came down among us. Origen rightly sees in the Parable of the Lost Sheep that the shepherd takes upon his shoulders the Parable of God's Incarnation. Yes, in the Incarnation, he came down and took upon his shoulders our flesh, we ourselves. Thus, knowledge of God became reality, it became friendship and communion. Let us thank the Lord because he "lowered the heavens and came down", he took our flesh upon his shoulders and carries us on our journey through life. 
The Psalm, having started with our discovery that we are weak and far from divine splendour, ends up with this great surprise of God's action:  beside us, with us, is God-Emmanuel, who for Christians has the loving Face of Jesus Christ, God made man, God made one of us. 
The text of the psalm

 Psalm 143/1
Psalmus David. Adversus Goliath.
A psalm of David against Goliath.
Benedíctus Dóminus, Deus meus, qui docet manus meas ad prælium, * et dígitos meos ad bellum
1 Blessed be the Lord my God, who teaches my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.

2  Misericórdia mea, et refúgium meum: * suscéptor meus, et liberátor meus :
2 My mercy, and my refuge: my support, and my deliverer:
3  Protéctor meus, et in ipso sperávi: * qui subdit pópulum meum sub me.
My protector, and I have hoped in him: who subdues my people under me.
4  Dómine, quid est homo quia innotuísti ei? * aut fílius hóminis, quia réputas eum?
3 Lord, what is man,that you are made known to him? Or the son of man, that you make account of him?
5  Homo vanitáti símilis factus est: * dies ejus sicut umbra prætéreunt.
4 Man is like to vanity: his days pass away like a shadow.
 Dómine, inclína cælos tuos, et descénde: * tange montes, et fumigábunt.
5 Lord, bow down your heavens and descend: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
7  Fúlgura coruscatiónem, et dissipábis eos: * emítte sagíttas tuas, et conturbábis eos.
6 Send forth lightning, and you shall scatter them: shoot out your arrows, and you shall trouble them.
8  Emítte manum tuam de alto, éripe me, et líbera me de aquis multis: * de manu filiórum alienórum.
7 Put forth your hand from on high, take me out, and deliver me from many waters: from the hand of strange children:
9  Quorum os locútum est vanitátem: * et déxtera eórum, déxtera iniquitátis.
8 Whose mouth hath spoken vanity: and their right hand is the right hand of iniquity.


Scriptural and liturgical uses of the psalm

NT references
RB cursus
Friday Vespers+AN 1720
Monastic feasts etc
AN 2111 (7)
Roman pre 1911
: Sat Vespers
Easter4&5 v9 (6419)
Roman post 1911
1911-62: Sat Vespers. 1970:
Mass propers (EF)