Saturday, May 7, 2022

Why pray in Latin? New book...


I wanted to alert readers to a new book that may be of interest, called Latin Prayer. Aspects of Language and Catholic Spirituality, by David Birch.

I will provide a review in a week or two, but in the meantime, here is the information from the flyer:

Praying in Latin has been part of Catholic life for almost 2,000 years. Each Latin prayer, whether prayed in public worship, or in private contemplation, is saturated with the very rich history of the Catholic Church. The place of Latin prayer thus forms an intrinsic part of the deep and extensive patrimony that is Catholic Tradition. Latin Prayer. Aspects of Language and Catholic Spirituality offers a grammar of prayer, with a linguist's eye for language, and with a Catholic heart for the numinous, which, linguistically and spiritually, is steeped in this patrimony and Tradition.

Over 13 detailed chapters, exploring a wide range of grammatical, linguistic and stylistic features of Latin prayer, and including a very comprehensive bibliography of Liturgical Latin, this book seeks to offer a linguistic means to exploring, and articulating, some of the spiritual depths that lie at the heart of the Latin prayer of the Church.

This is not a ‘how to learn Latin’ book, nor is it a compendium of Latin prayers, but a sustained meditation on prayer, using both a linguistics and theological/scriptural vocabulary, and written by a now retired academic, who has spent a lifetime, as first medieval and then modern linguist, praying both public and increasingly now, private Latin prayer.

It is hoped that those who know no Latin will be inspired by this book to learn it, and those who know it, and perhaps some, or all, of the prayers included here, to revisit it, perhaps with renewed eyes and heart. Above all, it is hoped that everyone, regardless of linguistic skills, will, through these pages, acknowledge, and indeed marvel at, the depth of Catholic patrimony and Tradition in Latin prayer, and its power and potency as a still completely relevant way of prayer. 

This is not a call to traditionalist arms; nor a condemnation or critique of contemporary post-Vatican II vernacular Catholicism, but an embrace of the prayer of the Church across its entire history, regardless of how parts of that history may now be viewed.

Available in paperback and as an e-book at; online bookstores or please support your local bookshop by ordering it with its ISBN- 978-0-6454193-0-6

All royalties from this book will be donated in full to the Monks of Notre Dame Priory, Colebrook, Tasmania, Australia:

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Notes on the relationship between the early Roman and Benedictine Offices: The Nunc Dimittis at Compline**

On the feast of the Purification, the Gospel reading contains the Nunc Dimittis, which is said daily at Compline in the traditional forms of the Roman Office. This canticle is not, however, said at that hour in the Benedictine Office.

So why did St Benedict omit it?

One recent suggestion, from Jesse Billett, is that he didn't: rather the Nunc Dimittis was added to the Roman Office after the Rule of St Benedict was written. [1]

On the face of it the suggestion seems eminently plausible. There are, however, some reasons for questioning this conclusion.

The origins of Compline

It is worth starting by considering, by way of context, the origins of the hour of Compline.

Prayers before bed are mentioned in numerous early sources.

Whether these can be construed as references to proto-liturgical prayer though is contested.

Still, the key elements of Compline were clearly in place relatively early: its position as the 'hour' of prayer before sleep is set out in several early Office schemas; the use of certain fixed psalms at it seems to date from very early on; and the idea of an examination of conscience associated with it also has early origins.

The Apostolic Tradition (circa  225 or 375-400) , for example, lists the appropriate hours of prayer for the faithful as on rising at dawn/cockcrow (Lauds); before starting work (Prime); the third, sixth and ninth hours (Terce, Sext and None); before bed (Compline), again at midnight (Matins). [2]

St Ambrose (d397), in his instructions to Virgins, enjoins the use of psalms in conjunction with the Lord's prayer before sleep, as an aid to freeing the mind from earthly cares and focusing instead on the things of God. [3]

Similarly, St Basil (d379), in the Long Rule, includes prayers before bed in his listing of the hours and foreshadowed three of the key elements of what was to become monastic Compline, viz the use of Psalms 4 and 90 and an examination of conscience:
"The examination of our past actions is a great help toward not falling into like faults again; wherefore the Psalmist says: ‘the things you say in your hearts, be sorry for them upon your beds.’ (Ps 4:5)"  Again, at nightfall, we must ask that our rest be sinless and untroubled by dreams. At this hour, also, the ninetieth Psalm should be recited. [4]
The psalms associated with the hour were apparently so well known that the Ordo Monasterii associated with St Augustine (d430) just refers to 'the customary psalms before sleeping'. [5]

And while St Benedict's contemporary St Caesarius of Arles (d542) doesn't mention Compline in his Rule  for Virgins (which he claimed followed the Office of the monastery of Lerins), his mid-sixth century successor as bishop of Arles, Aurelian (d551), did include the hour. [5]

For Italy, St Cassiodorus mentioned the hour as one of the seven hours each day alluded to in an office hymn attributed to St Ambrose. [6] It is St Benedict's Rule (c500-547), though, that contains the first detailed description of the hour. [7]

The Benedictine form of the hour was evidently used in Roman monasteries in the following centuries given the various references to the Rule in the Ordines Romani, including specific references to Compline in Ordo XVIII, which its original editor dated to the end of the eighth century, though others have convincingly argued dates much more likely from the mid-seventh century. [8]

The earliest surviving detailed description of the Roman version of the hour, however, dates from around three centuries later, and was penned by Amalarius of Metz (c775-850). [9]

The Roman hour and the 'organic development of the liturgy'

The hour Amalarius describes differs from the version St Benedict specifies in several respects: Amalarius doesn't repeat St Benedict's instruction that the psalms should be said without antiphon and 'directly' (ie without any repetitions of an antiphon or refrain); an additional psalm is included, namely the first six verses of Psalm 30; the hour is preceded by a reading (although not formally part of the hour itself); and it includes the Nunc Dimittis.

The table below compares the provisions of the Rule and the version of the hour described by Amalarius.

Benedictine Rule
Modern Benedictine (1962)


Confessional rite
Deus in adjutorium…

                                       Psalm 4
Psalm 30:1-6
                                       Psalm 90
                                       Psalm 133

Nunc dimittis

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison
Pater Noster



Marian antiphon

Some of the differences between the two forms of the hour are perhaps readily explicable as part of the process of the development of the liturgy. The addition of antiphons for the psalms and canticle, for example, in later versions of the Roman Office may well reflect a more developed version of the hour, with the Benedictines continuing to omit it because of the explicit specifications of the Rule. Similarly, later Roman forms of the hour include the hymn and short lesson of the Benedictine hour.

One of the difficulties with Billett's suggestion in relation to the Nunc Dimittis though, is that while the core of the Benedictine Office as laid out in the Rule did not (in most cases) change at all, or significantly, it does seem to have developed in parallel with the Roman Office, adding a number of additional features, such as collects. In the case of Compline, the modern version of the Benedictine hour includes both the opening reading, the confessional rite of the Roman hour, as well as the seasonal Marian antiphon after it (which has Benedictine origins). So why include those elements but not the canticle?

Deliberate choices?

One possible answer is that some of the differences between the two forms of Compline reflect deliberate choices, and were recognised as such by contemporaries.

St Benedict's decision not to include Psalm 30 in his version of the hour, for example, probably goes in part to number symbolism: in his version of the Office Vespers and Compline together add up to seven psalms (a number symbolising completeness, as well as paralleling the seven days of creation), paralleling the number of psalms said at Lauds, and matching the symbolism of the twelve psalms said at Matins and again at Prime to None each day (the number of hours of the day).

It may also, though, reflect his preferred theological emphasises.  

Psalm 30's Compline verses end, implicitly, with the crucifixion (since the section ends with the verse Christ recited on the cross before his death) and acceptance of death.  By contrast St Benedict's psalm cursus is organised so as to consistently emphasis the Resurrection, for example in the placement of Psalm 3, with its verse Ego dormívi, et soporátus sum: exsurréxi, quia Dóminus suscépit me at Matins, and often seems to reflect the comments in the Prologue of the Rule on being granted the extension of our lives in order that we grow in merit.

The addition of the opening reading first to the Roman (later replicated in the Benedictine) version of the hour seems, at least if Amalarius is to be believed, to be due to the influence of St Bede, who drew attention to the precedent of having readings eight times a day in Nehemiah: the Benedictine Office had a reading at Compline (and all its other hours) to make up the eight, but the Roman did not, hence, Amalarius claims, the custom arose of adding a reading before the hour started. [10]

So was the omission of the canticle another such deliberate choice? Like Psalm 30, the Nunc Dimittis arguably serves to give Compline more of a flavour of the acceptance of death, rather than on repenting for our sins and resolution to do better in future, as urged by Psalm 4.

Te decet laus

There is another key reason for seeing it as a deliberate choice though, in a reference to a daily evening prayer consisting of an antiphon and the Nunc Dimittis in the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions:
You children, praise the Lord: praise the name of the Lord. We praise You, we sing hymns to You, we bless You for Your great glory, O Lord our King, the Father of Christ the immaculate Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. Praise becomes You, hymns become You, glory becomes You, the God and Father, through the Son, in the most holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen. Now, O Lord, let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. [11]
Although the Apostolic Constitutions are almost certainly of Syrian origin rather than Roman, it does seem to imply the early use of the Nunc Dimittis as part of the customary prayers before bed, although they do not seem to have become part of any of the Eastern forms of Compline. Early on it appears to have been used at Matins; its use at Vespers seems to have been a thirteenth century development. [12]

All the same the Constitutions, (incorrectly) ascribed to Clement of Rome, were almost certainly known in Rome in the sixth century, since they were rejected as non-canonical by the Gelasium Decretal. [13] More significantly perhaps, the Constitutions provide our sole surviving source for the short doxological hymn, Te decet laus (see the bolding in the text above), that St Benedict specified be used in his version of Matins.


Jesse Billett, in The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England 597-c1000, made the suggestion that the Nunc Dimittis was a later addition to the Roman Office in order to explain its absence in an Anglo-Saxon Office manuscript including canticles and hymns thought to have originated with the Gregorian mission in 597. The traditional explanation was of course that the manuscript reflected the Benedictine origin of most of the missionaries: the book after all contains hymns, which were not used in the Roman Office, as far as we know, until the high middle ages. Billett, by contrast, sought to make the case that the missionaries bought the Roman Office (or at least Roman psalm cursus) with them rather than the Benedictine.

But given the continuing development of Benedictine Compline, presumably in response to the evolution of the Roman version of the hour, the traditional case seems to me at least as plausible as Billett's alternative suggestion.  In particular, the circulation in Rome in Benedict's time of the Apostolic Constitutions, at the very least makes the Nunc Dimittis' association with evening prayer in the city by this time a strong possibility. And at the very least, St Benedict's probable familiarity with the Apostolic Constitutions implies that he made a deliberate choice not to use it in that context, instead repurposing the short doxology associated with it, just as he chose to drop Psalm 30 (assuming it too was already part of Compline) from his version of the hour.


[1] Jesse Billett, The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England 597-c1000, Henry Bradshaw Society, London, 2014, pp 114.

[2] Chapter 41 of the Apostolic Tradition (there is an ongoing vigorous debate on its dating and origins, on which see Ashbrook Harvey, Susan; Hunter, David G. (2008). The Oxford handbook of early Christian studies. Oxford University Press. p. 430).

[3] Ambrose On Virgins, Book III;

[4] Trans St. Basil, the Long Rules, tr. M. Wagner, New York, Fathers of the Church Inc., 1950  pp. 306-311.

[5] St Augustine's Ordo Monasterii. (Sr Michaele Puzicha, though, in her recent commentary on the Benedictine Rule argues that this is not a reference to collective prayer).

[5] Caesarius of Arles, Rule for Virgins, in Caesarius of Arles, Oeuvres Monastique, de Vogue and Courreau ed and trans, 2 vols, Sources Chretienne 345, 398; Aurelian of Arles, Rule for Monks, in Vincent Desprez, Adalbert de Vogüé (ed and trans), Règles monastiques d'Occident: IVe-VIe siècle, d'Augustin à Ferréol, Abbaye de Bellefontaine, 1980.

[6] Cassiodorus, Commentary on Psalm P118:164, in P G Walsh (trans), Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, Paulist Press, NY, 1991: “Should we wish to interpret this number [seven] literally, it denotes the seven offices with which monks in their devoted piety console themselves, namely, matins, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline, nocturn; the hymn of saint Ambrose, sung at the sixth hour, also attests this.”

[7] RB 17&18.

[8]  Although Guy Hallinger argued that the Benedictine Rule was not used in Rome after Benedict, more recent assessments by have challenged this view: see in particular Marios Costambeys and Conrad Leyser, To be the neighbour of St Stephen: patronage, martyr cult, and Roman monasteries c, 600-900 in Kate Cooper and Julia Hillner ed, Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900, CUP 2007, pp 262-287, and  Constant J. Mews (2011) Gregory the Great, the Rule of Benedict and Roman liturgy: the evolution of a legend, Journal of Medieval History, 37:2, 125-144.

For Ordo XVIII see Michel Andrieu (ed), Les ordines romani du haut moyen age, 1961, vol iii, pp 197-208.  Andrieu argues that the Ordo as a whole deviates from the Rule in several respects but there is no obvious reason to view these as other than legitimate adaptations to the circumstances. Andrieu points out, for example that the Rule doesn't envisage saying the Office in the dormitory rather than the oratory, but the Roman basilican monasteries were often located at some distance from the church itself, and in some cases there seem to have been specific agreements (mentioned in the Liber Pontificis) as to which of the hours they would provide in the church itself.  On its dating, see Mews above.

[9] Eric Knibbs (ed and trans). Amalar of Metz, On the Liturgy, vol II, Dumbarton Oaks, 2014, pp 376 - 383.

[10] Bede, On Ezra and Nehemiah, quoting Nehemiah 9:3 says: And they rose up to stand, and they read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God four times a day, and four times at night they confessed and prayed to the Lord their God.   For who would not be amazed that such a great people had such extraordinary concern for devotion that four times a day - that is, at the first hour of the morning, the third, the sixth and the ninth, when time was to be made for prayer and psalmody - they gave themselves over to listening to the divine law in order to renew their mind in God and come back purer and more devout for imploring his mercy; but also four times a night they would shake off their sleepiness and get up in order to confess their sins and beg pardon.  From this example, I think, a most beautiful custom has developed in the Church, namely that through each hour of daily psalmody a passage from the Old or New Testament is recited by heart for all to hear, and thus strengthened by the words of the apostles or the prophets, they bend their knees to perverance in prayer, but also at night, when people cease from the labours of doing good works, they turn willing ears to listen to divine readings.  (trans Scott DeGregorio, Liverpool University Press, 2012, pp 200-201).  Amalarius, op cit, pp 382-3, comments that "And since, according to the arrangement of Ezra, this office must have a reading, that we may read four times a night, pious men are accustomed to read th reading before this Office..."

[11] Book VII , XLVIII.

[12] Gregory Woolfenden, Daily Liturgical Prayer Origins and Theology, pp 285.

[13]  The authenticity and origin of collection of books deemed non-canonical in the Gelasian decretal continue to be debated: their original author suggested a late fifth century southern Gaul origin; Bronwen Neil has recently defended its authenticity.

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.
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.  
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.
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: 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.
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.
 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.
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.
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.
 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.
 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.
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.
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 (c485-585), 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

The latter, Christological, explanation of the psalm, is reflected in its use in the liturgies of Passiontide, Holy Week, and feasts relating to the Passion.

It is an interpretation of it that goes back at least to St Hilary of Poitiers (310-367), who argued that verses 2-6 can be interpreted as the plotting of the Jewish authorities; while the reference to 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

The psalm 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 references to the events of Maundy Thursday.

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 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]