Sunday, October 23, 2011

Psalm propers for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Psalm 118

Today's psalm propers in the Extraordinary Form point strongly and obviously to the Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding feast).

I want to look particularly at the Communio, which is from Psalm 118, but first a quick run down of the other psalms set for today.

The parable of the wedding feast

The Introit verse is particularly obvious in its message: the verse we are given is the opening of Psalm 77: Atténdite, pópule meus, legem meam: inclináte aurem vestram in verba oris mei, or Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  But this verse is really a cue for the next in the psalm, which is Apériam in parábolis os meum, or I will open my mouth in parables. The psalm then goes on to point out that God's message to us has not been hidden; the law is laid out for us to follow.

The Gradual (Psalm 140) points to the necessity of the proper, acceptable worship of God (starting with baptism, symbolised by the wedding garment):

Dirigátur orátio mea sicut incénsum in conspéctu tuo: * elevátio mánuum meárum sacrifícium vespertínum.
Let my prayer be directed as incense in your sight; the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.

The Alleluia (Psalm 104) goes to the importance of evangelization (salvation is opened to all, following the refusal of those originally invited to attend the wedding):

Confitémini Dómino, et invocáte nomen ejus: annuntiáte inter Gentes ópera ejus.
Give glory to the Lord, and call upon his name: declare his deeds among the Gentiles

The Offertory (Psalm 137) reminds us of God's continuing protection of us as we undertake this mission, and hints at the fate of those cast out from the wedding feast:

Si ambulávero in médio tribulatiónis, vivificábis me: et super iram inimicórum meórum extendes manum tuam, et salvum me faciet déxtera tua.
If I shall walk in the midst of tribulation, you will quicken me: and you have stretched forth your hand against the wrath of my enemies: and your right hand has saved me.

(Note: the text here is from the Roman psalter translation, not the Vulgate; I've used the translation from the Douay-Rheims which reflects the Vulgate).

Communio: Psalm 118

But I want to look particularly today at the Communio, which is verses 4 and 5 from the longest psalm in the psalter, Psalm 118. These verses point us back to the Introit psalm, and their basic message is that it is not enough just to turn up, not enough just to turn away from evil if we want to be saved: we also have to strive positively to keep the law and do good.

They also serve as a reminder that the law enjoined on us is not a manmade creation, that can be changed in ways to suit us as so many liberals in the Church appear to believe, but rather something set in stone by God.

The text is:

Tu mandasti mandata tua custodiri nimis. Utinam dirigantur viæ meæ ad custodiendas justificationes tuas. You have commanded your commandments to be kept most diligently.  O that my ways may be directed to keep your justifications. 

Understanding the Latin

Let's look at the Latin phrase by phrase.

Tu mandásti =you, you have commanded (mando, to enjoin, order, command)

mandáta tua =your commandments

custodíri nimis = to be kept in full/diligently (custodire is the passive infinitive of custodire, to keep, maintain, hold steadfastly; nimis literally means greatly, beyond measure)

Utinam = oh that!/would that!/ I wish that!

dirigántur viæ meæ = my life/ways may be directed (dirigere is to direct, guide set aright; via is life, but most translations change it to ‘ways’ given the context)

ad custodiéndas = to the keeping

justificatiónes tuas! = of your justifications/statutes/laws. (The underlying Hebrew word,Huqqim, translated as justificatio, literally means something engraved or cut in stone or a tablet).

Commentary from St Robert Bellarmine

St Robert Bellarmine comments on these verses, ending with a reminder that salvation is not just a matter of our own efforts, but requires the grace that is made available to us through Christ's sacrifice:

"He now draws another argument from the excellence of the legislator, as much as to say: These are not the commands of man, but of God; that God who requires implicit obedience from all his servants. To give greater weight to what he has to say thereon, he addresses God directly, saying, "Thou hast commanded thy commandments to be kept most diligently." O Lord, you who can freely command your servants, and punish them severely if they disobey, and who can neither forgive nor forget the transgressor, "thou hast commanded," not by way of advice, but by strict precept, "thy commandments to be kept," not negligently or carelessly, but "most diligently" and studiously. Who, then, will not, at once, give their mind to a thorough observance of them? God's commands should be most implicitly obeyed...The law for variety's sake gets different names in the Scripture, such as the precept, the command, the discourse, the speech, the word, sometimes the testimony, by reason of its bearing witness to what God's will is, sometimes the justification, as in this passage, because it is through it we are justified; that is, made more just, according to the apostle, who says, "the doers of the law shall be justified;" observe, though, that I said, they who observe the law shall be made more just, because the first justification, through which we are made just, from being sinners, cannot be ascribed to the law, but to grace, as the same apostle has it, "For if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain."

The chant setting of these verses is well-worth listening to as they are particularly upbeat:

19th Sunday after Pentecost: Communion from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

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