Monday, October 24, 2011

Introduction to Psalm 22 - The Lord is my shepherd

Psalm 22: Trust in God

Psalm 22 is one of those psalms everyone should know, and particularly timely as we are running up to November, the month traditionally devoted to prayer for the dead - and Psalm 22 is one of the psalms used in the Office of the Dead (at Matins).

Pope Benedict XVI introduces his catechesis on it by saying:

“Turning to the Lord in prayer implies a radical act of trust, in the awareness that one is entrusting oneself to God who is good, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6-7; Ps 86[85]:15; cf. Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2; Ps 103 [102]:8; 145[144]:8; Neh 9:17). For this reason I would like to reflect with you today on a Psalm that is totally imbued with trust, in which the Psalmist expresses his serene certainty that he is guided and protected, safe from every danger, because the Lord is his Shepherd. It is Psalm 23 [22, according to the Greco-Latin numbering], a text familiar to all and loved by all.”

Psalm 22 has six verses as set out in most Bibles (indicated in brackets), but in the older liturgical ordering which I will use here it is split into ten verses including the title.

Text of the psalm

Here is the full text of it with translation from the Douay-Rheims:

1. Psalmus David.
A psalm for David

2. Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:in loco pascuæ, ibi me collocavit.
The Lord rules me: and I shall want nothing. He has set me in a place of pasture

3. Super aquam refectionis educavit me; animam meam convertit.
He has brought me up, on the water of refreshment: He has converted my soul.

4 Deduxit me super semitas justitiæ propter nomen suum.
He has led me on the paths of justice, for his own name's sake.

5 Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for you are with me.

6 Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.
Your rod and your staff, they have comforted me.

7 Parasti in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos qui tribulant me;
You have prepared a table before me against them that afflict me.

8 impinguasti in oleo caput meum : et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!
You have anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriates me, how goodly is it!

9 Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;
And your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

10 et ut inhabitem in domo Domini in longitudinem dierum.
And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

You can listen to it being read here.  Or hear it chanted:

Key themes

This psalm presents two main images: first the sheep in a pasture, being led by the good shepherd; and secondly a vision of the heavenly banquet awaiting us. Pope Benedict comments:

With their richness and depth the images of this Psalm have accompanied the whole of the history and religious experience of the People of Israel and accompany Christians. The figure of the shepherd, in particular, calls to mind the original time of the Exodus, the long journey through the desert, as a flock under the guidance of the divine Shepherd (cf. Is 63:11-14; Ps 77: 20-21; 78:52-54). And in the Promised Land, the king had the task of tending the Lord’s flock, like David, the shepherd chosen by God and a figure of the Messiah (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-2; 7:8 Ps 78[77]:70-72).

Then after the Babylonian Exile, as it were in a new Exodus (cf. Is 40:3-5, 9-11; 43:16-21), Israel was brought back to its homeland like a lost sheep found and led by God to luxuriant pastures and resting places (cf. Ezek 34:11-16, 23-31). However, it is in the Lord Jesus that all the evocative power of our Psalm reaches completeness, finds the fullness of its meaning: Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who goes in search of lost sheep, who knows his sheep and lays down his life for them (cf. Mt 18:12-14; Lk 15:4-7; Jn 10:2-4, 11-18). He is the way, the right path that leads us to life (cf. Jn 14:6), the light that illuminates the dark valley and overcomes all our fears (cf. Jn 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).

He is the generous host who welcomes us and rescues us from our enemies, preparing for us the table of his body and his blood (cf. Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25); Lk 22:19-20) and the definitive table of the messianic banquet in Heaven (cf. Lk 14:15ff; Rev 3:20; 19:9). He is the Royal Shepherd, king in docility and in forgiveness, enthroned on the glorious wood of the cross (cf. Jn 3:13-15; 12:32; 17:4-5).

Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 23 invites us to renew our trust in God, abandoning ourselves totally in his hands. Let us therefore ask with faith that the Lord also grant us on the difficult ways of our time that we always walk on his paths as a docile and obedient flock, and that he welcome us to his house, to his table, and lead us to “still waters” so that, in accepting the gift of his Spirit, we may quench our thirst at his sources, springs of the living water “welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14; cf. 7:37-39).

The next part of this mini-series starts looking at the psalm verse by verse.  And for those focused on learning the Latin I've also put together:

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