The psalm propers for the First Sunday of Advent in both the Ordinary (in theory at least; in practise they are mostly displaced by five hymn sandwich and responsorial psalm) and Extraordinary Forms draw on two psalms: Psalm 24 (25), which expresses our spiritual longing for Christ and need for repentance to prepare for his coming, and Psalm 84, which is a psalm of thanksgiving, anticipating our deliverance.
I want to take a brief look today at the first of these, Psalm 24, not least because it particularly fits my November theme of the Office of the Dead, in which it is said at Matins.
Psalm 24: The Introit, Gradual and Offertory
Selections from the first four verses of Psalm 24 are used in the Introit, Gradual and Offertory for this Sunday, but in fact the overall theme is perhaps best summarized by its last verse, which asks God to ‘Deliver Israel, O God, from all his tribulations’. It is an alphabetical psalm in the Hebrew, and it touches on many of the key themes of Advent, including our need for guidance, forgiveness of sins, and salvation.
Here are the first four verses of the psalm:
Ad te, Dómine, levávi ánimam meam. Deus meus, in te confído, non erubéscam.
To you, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. In you, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed
Neque irrídeant me inimíci mei: * étenim univérsi, qui sústinent te, non confundentur. Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on you shall be confounded.
Confundántur omnes iníqua agéntes * supervácue.
Let all them be confounded that act unjust things without cause.
Vias tuas, Dómine, demónstra mihi * et sémitas tuas édoce me.
Show, O Lord, your ways to me, and teach me your paths.
The text I’ve given above for the Latin is the (Clementine) Vulgate, but in fact the liturgical text uses an older version of the Latin (the ‘Itala’) in places, substituting ‘expectant’ in verse 2 for ‘sustinent’ and ‘notas fac’ for ‘demonstra mihi’ in the Gradual text.
The Gospels and the psalm…
In the Extraordinary Form, the psalm text has a direct and obvious links to both the Gospel and the Epistle. St Luke Chapter 21 includes the instruction to ‘lift up your heads for your redemption is at hand’; while Romans 13:11-14 tells us to arise from sleep, put on the armour of light that withstands all enemies, and walk in the ways of the Lord.
In the rotating texts of the Ordinary Form, this year the connections between the texts are far less obvious, save perhaps for the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, which talks about those who wait for the Lord…