Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Psalm 120: I will up mine eyes unto the hills

The third psalm of Vespers of the Dead is Psalm 120 (121), in my view one of the most beautiful and most comforting of the entire psalter.

Psalm 120

Here’s the text:

Levavi oculos meos in montes, unde veniet auxilium mihi.
I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me.

Auxilium meum a Domino, qui fecit cælum et terram.
My help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Non det in commotionem pedem tuum, neque dormitet qui custodit te.
May he not suffer your foot to be moved: neither let him slumber that keeps you.

Ecce non dormitabit neque dormiet qui custodit Israël.
Behold he shall neither slumber nor sleep, that keeps Israel.

Dominus custodit te; Dominus protectio tua super manum dexteram tuam.
The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your protection upon your right hand

Per diem sol non uret te, neque luna per noctem.
The sun shall not burn you by day: nor the moon by night.

Dominus custodit te ab omni malo; custodiat animam tuam Dominus.
The Lord keeps you from all evil: may the Lord keep your soul.

Dominus custodiat introitum tuum et exitum tuum, ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
May the Lord keep your coming in and your going out; from henceforth now and for ever.

God our protector

In the previous psalm of this hour, the speaker has become restless with the realization that he is far from God. Here he asks for grace to accompany him on his journey towards him. The key theme of this psalm is the protection God offers the pilgrim – the verb custodire, meaning to guard or protect, is used six times in the course of eight verses, and combines with other several other synonyms for God’s help. It emphasizes God’s constant protection: day and night; our comings and goings. And it echoes in many ways, the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, asking that we not fall into temptation (our foot not be moved, v3), that we protected from all evil (v7), and that we not be led astray (v5&8).

The key verse in the context of the Office of the Dead is, I think, the last one: our coming in (to this world) and goings out from it are under God’s loving watch, and he will help us not to stumble at the end.

A setting to listen to

And finally, in terms of listening to it, although this blog is generally devoted to promoting the use of the Latin, this is one of those psalm settings for which we should embrace the 'Anglican patrimony' in my view!

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