Friday, November 25, 2011

Psalm 137/2 - In the presence of the angels

Today I want to start a more detailed look at Psalm 137, the last psalm of Vespers of the Dead, starting with a look at verses 1 and 2:

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: * quóniam audísti verba oris mei.
I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart: for you have heard the words of my mouth.

In conspéctu Angelórum psallam tibi: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum, et confitébor nómini tuo.
I will sing praise to you in the sight of the angels: I will worship towards your holy temple, and I will give glory to your name.

The duty of thanksgiving

Most of the psalms of this Office have focused primarily on the help that we need from God as we face death, and this is certainly a theme in this psalm too.

But this psalm adds a new element, asking us to remember to give thanks for all the good things God has given us in our lives, even as it draws to a close, and reminds us once again that we are not alone, but connected already to the heavenly court through the invisible presence of the angels.

Verse 1: An offering of thanksgiving and praise

Confitébor tibi Dómine = I will give praise to you O Lord

The deponent verb confiteor has two possible meanings in Latin: to praise or give thanks, as best fits this context; or to acknowledge one’s guilt (hence the ‘confiteor’ in the Mass).

St Augustine comments that most people know of the confession of sin, but few attend to the confession of praise. I suspect the revere is more true these days, but his remarks on this are still worth reading:

“But first I remind you, that the term confession in Scripture, when we speak of confession to God, is used in two senses, of sin, and of praise. But confession of sin all know, confession of praise few attend to. So well known is confession of sin, that, wherever in Scripture we hear the words, I will confess to You, O Lord, or, we will confess to You, immediately, through habitually understanding in this way, our hands hurry to beating our breast: so entirely are men wont not to understand confession to be of anything, save of sin. But was then our Lord Jesus Christ Himself too a sinner, who says in the Gospel, I confess to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth? He goes on to say what He confesses, that we might understand His confession to be of praise, not of sin, I confess to You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. He praised the Father, he praised God, because He despises not the humble, but the proud. And such confession are we now going to hear, of praise of God, of thanksgiving.”

in toto corde meo = with all my heart

The heart (cor cordis) is often used in Scripture to mean the mind and the soul. Totus is an adjective meaning the whole, entire. What is being offered here is the person’s whole being, focused on thanksgiving.

quóniam audísti verba oris mei = because you have heard the words of my mouth

This phrase seems to have dropped out of the Hebrew Masoretic Text for some reason, but it is retained in the neo-Vulgate, probably because it links up nicely to verse 3.

audio, ivi or li, Itum, ire to hear; to hear gladly; sound forth, utter, announce; hear favorably, to grant,
verbum, i, n.,word, command, edict, also a promise; saying, speech; Law, the Eternal Son.
os, oris, n., the mouth.

Verse 2: In the presence of the angels

In conspéctu Angelórum =in the presence of the angels

conspectus, us, m. sight, presence;
angelus, i, angel, spirit, messenger

The second verse is a crucial reminder that when the Church militant here on earth prays, it does so in union with the Church Triumphant, represented by the angels invisibly present at our liturgy. In the context of the Office of the Dead it is also a reminder, perhaps particularly of the aid available from our own guardian angels.  Curiously, although the Greek uses the word ‘messenger’ (angel) here, the Hebrew Masoretic Text talks about ‘the gods’ instead, particularly jarring in the context of the Temple!

psallam tibi = I will sing praises to you

psallo, ere 3 to sing to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument,; to sing the praises of God.

adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum =I will adore towards you holy temple

adoro, avi, atum, are, to worship, adore
templum, i, n. the Sanctuary or new Tabernacle on Mount Sion; a temple-like structure; heaven; a palace.
sanctus, a, um, holy, holy person

et confitébor nómini tuo = and I will give thanks to your name

nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,

St Benedict on the Divine Office

St Benedict, in his Rule, particularly focused on this second verse in his instructions on the correct performance of the Divine Office, urging us to be conscious of the presence of the angels while saying it:

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that "the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place" (Prov. 15:3). But we should believe this especially without any doubt when we are assisting at the Work of God. To that end let us be mindful always of the Prophet's words, "Serve the Lord in fear" (Ps. 2:11) and again "Sing praises wisely" and "In the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to You". Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in sight of the Godhead and of His Angels, and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.”

Psalm 137

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: * quóniam audísti verba oris mei.
In conspéctu Angelórum psallam tibi: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum, et confitébor nómini tuo.
Super misericórdia tua, et veritáte tua: * quóniam magnificásti super omne, nomen sanctum tuum.
In quacúmque die invocávero te, exáudi me: * multiplicábis in ánima mea virtútem.
Confiteántur tibi, Dómine, omnes reges terræ: * quia audiérunt ómnia verba oris tui.
Et cantent in viis Dómini: * quóniam magna est glória Dómini.
Quóniam excélsus Dóminus, et humília réspicit: * et alta a longe cognóscit.
Si ambulávero in médio tribulatiónis, vivificábis me: * et super iram inimicórum meórum extendísti manum tuam, et salvum me fecit déxtera tua.
Dóminus retríbuet pro me: * Dómine, misericórdia tua in sæculum: ópera mánuum tuárum ne despícias.

This mini-series on Psalm 137 continues here.

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