Sunday, November 6, 2011

Psalm propers for Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost (EF)

Today's psalm propers feature several verses of the longest psalm in the psalter, Psalm 118, so I thought I would take a brief look at them, particularly focusing mainly on the communio.

Psalm 118

Psalm 118 (119) is the longest psalm in the psalter (by a substantial margin), and is an extended meditation on the law.  It arguably serves both as a summary of the preceding psalms, and a necessary prerequisite for the ascent to heaven symbolised by the Gradual psalms that follow immediately after it.

The psalm is an alphabetical psalm (in the Hebrew), broken up into groups of eight verses probably as an aid to memorization.

In the Roman Office, it was traditionally said everyday, spread out over Prime to None; St Benedict however ditched this arrangement. Instead he had it said more slowly, spreading the psalm over Sunday and Monday only. In the 1911 reordering of the breviary, the repetition of the psalm in the Roman Office was dropped, and it is said on Sunday only. The Liturgy of the Hours uses only selected verses from it.

The Introit verse is the opening verse of the psalm, which summarises the central message of the psalm:

Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini, or in the (updated) Douay-Rheims version, Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.

The Communio

The Communio uses parts of three verses from the psalm, namely 81, 84, and 86, all of which are from ‘caph’ (the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet), said at None on Sunday in the traditional Benedictine Office; Sunday Sext in the 1962 Roman.

First let’s take at how the verses as used in the communion fit into the broader group of eight verses (the Communio verses are bolded):

My soul has fainted after your salvation: and in your word I have very much hoped.
My eyes have failed for your word, saying: When will you comfort me?
For I have become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten your justifications.
How many are the days of your servant: when will you execute judgment on them that persecute me?
The wicked have told me fables: but not as your law.
All your statutes are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly; help me.
They had almost made an end of me upon earth: but I have not forsaken your commandments.
Quicken me according to your mercy: and I shall keep the testimonies of your mouth.

The overall theme, Cassiodorus suggests, is the Church’s longing for Christ’s Second Coming, which fits nicely into the general theme of the readings for this end of the liturgical year series of Masses:

“The pilgrim people on this earth sing the eleventh letter, in which they happily confess their extreme longing for the Lord's coming. They further relate their great sufferings from the persecution of the proud. Finally they ask that by the Lord's gift they may persevere in His commandments.”

The Vulgate text here differs slightly from the ‘vetus latina’ of the Mass texts, and has been adapted slightly to fit the purpose. The Latin of the communion is:

In salutari tua anima mea, in verbum tuum speravit; quando facies de persequentibus me judium? Iniqui persecute sunt me, adjuva me, Domie Deus meus

Phrase by phrase

A phrase by phrase literal translation might go as follows:

In salutari tua = in your salvation
anima mea = my soul
in verbum tuum speravi = in your word I have hoped

=My soul is in your salvation and I have hoped in your word, or more colloquially: My soul has trusted in your salvation and relied on your word.

St Robert Bellamine comments on the full verse of the psalm that:

"My desire of eternal salvation has been so great, that I have nearly fainted in consequence. "And in thy word I have very much hoped;" still your promises held out great hopes to me. Thus, while the delay to one's salvation makes one faint, the hope built on promise strengthens and supports."

quando facies de persequentibus me judium? = When will you make judgement on those persecuting me?

St Augustine suggests on this verse that:

"...these are the words of the Martyrs, and long-suffering is enjoined them until the number of their brethren be fulfilled."

Iniqui persecute sunt me, adjuva me = unjustly have they persecuted me, help me.
Domine Deus meus = O Lord my God

A verse that perhaps reminds us also of the behaviour of the unjust servant of today's Gospel.

A final reflection

Dom Gueranger comments on this text in his Liturgical Year that:

"An unflagging hope ever accompanies the admirable patience of holy Church. Persecutions, be they ever so fierce or long, never interrupt her prayer, for, as the Communio expresses it, she keeps in her heart a faithful recollection of the word of salvation that was give her by God."

21st Sunday after Pentecost: Communion from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

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