Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who stole Epiphanytide? Notes on Psalm 96

Flemish c16th
I want to take a brief look today, at the psalm featured used for the Introit and Alleluia of the (Third &) Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Psalm 96.


Dom Gueranger's famous series The Liturgical Year starts the volume on the four Sundays after Epiphany with an essay dealing with the idea that in this period we are still in Christmastide; alas, due to the reforms of 1955 (Pius XII) and 1962 (John XXIII) this is no longer actually the case!

The 1962 calendar did, however, retain the traditional Mass and Office texts set for these Sundays. 

The result is that though we are technically in time 'throughout the year' or 'time before Septuagesimatide', in practice the forty days between the nativity and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin  retain a focus on the early manifestations of Our Lord's divinity during his mission on earth.

Fourth Sunday

Today's Gospel (the calming of the storm at sea) deals with the early part of Our Lord's ministry.  And the psalm that is particularly featured in the propers is Psalm 96, which speaks of the joyous message of Our Lord's coming.

Here is the full text of the psalm, first in Latin then in English:

Dóminus regnávit exsúltet terra: * læténtur ínsulæ multæ.
Nubes, et calígo in circúitu ejus: * justítia, et judícium corréctio sedis ejus.
Ignis ante ipsum præcédet: * et inflammábit in circúitu inimícos ejus.
Illuxérunt fúlgura ejus orbi terræ: * vidit et commóta est terra.
Montes, sicut cera fluxérunt a fácie Domini: * a fácie Dómini omnis terra.
Annuntiavérunt cæli justítiam ejus: * et vidérunt omnes pópuli glóriam ejus.
Confundántur omnes, qui adórant sculptília: * et qui gloriántur in simulácris suis.
Adoráte eum, omnes Angeli ejus: * audívit, et lætáta est Sion.
Et exsultavérunt fíliæ Judæ: * propter judícia tua, Dómine:
Quóniam tu Dóminus Altíssimus super omnem terram: * nimis exaltátus es super ones deos.
Qui dilígitis Dóminum, odite malum: * custódit Dóminus ánimas sanctórum suórum, de manu peccatóris liberábit eos.
Lux orta est justo, * et rectis corde lætítia.
Lætámini, justi in Dómino: * et confitémini memóriæ sanctificatiónis ejus.

The Lord has reigned, let the earth rejoice: let many islands be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him: justice and judgment are the establishment of his throne.
A fire shall go before him, and shall burn his enemies round about.
His lightnings have shone forth to the world: the earth saw and trembled.
The mountains melted like wax, at the presence of the Lord: at the presence of the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens declared his justice: and all people saw his glory.
Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols.
Adore him, all you his angels:
Sion heard, and was glad.
And the daughters of Juda rejoiced, because of your judgments, O Lord.
For you are the most high Lord over all the earth: you are exalted exceedingly above all gods.
You that love the Lord, hate evil: the Lord preserves the souls of his saints, he will deliver them out of the hand of the sinner.
Light is risen to the just, and joy to the right of heart.
Rejoice, you just, in the Lord: and give praise to the remembrance of his holiness.

The literal meaning

St Robert Bellarmine, in his commentary on this psalm, suggests that it can be interpreted at the literal level two ways: firstly as speaking of God's kingdom 'absolutely', that is, of his continuing governance of the world invisibly; and secondly, of Christ after the Resurrection. 

But in fact, I would suggest, the Church here gives it a third level of meaning, referring back to the nativity and the epiphany. 

At the nativity, after all, we have the adoration and rejoicing of the angels (Adoráte eum, omnes Angeli ejus); the shepherds, representing the people of Israel (audívit, et lætáta est Sion), and the Magi (læténtur ínsulæ multæ).  The link to the Magi is also reinforced by the use of Psalm 101 in the Gradual, which refers to the kings of the earth fearing the Lord's glory.

The Spiritual meaning

The texts remind us then to retain our Christmas joy, to reflect that joy in the worship of him, and above all, to put our trust in his saving power.

But above all, the series of Gospel's speaking of the manifestation of divine power should remind us of our own duty to manifest Christ to others.  If we truly believe in heaven, then we will want to do everything possible to reach it ourselves.  And we will also want others to be there with us - particularly our friends and family, but also the whole world. Thus we are all called upon to evangelise through prayer, actions and words.