Yesterday I provided some extracts from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on Psalm 118 by way of introduction to the psalm. Today I'd like to continue this series on Psalm 118 (119) with some further material from that Catechesis.
Christ the perfect man and Our Lady, model for believers
Pope Benedict’s comments on the psalm today focus first on the idea of meditation on God’s word, pondering it in our hearts, following the model of Mary.
The opening verses of Psalm 118 really just recapitulates the ideas of verses 1-2 of Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 says:
Beátus vir, qui non ábiit in consílio impiórum, et in via peccatórum non stetit,et in cáthedra pestiléntiæ non sedit. Sed in lege Dómini volúntas ejus, et in lege ejus meditábitur die ac nocte.
“Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence: But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night”
Psalm 118 says:
Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini. Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus; in toto corde exquirunt eum.
“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.”
The main difference between the two is that Psalm 1 talks of one man, which many of the Fathers interpret as Christ, whereas Psalm 118 talks about the happiness of the blessed in the plural, perhaps expanding out the field to believers more generally, implicitly opened up to us through the psalms read thus far! In the Benedictine Office, St Benedict stresses the importance of these two sets of verses by having them open Sunday and Monday Prime respectively.
Pondering the law in our hearts
Pope Benedict XVI places Our Lady before us as the model for lectio divina:
“The Psalmist’s faithfulness stems from listening to the word, from pondering on it in his inmost self, meditating on it and cherishing it, just as did Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”, the words that had been addressed to her and the marvellous events in which God revealed himself, asking her for the assent of her faith (cf. Lk 2:19, 51).
And if the first verses of our Psalm begin by proclaiming “blessed” those “who walk in the law of the Lord” (v. 1b), and “who keep his testimonies” (v. 2a). It is once again the Virgin Mary who brings to completion the perfect figure of the believer, described by the Psalmist. It is she, in fact, who is the true “blessed”, proclaimed such by Elizabeth because “she... believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). Moreover it was to her and to her faith that Jesus himself bore witness when he answered the woman who had cried: “Blessed is the womb that bore you”, with “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Of course, Mary is blessed because she carried the Saviour in her womb, but especially because she accepted God’s announcement and because she was an attentive and loving custodian of his Word.
Psalm 119 is thus woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the “word” and “Law” of the Lord, next to these terms in almost all the verses such synonyms recur as “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “ordinances”, “promises”, “judgement”; and then so many verbs relating to them such as observe, keep, understand, learn, love, meditate and live.”
Yesterday I highlighted five words used in the text used for the law (lex, testimonium, via, eloquium and judicium). Let me add five more to the list:
mandatum, i, n. law, precept, command, commandment (of God); commandments, precepts, decrees; the Law as a command—as enjoined upon man prescribing his duties towards God, and his obligations towards his fellow men.
justificatio, onis, f, precepts, decrees, statutes, ordinances
sermo, onis, m. words; a command, edict; the expression of God's will. (1) word, speech, saying, discourse.. (2) scheme, plan, proposal
semita, ae, f., a path, way; used almost entirely in a fig. sense ; the "way" is the path which God's commandments prescribe. (2) course of life, action, conduct, or procedure.
justitia, ae, f the Law as an expression of God's justice. (1) justice, righteousness, innocence, piety, moral integrity (2) It is found in phrases: (a) In an adjectival sense (b) In an adverbial sense
And please do continue on to the next part in this series.