Friday, February 24, 2012

Pierce my flesh with your fear: Introduction to Psalm 118/3

Folio 67v
Belles Heures of Jean de France,
duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The sections of Pope Benedict’s catechesis that I’ve pointed to so far in this series introducing Psalm 118 (119) have focused on the law as a path to happiness, and on the importance of meditation on God’s law. The next part of his talk, however, touches on the darker emotions of grief, lament and supplication.

These days compliance with God’s law is often interpreted very broadly indeed, to mean anything I personally want to do. Not so for the psalmist, who repeatedly asks to be instructed, and to be enlightened. It also alludes to the currently highly unpopular idea that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us so that we can be called to repentance, learn and grow. And above all, it accepts ‘fear of the Lord’ as an appropriate motivator.

“The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this Psalm and also the whole of the vocabulary of the believer’s trusting relationship with God; we find in it praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lamentation. However they are always imbued with the certainty of divine grace and of the power of the word of God. Even the verses more heavily marked by grief and by a sense of darkness remain open to hope and are permeated by faith.

“My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (v. 25), the Psalmist trustingly prays. “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes” (v. 83), is his cry as a believer. His fidelity, even when it is put to the test, finds strength in the Lord’s word: “then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word” (v. 42), he says firmly; and even when he faces the anguishing prospect of death, the Lord’s commandments are his reference point and his hope of victory: “they have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts” (v. 87).

The Offertory set for today’s Mass uses verses 107 and 125 from the psalm:

Latin study preparation

Today by way of preparation for studying the Latin of the psalm in more detail, I’d like to give you the last five synonyms the law used in the psalm:

consilium, ii, n. (1) in an active sense a taking counsel, a deliberation, consultation in either a good or bad sense. (2) In a passive sense, the result of the deliberation, a plan, plot, resolution, conclusion in either a good or bad sense. (3) Used also of God, His plan, counsel, design (4) Phrases: consilium facere, ponere, or inire, to consult, take counsel.

praeceptum, i, n. a law, commandment, precept, ordinance.

verbum, i, n., words., the expression of God's will; a command, edict, also a promise.a word, saying, speech. (2) God's promise. (3) the Law. See lex. (4) God's command. (5) In the sense of res, a thing, matter, a something. (6) the Word, the Eternal Son

veritas, atis, f truth. the Law as a record of God's promise and fidelity (1) Of God: His grace, kindness,goodness, fidelity to promises. (2) Of men: goodness, fidelity, piety towards God, and candor, sincerity and charity towards one's neighbor. Faithfulness, the steadfast, those constant in their loyalty. In the psalms this word scarcely ever means truth in the ordinary acceptation of the term. (3) Of things: esp. of the Law as a source of grace and blessings.

ordinatio, onis, f ordinance, decree.

And please do continue on to the final part of this introduction to Psalm 118.

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