Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A psalm for Tuesday: Psalm 56

David foresees the coming of Christ,
Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
folio 26v

Tuesday in the Benedictine Office centres around the temple, the heavenly city of God, and our ascent to it.

The day opens with the first of the ‘Songs of Zion’, Ps 45, and continues with a sequence focusing on love of the temple. At Lauds, Psalm 42, used in the prayers at the foot of the altar in the Mass, is said. Terce to Vespers features the Gradual psalms, or songs of Ascent, the pilgrim songs that were sung on the approach to the Temple on the major Jewish feasts.

The key to understanding this focus, I would propose, is the earthly mission of Our Lord, where he came to teach us what we must to do to make the ascent to heaven ourselves: for we must above all imitate Christ.  Psalm 56, the second variable psalm of Lauds, is certainly consistent with this.

Historical context of Psalm 56 (57)

The historical context of Psalm 56 is 1 Samuel 22:1, 24: 4-8, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave. Cassiodorus (a contemporary of St Benedict) follows St Augustine in seeing the cave as a figure of Christ’s hidden divinity during his time on earth:

“Just as David in fleeing from Saul hid in a cave, so the Lord Saviour's divinity is known to have been hidden within the temple of His body from the unfaithful Jews.”

Accordingly, the psalm can be read as Our Lord contemplating and praying on his coming Passion, and thus providing a model of how we must approach our own cross; how we should approach sharing in his sufferings.

God sends forth his mercy and truth

The modern commentary by Antiochian Orthodox theologian Patrick Henry Reardon in his interesting book Christ in the Psalms (I’ll provide a review of this shortly), however, gives this an extra layer of meaning by suggesting that the repetition of the phrase ‘he sent forth’ in the psalm refers to the two ‘missions’ of the Son and Holy Ghost respectively:

“Twice in this half of the psalm we speak of God’s redemption as a “sending forth” (exsapesteilen the verb in each instance): He sent forth from heaven and saved me…God sent forth His mercy and His truth.” Does this double “sending forth” of God refer to the sending forth of the Son and the Holy Spirit into the world? Well, maybe so. Compare the wording here with that in Galatians 4:4-6, where the identical verb, exapesteilen, is used twice – “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son…And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son…” (p111).

The psalm, then, becomes one of great hope and trust in God’s mercy and help as we focus on preparing our hearts (verse 10) as his was prepared, through prayer and mortification as we proclaim his message through our words and deeds ‘among the nations’ (verse 12).

You can find some further notes on this psalm in the context of Benedictine Lauds here.

Psalm 56
In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem, cum fugeret a facie Saul in speluncam.
2 Miserere mei, Deus, miserere mei, quoniam in te confidit anima mea. Et in umbra alarum tuarum sperabo, donec transeat iniquitas.
3 Clamabo ad Deum altissimum, Deum qui benefecit mihi.
4 Misit de cælo, et liberavit me; dedit in opprobrium conculcantes me. Misit Deus misericordiam suam et veritatem suam,
5 et eripuit animam meam de medio catulorum leonum. Dormivi conturbatus. Filii hominum dentes eorum arma et sagittæ, et lingua eorum gladius acutus.
6 Exaltare super cælos, Deus, et in omnem terram gloria tua.
7 Laqueum paraverunt pedibus meis, et incurvaverunt animam meam. Foderunt ante faciem meam foveam, et inciderunt in eam.
8 Paratum cor meum, Deus, paratum cor meum; cantabo, et psalmum dicam.
9 Exsurge, gloria mea; exsurge, psalterium et cithara : exsurgam diluculo.
10 Confitebor tibi in populis, Domine, et psalmum dicam tibi in gentibus:
11 quoniam magnificata est usque ad cælos misericordia tua, et usque ad nubes veritas tua.
12 Exaltare super cælos, Deus, et super omnem terram gloria tua.

Unto the end, destroy not, for David, for an inscription of a title, when he fled from Saul into the cave.
2 Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me: for my soul trusts in you. And in the shadow of your wings will I hope, until iniquity pass away.
3 I will cry to God the most high; to God who has done good to me.
4 He has sent from heaven and delivered me: he has made them a reproach that trod upon me. God has sent his mercy and his truth,
5 and he has delivered my soul from the midst of the young lions. I slept troubled. The sons of men, whose teeth are weapons and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
6 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory above all the earth.
7 They prepared a snare for my feet; and they bowed down my soul. They dug a pit before my face, and they are fallen into it.
8 My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing, and rehearse a psalm.
9 Arise, O my glory, arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.
10 I will give praise to you, O Lord, among the people: I will sing a psalm to you among the nations.
11 For your mercy is magnified even to the heavens: and your truth unto the clouds.
12 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens: and your glory above all the earth.