Monday, December 30, 2013

An introduction to Psalm 5**

Psalm 5 is said at Monday Lauds in the traditional form of the Benedictine Office, as well as at Matins in the Office of the Dead.

In the context of Lauds, it is a morning prayer for help that speaks of the longing to be in the Temple, and asks for guidance in the face of the lies and snares of enemies.  In the context of the Office of the Dead, the Temple is surely interpreted as heaven.

The psalm ends with a reassurance of God’s protection and favour to those who trust him.

The psalm invites us, at the start of the week, or when faced with death, to renew our personal commitment to turn away from evil and do good; to choose the way to heaven reopened by the Incarnation of Our Lord, over the path to hell.

Psalm 5: Verba mei auribus

In finem, pro ea quæ hæreditatem consequitur. Psalmus David.
Unto the end, for her that obtains the inheritance. A psalm for David.
1 Verba mea áuribus pércipe, Dómine, * intéllege clamórem meum.
Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry
2. Inténde voci oratiónis meæ: * Rex meus et Deus meus
Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God
3  Quóniam ad te orábo: * Dómine, mane exáudies vocem meam.
For to you will I pray: O Lord, in the morning you shall hear my voice
4  Mane astábo tibi et vidébo: * quóniam non Deus volens iniquitátem tu es.
In the morning I will stand before you, and I will see: because you are not a God that wills iniquity.
5  Neque habitábit juxta te malígnus: * neque permanébunt injústi ante óculos tuos.
Neither shall the wicked dwell near you: nor shall the unjust abide before your eyes.
6  Odísti omnes, qui operántur iniquitátem: * perdes omnes, qui loquúntur mendácium.
You hate all the workers of iniquity: you will destroy all that speak a lie
7  Virum sánguinum et dolósum abominábitur Dóminus: * ego autem in multitúdine misericórdiæ tuæ.
The bloody and the deceitful man the Lord will abhor.  But as for me in the multitude of your mercy,
8  Introíbo in domum tuam: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum in timóre tuo.
I will come into your house; I will worship towards your holy temple, in your fear.
9  Dómine, deduc me in justítia tua: * propter inimícos meos dírige in conspéctu tuo viam meam.
Conduct me, O Lord, in your justice: because of my enemies, direct my way in your sight.
10  Quóniam non est in ore eórum véritas: * cor eórum vanum est.
For there is no truth in their mouth: their heart is vain.
11  Sepúlcrum patens est guttur eórum, linguis suis dolóse agébant, * júdica illos, Deus.
Their throat is an open sepulchre: they dealt deceitfully with their tongues: judge them, O God
12  Décidant a cogitatiónibus suis, secúndum multitúdinem impietátum eórum expélle eos, * quóniam irritavérunt te, Dómine.
Let them fall from their devices: according to the multitude of their wickednesses cast them out: for they have provoked you, O Lord.
13  Et læténtur omnes, qui sperant in te, * in ætérnum exsultábunt: et habitábis in eis.
But let all them be glad that hope in you: they shall rejoice for ever, and you shall dwell in them.
14  Et gloriabúntur in te omnes, qui díligunt nomen tuum: * quóniam tu benedíces justo.
And all they that love your name shall glory in you. For you will bless the just.
15  Dómine, ut scuto bonæ voluntátis tuæ * coronásti nos.
O Lord, you have crowned us, as with a shield of your good will.

Psalm 5 in the Benedictine Office

Psalm 5 is one of several psalms said in the course of the day that can arguably be seen as focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation and our response to it, including being part of a weekly meditation on and renewal of the monastic vows.

The imagery of the Incarnation can be found particularly in verses 3 to 4, with the references to the light of the day that is Christ. These verses are also key to the theme of the renewal of monastic vows.  Indeed, St Thomas Aquinas' commentary on verse 3 of the psalm notes that:

"Hence, Jerome has for Verse 3:"I shall prepare." Because: "Before making a vow, prepare yourself, and do not be like a man who tempts the Lord." (Sir 18:23)." 

Turn away from sin

In the Prologue to his Rule, St Benedict, quoting Psalm 14, poses the question 'who shall dwell in God’s tabernacle, who shall dwell on God’s holy hill'?  The answer is one not just particular to monks though, but one that must be given by all Christians.  It requires us, St Benedict instructs, to make a positive choice in favour of faith and good works, aided by the grace that comes from prayer.

Psalm 5 restates that theology: it is the prayer of the person who has chosen, as its the title suggests ('to the end.  For her that obtains the inheritance'), who wishes to obtain the inheritance of heaven.

The psalm opens with a plea for God’s help, and an affirmation that the psalmist will ask God to perfect his work at its start, in the literal and metaphorical morning. The psalmist notes that God will not tolerate sin in those dwelling near him: destruction awaits sinners and liars. By contrast, the psalmist seeks to enter the Temple, the image of heaven, and worship in godly fear, confident of God’s protection.

The need for grace

The central verse is the plea for guidance and grace: Dómine, deduc me in justítia tua: propter inimícos meos dírige in conspéctu tuo viam meam, or Conduct me, O Lord, in your justice: because of my enemies, direct my way in your sight.

The temple spoken of here can be taken literally, but also as a reference to Christ the true Temple, and to heaven (presumably the reason the psalm is used at Matins in the Office of the Dead). Its references to final judgment and heaven similarly account for its place in several Lent Mass propers.

You can find the first set of verse by verse notes on this psalm here.


  1. Delighted to read your words about this psalm - I was struck by a phrase in it this morning at Lauds:

    "non Deus volens iniquitatem tu es" - "Thou art not a God willing iniquity", i.e. God does not will evil.

    Aquinas notes that the problem of evil is the greatest objection to belief in God; this verse reminds us, when confronted by evil, that God is in no way the cause of evil. Whereas in Ps 99, Jubilate Deo, we sing on Sundays "It is thou who made us, and not we ourselves", on Mondays we may well add mentally "It is we who will evil, not thou, O Lord".

  2. Good point on Aquinas' take Joshua.