Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rejoicing in the Resurrection: Psalm 62

In the Benedictine Office Psalm 62 is given a festal connotation, used at Lauds on Sundays (and major feasts).

In the Old Roman Office by contrast it was used every day at Lauds, presumably because it seems so suitable for the hour of the day when we celebrate the Resurrection, with its opening line on watching for God at the break of day.

Waiting for the Resurrection

Why does St Benedict drop the repetition?

Perhaps St Benedict wanted to emphasize the special character of Sundays as the day of the Resurrection, the day we wait especially at dawn, longing for the rising of the Son/sun after our mini-Easter Vigil each week?

I suggested that St Benedict's Office makes each Saturday a remembrance of Holy Saturday, a day when the tomb is empty and mass is not celebrated: a 'desert day' that helps sharpens our longing for Christ, the living water that our soul and flesh longs for (v.2).

Patrick Reardon, in Christ in the Psalms suggests that the psalm as a whole can be seen as a longing for communion (p124), and the psalm as a whole a preparation for its reception, particularly with its phrases such as 'Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness' (verse 6).

A prayer of the Church?

The psalm can also be seen though, as a prayer of the Church as a whole, as she assembles to worship on this special day of worship. Certainly St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus saw it as the prayer of the Church Militant, that dwells in the desert of this world, under the protection of God, and waiting for his mercy:

“So the words of the Church, who is to be the spokeswoman, are rightly set forth as referring to the Lord Saviour. So she dwells in The Desert of Edom, that is, in the aridity of this world, where she thirsts and feels longing, where she seeks the Lord's mercy eagerly until she can deserve to attain that eternal glory… the Church at daybreak keeps vigil before the Lord, praying that she may not be enmeshed in the errors of this world. That spiritual bride, who embodies the limbs of the Lord Saviour, says in the first part that she is taken up with insatiable longing to be able to behold the Lord's power.”

Above all though, this is surely a song of the triumph of Christ:

But they have fought my soul in vain, they shall go into the lower parts of the earth.. But the king shall rejoice in God, all they shall be praised that swear by him."(vv11-12)

Psalm 62

A psalm of David while he was in the desert of Edom.
O God my God, to you do I watch at break of day.
For you my soul has thirsted; for you my flesh, O how many ways!
3 In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before you, to see your power and your glory.
4 For your mercy is better than lives: you my lips will praise.
5 Thus will I bless you all my life long: and in your name I will lift up my hands.
6 Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness: and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips.
7 If I have remembered you upon my bed, I will meditate on you in the morning:
8 Because you have been my helper. And I will rejoice under the covert of your wings:
9 My soul has stuck close to you: your right hand has received me.
10 But they have fought my soul in vain, they shall go into the lower parts of the earth:
11 They shall be delivered into the hands of the sword, they shall be the portions of foxes.
12 But the king shall rejoice in God, all they shall be praised that swear by him: because the mouth is stopped of them that speak wicked things.

1 Psalmus David, cum esset in deserto Idumææ.
2 Deus, Deus meus, ad te de luce vigilo. Sitivit in te anima mea; quam multipliciter tibi caro mea!
3 In terra deserta, et invia, et inaquosa, sic in sancto apparui tibi, ut viderem virtutem tuam et gloriam tuam.
4 Quoniam melior est misericordia tua super vitas, labia mea laudabunt te.
5 Sic benedicam te in vita mea, et in nomine tuo levabo manus meas.
6 Sicut adipe et pinguedine repleatur anima mea, et labiis exsultationis laudabit os meum.
7 Si memor fui tui super stratum meum, in matutinis meditabor in te.
8 Quia fuisti adjutor meus, et in velamento alarum tuarum exsultabo.
9 Adhæsit anima mea post te; me suscepit dextera tua.
10 Ipsi vero in vanum quæsierunt animam meam : introibunt in inferiora terræ;
11 tradentur in manus gladii : partes vulpium erunt.
12 Rex vero lætabitur in Deo; laudabuntur omnes qui jurant in eo: quia obstructum est os loquentium iniqua.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The canticle for the Sabbath that God dictated? Deuteronomy 32/1

Saturday in the Benedictine Office, I have suggested previously, calls us to remember Holy Saturday, when the tomb is empty and the Mass is not celebrated, because Christ is preaching to those in Sheol.

It is a day when we can meditate on God's wonderful faithfulness and care of us, set against our constant rejection of him through sin.

In St Benedict’s ordering of the Office, Saturday has but one psalm, Psalm 142.

The reason for this is no doubt in part that the Canticle he set for the day, from Deuteronomy 32, is extremely long (65 verses when arranged for liturgical use). Today I want to look briefly provide something of an introduction to it.

Importance of the Canticle

Before looking at the text itself, it is worth noting that this is an extremely important canticle.

Whereas in the case of the other Lauds canticles St Benedict simply says, in his Rule, to use the Roman ones, he specifically mentions Deuteronomy for Saturday. In this he was carrying over a Jewish tradition that this canticle be recited each Sabbath in the synagogues, a tradition alluded to by St James in Acts 15:21.

This in fact reflects a Scriptural injunction: in Deuteronomy 31 God tells Moses that he is going to die soon, and calls him and Joshua before him within the tabernacle. Appearing as a pillar of cloud, Scripture records that God then dictated the canticle and instructed Moses to make the children of Israel learn it by heart so they would have no excuses as to what the law required, and could not say that they did not know the consequences of not following it.

Modern (and modernist?) commentaries (yes, even the Navarre) tend to reject the idea that it was composed all at once, or dictated in quite so dramatic a fashion, Scripture notwithstanding.  Still, regardless of how literally you interpret the story of its composition, the inclusion of this explanation clearly signals its importance.

The canticle is effectively a summary of all of Deuteronomy, and its mix of rejoicing over God’s care and creation of us, testimony to God’s care of us and man’s infidelity and continuing rejection of him, together with warnings over the consequences of sin.  Its themes are also reflected in many of the psalms of Matins today in the Benedictine Office.

And its references to a perverse generation and should sound very familiar from the New Testament.

Liturgical wreckovation?

Despite all this, the full text of the canticle is likely to be relatively unfamiliar to those who say the 1962 Benedictine Office using the Monastic Diurnal or Breviary (as opposed to the Antiphonale Monasticum) for several reasons.

First, on many Saturdays during the year, the rubrics suggest that it be replaced by the festal canticle, as part of the Saturday Office of Our Lady.

But secondly, even where it is retained (such as during Lent and Advent), the 1962 breviary actually cuts out more than half of it, ending it at verse 27, before even the division point of the original version! Indeed, the Monastic Diurnal for some reason inserts a division into Psalm 142 rather than the canticle as St Benedict actually specified, perhaps by way of a protest?  The result is that the canticle seems to end on a rather odd note, condemning the people who had forgotten God who created them.

Soft soaping?

I can only speculate on the reasons for this bit of liturgical butchery.

Were the verses condemning homosexuality perhaps ones the reformers didn’t want to have modern monks confronted with on a regular basis?

Or was it perhaps the references to God’s judgment?

Or worse still from a liberal perspective, the references to God’s vengeance, that actually conclude the canticle?

Unsurprisingly, the modern Liturgy of the Hours goes even further, slashing the canticle to but twelve verses, and thus transforming it from some hard sayings coupled with a tough warning to a ‘joyful hymn to the Lord who lovingly protects and cares for his people amid the daylong dangers and difficulties’ (Pope John Paul II, in a General Audience on it in 2002).

Can one legitimately add those excluded verses back into the 1962 Office? Given that many monasteries continue to use the older version of the Antiphonale Monasticum which includes the full text of this canticle, I actually do think this is legitimate and even desirable.

Deuteronomy 32

Here is the first half of the canticle, up to the pre-1962 divisio point, but with verse divisions as it appears in Scripture:

Hear, O you heavens, the things I speak, let the earth give ear to the words of my mouth.
2 Let my doctrine gather as the rain, let my speech distil as the dew, as a shower upon the herb, and as drops upon the grass.
3 Because I will invoke the name of the Lord: give magnificence to our God.
4 The works of God are perfect, and all his ways are judgments: God is faithful and without any iniquity, he is just and right.
5 They have sinned against him, and are none of his children in their filth: they are a wicked and perverse generation.
6 Is this the return you make to the Lord, O foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, that has possessed you, and made you, and created you?
7 Remember the days of old, think upon every generation: ask your father, and he will declare to you: your elders and they will tell you.
8 When the Most High divided the nations: when he separated the sons of Adam, he appointed the bounds of people according to the number of the children of Israel.
9 But the Lord's portion is his people: Jacob the lot of his inheritance.
10 He found him in a desert land, in a place of horror, and of vast wilderness: he led him about, and taught him: and he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, he spread his wings, and has taken him and carried him on his shoulders.
12 The Lord alone was his leader: and there was no strange god with him.
13 He set him upon high land: that he might eat the fruits of the fields, that he might suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the hardest stone,
14 butter of the herd, and milk of the sheep with the fat of lambs, and of the rams of the breed of Basan: and goats with the marrow of wheat, and might drink the purest blood of the grape.
15 The beloved grew fat, and kicked: he grew fat, and thick and gross, he forsook God who made him, and departed from God his saviour.
16 They provoked him by strange gods, and stirred him up to anger, with their abominations.
17 They sacrificed to devils and not to God: to gods whom they knew not: that were newly come up, whom their fathers worshipped not.
18 You have forsaken the God that begot you, and have forgotten the Lord that created you.
19 The Lord saw, and was moved to wrath: because his own sons and daughters provoked him.
20 And he said: I will hide my face from them, and will consider what their last end shall be: for it is a perverse generation, and unfaithful children.
21 They have provoked me with that which was no god, and have angered me with their vanities: and I will provoke them with that which is no people, and will vex them with a foolish nation.

1 Audite, cæli, quæ loquor : audiat terra verba oris mei.
2 Concrescat ut pluvia doctrina mea, fluat ut ros eloquium meum, quasi imber super herbam, et quasi stillæ super gramina.
3 Quia nomen Domini invocabo : date magnificentiam Deo nostro.
Dei perfecta sunt opera, et omnes viæ ejus judicia : Deus fidelis, et absque ulla iniquitate, justus et rectus.
5 Peccaverunt ei, et non filii ejus in sordibus : generatio prava atque perversa.
6 Hæccine reddis Domino, popule stulte et insipiens? numquid non ipse est pater tuus, qui possedit te, et fecit, et creavit te?
7 Memento dierum antiquorum, cogita generationes singulas : interroga patrem tuum, et annuntiabit tibi : majores tuos, et dicent tibi.
8 Quando dividebat Altissimus gentes, quando separabat filios Adam, constituit terminos populorum juxta numerum filiorum Israël.
9 Pars autem Domini, populus ejus : Jacob funiculus hæreditatis ejus.
10 Invenit eum in terra deserta, in loco horroris, et vastæ solitudinis : circumduxit eum, et docuit : et custodivit quasi pupillam oculi sui.
11 Sicut aquila provocans ad volandum pullos suos, et super eos volitans, expandit alas suas, et assumpsit eum, atque portavit in humeris suis.
12 Dominus solus dux ejus fuit, et non erat cum eo deus alienus :
13 constituit eum super excelsam terram, ut comederet fructus agrorum : ut sugeret mel de petra, oleumque de saxo durissimo;
14 butyrum de armento, et lac de ovibus cum adipe agnorum, et arietum filiorum Basan : et hircos cum medulla tritici, et sanguinem uvæ biberet meracissimum.
15 Incrassatus est dilectus, et recalcitravit : incrassatus, impinguatus, dilatatus, dereliquit Deum factorem suum, et recessit a Deo salutari suo.
16 Provocaverunt eum in diis alienis, et in abominationibus ad iracundiam concitaverunt. 17 Immolaverunt dæmoniis et non Deo, diis quos ignorabant : novi recentesque venerunt, quos non coluerunt patres eorum :
18 Deum qui te genuit dereliquisti, et oblitus es Domini creatoris tui.
19 Vidit Dominus, et ad iracundiam concitatus est : quia provocaverunt eum filii sui et filiæ.
20 Et ait : Abscondam faciem meam ab eis, et considerabo novissima eorum : generatio enim perversa est, et infideles filii.
21 Ipsi me provocaverunt in eo qui non erat Deus, et irritaverunt in vanitatibus suis : et ego provocabo eos in eo qui non est populus, et in gente stulta irritabo illi.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Psalm 91: our anti-Jewish roots?!

In my commentary on the other Psalm of Friday Lauds in the traditional Benedictine Office, Psalm 75 (76), I suggested that its selection reflected its clear allusion to the events of Good Friday, particularly the reference to the earthquake that occurred at the hour of Our Lord's death on the Cross.

I have to say though that for a long time I was fairly puzzled about the reasons for the inclusion of Psalm 91(92) on Friday.  It certainly contains allusions to the Crucifixion, but overall it is a rather joyous hymn; indeed its title suggests that in the Jewish tradition it was said on the sabbath (ie Saturday), and indeed the Old Roman Office retained that position for it.

Christ's sacrifice replaces those of the Temple

Eminent Orthodox scholar Patrick Reardon, in his book Christ in the Psalms, however, has provided an elegant and plausible solution to this puzzle, for he notes that as well as the Sabbath, Jewish commentaries state that it was sung daily as an accompaniment to the daily morning sacrifice of a lamb.  Reardon, accordingly, sees the shift of the psalm to Friday Lauds as a testimony to the idea that Friday is "our true the true Pascha and Atonement Day, on which the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world."

He sees Psalm 91 as a reminder that the Old Covenant, which merely foreshadowed what was to come, has ended, and the New has replaced it:

"Prayed on Friday mornings, as the ancient Western monastic rule prescribed, this psalm reminds the Church why it is no longer necessary to make the daily offering of lambs in the temple, for those sacrifices had only "a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (Heb. 10:1). With respect to those quotidian lambs offered of old, we are told that "every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (10:11). But, with respect to the Lamb in the midst of the Throne, we are told that "this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (10:12-14). This is the true Lamb to whom we chant: "You are worthy to take the scroll, / And to open its seals; / For You were slain, / And have redeemed us to God by Your blood" (Rev. 5:9)." (p181)

St Benedict on the Old Covenant

Is it plausible that St Benedict was aware of the Jewish tradition?   Sociologist Rodney Stark has drawn attention, in a number of his books on the early Church, on the close relationship and competition between Jewish and Christian communities in the early Church.  Certainly there is a large volume of Patristic literature which St Benedict would have had access to, directed against the Jews that is plausibly explained by the problem of relapsing/Judaizing Christians.  And there was also a lot of other material on Jewish culture available at the time: Cassiodorus attests, for example, that Josephus' Antiquities for example was available in Latin at this time.   The idea that St Benedict would deliberately shift this psalm out of Saturday as something of a statement on the Old Covenant is also supported, I think, by two other instances in the design of his Office where I think St Benedict may be having a subtle poke at the Jews.    One instance concerns Psalm 118, which the traditional Roman Office gets through in a day, but St Benedict spreads over Sunday and Monday. St Benedict ends Sunday, the eighth day's, segments of the psalm with the psalmist claiming to have outshone his teachers and those of old in his understanding.

The second case also has to do with the Sunday Office: on Sundays he sets Psalm 117 at Lauds and ends Vespers with Psalm 112.  These are the last and first respectively of the Hallel psalms, songs of praise used on Jewish festivals.  A kind of coded allusion to the promise of their eventual conversion in that the first shall be last and the last first?

The scandal of the Cross  

In any case, if the overall theme of the day is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, in this psalm, I think we are called on to contemplate the deep mystery of God’s plan (vs 5). The fool, the psalmist states in verse 6, fails to understand: to him, St Paul points out, the Cross is a scandal.   Yet the Cross enables all of us to be reconciled to God through Christ. Indeed, the Fathers interpreted verse 10, talking about the exaltation of the horn of the unicorn, as a direct reference to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Horned animals were sacrificed to God, as Our Lord became the Lamb of God on the Cross.

St Benedict's overall take on Good Friday though, is a relatively upbeat one, I think, focused on the promise of the Resurrection rather than dwelling unduly on the Cross.

And if his move of this psalm from the Jewish Sabbath to Friday is something of a statement, it is one with a note of hope in it as well, for St Benedict was surely aware that St Paul (Rom 11:33) quotes verse 6 of the psalm immediately after his prophesy of the ultimate reconciliation of the Jewish people to Christ.

Psalm 91

Psalm 91 (92): Bonum est confiteri Dominum

Psalmus cantici, in die sabbati.
A psalm of a canticle on the sabbath day.
1 Bonum est confitéri dómino: * et psállere nómini tuo, altíssime.
It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to your name, O most High.
2  Ad annuntiándum mane misericórdiam tuam: * et veritátem tuam per noctem
3 To show forth your mercy in the morning, and your truth in the night:
3  In decachórdo, psaltério: * cum cántico, in cíthara.
4 Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp.
4. Quia delectásti me, Dómine, in factúra tua: * et in opéribus mánuum tuárum exsultábo.
5 For you have given me, O Lord, a delight in your doings: and in the works of your hands I shall rejoice.
5  Quam magnificáta sunt ópera tua, Dómine! * nimis profúndæ factæ sunt cogitatiónes tuæ
6 O Lord, how great are your works! your thoughts are exceeding deep.
6  Vir insípiens non cognóscet: * et stultus non intélliget hæc.
7 The senseless man shall not know: nor will the fool understand these things.
7  Cum exórti fúerint peccatóres sicut fœnum: * et apparúerint omnes, qui operántur iniquitátem.
8 When the wicked shall spring up as grass: and all the workers of iniquity shall appear:
8  Ut intéreant in sæculum sæculi: * tu autem Altíssimus in ætérnum, Dómine.
That they may perish for ever and ever: 9 But you, O Lord, are most high for evermore.
9  Quóniam ecce inimíci tui, Dómine, quóniam ecce inimíci tui períbunt: * et dispergéntur omnes, qui operántur iniquitátem.
10 For behold your enemies, O lord, for behold your enemies shall perish: and all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
10. Et exaltábitur sicut unicórnis cornu meum: * et senéctus mea in misericórdia úberi.
11 But my horn shall be exalted like that of the unicorn: and my old age in plentiful mercy.
11  Et despéxit óculus meus inimícos meos: * et in insurgéntibus in me malignántibus áudiet auris mea.
12 My eye also has looked down upon my enemies: and my ear shall hear of the downfall of the malignant that rise up against me.
12  Justus, ut palma florébit: * sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur.
13 The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.
13  Plantáti in domo Dómini, *  in átriis domus Dei nostri florébunt.
14 They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God.
14  Adhuc multiplicabúntur in senécta úberi: * et bene patiéntes erunt,  ut annúntient:
15 They shall still increase in a fruitful old age: and shall be well treated, 16 that they may show, 
15  Quóniam rectus Dóminus, Deus noster: * et non est iníquitas in eo.
That the Lord our God is righteous, and there is no iniquity in him.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Introduction to Psalm 89: The humanity and divinity of Christ

William Blake:
Moses and the Brazen Serpent

In my notes on Psalm 87, the other psalm of Thursday at Lauds, I suggested that Thursday represents the start of a mini-Triduum in the Office, and that darkest of psalms alludes to Christ’s dark moments at Gethsemane as he contemplated his coming Passion.

The connection of this second psalm of Lauds, Psalm 89, which St Benedict took over from the old Roman Office for the day, to the mini-Triduum idea, however is rather less obvious to me at least on the face of it.

Yet this psalm is also assigned to Tenebrae on Maundy Thursday, which suggests that there surely is a thematic link! Accordingly, I’ll sketch out the possibilities that I see here…

A response to Psalm 87?

In the context of the Benedictine Office the first point to note is that it provides something of a response to the unresolved ending of Psalm 87 that precedes it.

Psalm 87 is a prayer of unrelieved gloom on the part of a man about to die, perhaps a prayer from the humanity of Christ, eventually resolved after the agony of Gethsemane. This psalm, by contrast points first to the divinity of Christ, reminding us that: “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.” (v2) Thus, we are reminded of the two natures of Christ, so critical to the events to come.

Secondly, the next verse, at least in the Septuagint/Vulgate version, is a plea to God not to abandon man: Turn not man away to be brought low (v3), thus fits neatly indeed with the Gethsemane theme (note however that the Hebrew Masoretic Text version, followed by the Monastic Diurnal in this case, actually turns this verse around saying ‘Thou turnest man again to dust’).

Certainly the Fathers saw the  plea for God to have pity and convert men, and v.15’s ‘Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants’, and the discussion on the shortness of man’s life, in verses 6-11, as allusions to the consequences of Adam’s sin: we too would be immortal but for it.

The consequences of Original Sin

Thirdly, perhaps one can also take the discussion on the shortness of man’s life in contrast to the eternity of God (vv 2, 4&5) as part of a kind of dialogue between the human and divine natures of the Saviour, pointing to the shortness of Christ’s life on earth, a time that he was obviously reluctant to cut short, the divine plan notwithstanding.  Some of the commentaries also interpret these verses as the prayer of a man facing death wondering whether he has made a real difference, again nicely linking to the Gethsemane theme.

Fourthly, one could perhaps see the psalm as recapitulating the purpose of the Passion and Resurrection, for there is a progression in what the psalmist is asking for here: first for God to relent in his punishment of mankind (v3-12); secondly, to reveal his power and teach us wisdom (v14); and finally to fill his people with grace and blessings (v14-17).

A song of Moses

Finally, Psalm 89 is the only psalm attributed to Moses in the psalter, and he is also the author of the (ferial) canticle that St Benedict set for the day. Perhaps the allusion is to Moses himself, who stands in a sense at the crossover point between the Old and New Testaments.

Some interpret this psalm as having been written at the end of Moses’ life, gazing into the Promised Land, yet not allowed to enter it himself, and begging for God to have mercy on the remnant that still survived of those who came out of Egypt. Thus Moses stands on our behalf, begging Christ to save us through his Passion.

Psalm 89

Oratio Moysi, hominis Dei.
Domine, refugium factus es nobis a generatione in generationem.
2 Priusquam montes fierent, aut formaretur terra et orbis, a sæculo et usque in sæculum tu es, Deus.
3 Ne avertas hominem in humilitatem : et dixisti : Convertimini, filii hominum.
4 Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos tamquam dies hesterna quæ præteriit: et custodia in nocte
5 quæ pro nihilo habentur, eorum anni erunt.
6 Mane sicut herba transeat; mane floreat, et transeat; vespere decidat, induret, et arescat.
7 Quia defecimus in ira tua, et in furore tuo turbati sumus.
8 Posuisti iniquitates nostras in conspectu tuo; sæculum nostrum in illuminatione vultus tui.
9 Quoniam omnes dies nostri defecerunt, et in ira tua defecimus. Anni nostri sicut aranea meditabuntur; 10 dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis septuaginta anni. Si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni, et amplius eorum labor et dolor; quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur.
11 Quis novit potestatem iræ tuæ, et præ timore tuo iram tuam
12 dinumerare? Dexteram tuam sic notam fac, et eruditos corde in sapientia.
13 Convertere, Domine; usquequo? et deprecabilis esto super servos tuos.
14 Repleti sumus mane misericordia tua; et exsultavimus, et delectati sumus omnibus diebus nostris.
15 Lætati sumus pro diebus quibus nos humiliasti; annis quibus vidimus mala.
16 Respice in servos tuos et in opera tua, et dirige filios eorum.
17 Et sit splendor Domini Dei nostri super nos, et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos, et opus manuum nostrarum dirige.

A prayer of Moses the man of God.
Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation.
2 Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.
3 Turn not man away to be brought low: and you have said: Be converted, O you sons of men.
4 For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, which is past. And as a watch in the night, 5 things that are counted nothing, shall their years be.
6 In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither.
7 For in your wrath we have fainted away: and are troubled in your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
9 For all our days are spent; and in your wrath we have fainted away. Our years shall be considered as a spider:
10 The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow. For mildness has come upon us: and we shall be corrected.
11 Who knows the power of your anger, and for your fear
12 can number your wrath? So make your right hand known: and men learned in heart, in wisdom. 13 Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants.
14 We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days. 15 We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.
16 Look upon your servants and upon their works: and direct their children.
17 And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Psalm 92: The organic development of the Office?

Since today is the feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d interrupt my consideration of St Benedict’s weekly psalm cycle and focus instead on one of the festal psalms of the day, Psalm 92.

It also provides an opportunity to reflect a little on what constitutes legitimate liturgical development and what doesn’t!

The Benedictine Office and feasts

St Benedict’s Rule prescribes that on the feasts of saints and festivals, the Office should be performed as on Sundays (so three Nocturns at matins for example) except that the psalms of the particular day are to be said.

Somewhere along the way, the Benedictine Office instead adopted the practice of using the actual Sunday psalms, at Lauds and Vespers, and special sets of psalms at Matins instead. Moreover, the ‘Sunday’ psalms used at Lauds on major feasts are not the standard Sunday psalms of the Benedictine Office (Psalms 117&62), but rather those of the Roman Office, Psalms 92 &99!

This elaboration of the liturgy was not, of course, restricted to the Benedictines: as time went on the Church sought to give greater honour to God and his saints in many ways, including through the liturgy.

And just as the traditional version of the Mass has what Catherine Pickstock in After Writing calls liturgical stuttering - stops and restarts, circling and around and returns to things, repetitions that do not flow in a neatly linear way - so too our weekly cycle of worship is interrupted by the injection of feasts. Perhaps they serve in part as a reminder that God stands outside time and space, and can jolt us, just a little, out of our time bound, linear logical conceptions of Him?

The Kingship of God

Certainly Psalm 92 draws our attention to the eternality of God and his Christ: “My throne is prepared from of old: you are from everlasting” (v3).

In the context of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven though, it is perhaps the stress on the kingship of God that is most relevant for us to focus on today: Psalm 92 is actually the first of a group of psalms (to Psalm 99) that proclaims the kingship of God, and looks forward to the establishment of his dominion over the earth.

Opinions differ on its age, and whether the Septuagint/Vulgate ascription to David should be accepted or not, but the current consensus seems to be that because of the style of its language, it is in fact fairly ancient, from the early period of the monarchy.

St Benedict himself gave this psalm no special prominence, taking it out of Sunday Lauds and consigning it instead to Friday Matins. Its return to the Benedictine Office in the form of festal Lauds and Sunday Lauds during Christmas and Eastertide perhaps suggests that this one change he made to the Office that did not entirely stand the test of time, but rather proved to be inorganic!

Still this in itself tells us something about what is and isn’t legitimate change to the liturgy. St Benedict certainly reshaped his Office quite substantially, importing elements from other rites (such as hymns from the Ambrosian) and adjusting which psalms were said when.

All the same, it survived in its essentials for over a millennium in part surely because he respected things such as the existing tradition about which psalms were said in the morning, which in the evening.  And in giving his Office a more thematic approach than that the Old Roman Office he took as his template, he did not attempt to impose a simple linear, logical progression of ideas and events, but rather allowed his Office to move back and forwards between ideas, providing a meditation for us rather than a logically sequenced piece of closely argued theology.

St Benedict’s approach to creating a distinctively Benedictine Office - one that for centuries shaped a distinctively Benedictine spirituality -  provides no justification whatsoever, I would suggest, despite the claims to the contrary, for the decidedly inorganic revisions of the Divine Office adopted by most modern Benedictine monasteries.

Our Lady pray for us.

Psalm 92

Dóminus regnávit, decórem indútus est: * indútus est Dóminus fortitúdinem, et præcínxit se.
2 Etenim firmávit orbem terræ, * qui non commovébitur.
3 Paráta sedes tua ex tunc: * a sæculo tu es.
4 Elevavérunt flúmina, Dómine: * elevavérunt flúmina vocem suam.
5 Elevavérunt flúmina fluctus suos, * a vócibus aquárum multárum.
6 Mirábiles elatiónes maris: * mirábilis in altis Dóminus.
7 Testimónia tua credibília facta sunt nimis: * domum tuam decet sanctitúdo, Dómine, in longitúdinem diérum.

The Lord has reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and has girded himself.
For he has established the world which shall not be moved.
2 My throne is prepared from of old: you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord: the floods have lifted up their voice.
The floods have lifted up their waves, 4 with the noise of many waters.
Wonderful are the surges of the sea: wonderful is the Lord on high.
5 Your testimonies have become exceedingly credible: holiness becomes your house, O Lord, unto length of days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Psalm 42: Are we truly ready to enter the Temple?

Tuesday in the Benedictine Office, I suggested in a previous post, focuses on the earthly ministry of Christ, starting with his statement that he himself is the Temple.

The use of Psalm 42 for Lauds on Tuesday was something St Benedict carried over from the old Roman Office, but it certainly fits very neatly indeed with the thematic approach to the Office I am arguing that the saint adopted.

The temptation in the desert

On Monday, I suggested, the Office focuses on Christ’s life from the Incarnation to his baptism.

St Augustine suggested that this psalm is being sung by one cast down by a fast, while the unjust and deceitful man of verse 2 is identified with the devil by Cassiodorus. Accordingly, the opening verses could be seen as an allusion to Our Lord’s forty days in the desert, and temptation by the devil.

Our spiritual progress?

The key feature of the psalm though, is the sense of a gradual progression.  After that downcast opening we reach, in verse 3, the holy hill (Jerusalem); then the tabernacle, or dwelling place of God; and finally, the psalmist prepares to go into the altar (v4).

Could this progress perhaps be taken as suggesting our progression in the spiritual life as we imitate Christ and gradually absorb his teaching?  For, I would suggest, just as Christ taught the Apostles and prepared them for their ministry over those three years of his earthly ministry, so too, he prepares us.

Christ's earthly ministry as a preparation

We are most familiar with this psalm, of course, in the context of the prayers at the foot of the altar in the traditional form of the Mass, where they become a dialogue between server and priest.

Western piety has also often seen verse 4 as a particularly appropriate prayer as preparation for communion, where our bodies become the altar in which Christ’s sacrifice is received.

But in the psalm itself the speaker does not actually enter: this is the prayer of those and for those whose fervour has been rekindled, but who are still agitated, still not fully there yet, as verse 5 makes clear.

This is the prayer of those still waiting in hope for God to send out ‘his light and his truth’ to save us (verse 6 and 3).

It is a prayer of and for the Apostles who have yet to be ordained and yet to be given the graces necessary to stand the assaults to come; a prayer for the grace necessary to make the spiritual ascent to heaven.

Psalm 42 (43)   A psalm for David.

Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
2 For you are God my strength: why have you cast me off? And why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicts me?
3 Send forth your light and your truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto your holy hill, and into your tabernacles.
4 And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who gives joy to my youth.
5 To you, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why are you sad, O my soul? And why do you disquiet me?
6 Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.

Psalmus David.
Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta : ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me.
2 Quia tu es, Deus, fortitudo mea : quare me repulisti? et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus? 3 Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam : ipsa me deduxerunt, et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua.
4 Et introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui lætificat juventutem meam.
5 Confitebor tibi in cithara, Deus, Deus meus. Quare tristis es, anima mea? et quare conturbas me?
6 Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi, salutare vultus mei, et Deus meus.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Psalm 35: Extend your mercy to them that know you!

Mercy and truth,
Peterborough Psalter

Today I want to resume my series proposing that St Benedict had a thematic scheme in mind in his organization of the Office with a look at the second variable psalm of Monday Lauds, Psalm 35.

Monday in the Benedictine Office

Monday in the Benedictine Office, I suggested previously, takes as its starting point, I think, in the Incarnation, and considers Our Lord’s life from the Incarnation to his baptism.

But there is, I think, always a dual path in the Office: first Our Lord’s life, and secondly how we can apply those events to ourselves, how we can pursue the imitation of Christ.

On Mondays, I think the application to us comes above all from the renewal of monastic vows, with the saying of the Suscipe verse at Terce. There is a particular logic to this: first monastic vows or oblation represent a new start in the life of the monk or oblate, a deepening of our their baptismal promises. But secondly, monastic theology often sees a particular identification between the monk’s life with the hidden years of Our Lord, which is the period of his earthly life I think we are particularly invited to meditate on today.

Psalm 5, I suggested a couple of weeks back, is the start of a meditation on the vows. Psalm 35 continues this.

Why move Psalm 35 to Lauds

First some context on the design of the Office. Psalm 35 was a Matins psalm in the older form of the Roman Office. So why did St Benedict move it to Lauds?

The psalm is certainly particularly appropriate to Lauds given its references to light, in verse 10, which also serves to link the psalm firmly to the Incarnation theme of the day, for in the phrase ‘in your light we shall see light’ was interpreted by the Fathers as a reference to the coming of Christ, who through his light shows us the Father.

Similarly, the reference to the rushing torrent and the fountain of life (verses 9-10) are echoed in many places in the Gospels, and are often taken as allusions to the waters of baptism.

I suspect the main reason for moving it to Lauds though, is that St Paul, in Romans 3:10-13, directly connects these two Lauds psalms as part of his argument as to why being Jewish provided no particular advantage when it comes to salvation:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one." "Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips.""Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. "Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know.""There is no fear of God before their eyes."

The evil man is us

Psalm 35 opens with a description of an evil man, and then contrasts his state with those who experience the mercy of God. The point, according to St Paul is that we are all evil men, standing in need of grace to save us and help us persevere in the Christian life.

The Suscipe (Ps 118:116) asks for that grace to be given:

Ps 118: 116 Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea, or Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

Psalm 35 provides a meditation on just what that upholding and confounding of the evil in ourselves involves: God will preserve us (v7); protect us under his wings (v8); fill us with grace (9); show us his truth and enlighten us (vv5&10); grant us mercy (vv5-6, 11); and keep us humble (v12). Above all, he will help us overcome the temptations of the devil (v13).

Even if we are not monks, nuns or oblates, we can surely use this psalm to beg for God's grace, remembering that it is not through our own merits that the workers of iniquity will be cast out, but through the merits of Christ, and through our acceptance of God's mercy and truth.

Psalm 35

Unto the end, for the servant of God, David himself.

The unjust has said within himself, that he would sin: there is no fear of God before his eyes.
3 For in his sight he has done deceitfully, that his iniquity may be found unto hatred.
4 The words of his mouth are iniquity and guile: he would not understand that he might do well.
5 He has devised iniquity on his bed, he has set himself on every way that is not good: but evil he has not hated.
6 O Lord, your mercy is in heaven, and your truth reaches even to the clouds.
7 Your justice is as the mountains of God, your judgments are a great deep. Men and beasts you will preserve, O Lord:
8 O how have you multiplied your mercy, O God! But the children of men shall put their trust under the covert of your wings.
9 They shall be inebriated with the plenty of your house; and you shall make them drink of the torrent of your pleasure.
10 For with you is the fountain of life; and in your light we shall see light.
11 Extend your mercy to them that know you, and your justice to them that are right in heart.
12 Let not the foot of pride come to me, and let not the hand of the sinner move me.
13 There the workers of iniquity are fallen, they are cast out, and could not stand.

In finem. Servo Domini ipsi David
2 Dixit injustus ut delinquat in semetipso: non est timor Dei ante oculos ejus.
3 Quoniam dolose egit in conspectu ejus, ut inveniatur iniquitas ejus ad odium.
4 Verba oris ejus iniquitas, et dolus; noluit intelligere ut bene ageret.
5 Iniquitatem meditatus est in cubili suo; astitit omni viæ non bonæ : malitiam autem non odivit.
6 Domine, in cælo misericordia tua, et veritas tua usque ad nubes.
7 Justitia tua sicut montes Dei; judicia tua abyssus multa. Homines et jumenta salvabis, Domine,
8 quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus. Filii autem hominum in tegmine alarum tuarum sperabunt.
9 Inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuæ, et torrente voluptatis tuæ potabis eos:
10 quoniam apud te est fons vitæ, et in lumine tuo videbimus lumen.
11 Prætende misericordiam tuam scientibus te, et justitiam tuam his qui recto sunt corde.
12 Non veniat mihi pes superbiæ, et manus peccatoris non moveat me.
13 Ibi ceciderunt qui operantur iniquitatem; expulsi sunt, nec potuerunt stare.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The eighth day: Psalm 117

For obvious reasons we tend to think of Sunday as the start of the liturgical week rather than its end: a new collect for the week is given each Sunday; Monday is labelled as 'feria secunda' or second day in the breviary/Diurnal, reflecting the fact that Saturday is the sabbath, or seventh day in the Jewish week; and the Sunday Mass propers are used throughout the week in the Extraordinary Form when other feasts do not intervene.

For Christians, however, Sunday has become our sabbath or day of rest, and it is also celebrated in the liturgy as the day of the Resurrection, the 'eighth day'.

The end of the weekly cycle?

Pope John Paul II drew attention to the traditional view of Sunday in his letter Dies Dominici, citing several patristic sources:

"We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week": so wrote Pope Innocent I at the beginning of the fifth century, testifying to an already well established practice which had evolved from the early years after the Lord's Resurrection. Saint Basil speaks of "holy Sunday, honoured by the Lord's Resurrection, the first fruits of all the other days"; and Saint Augustine calls Sunday "a sacrament of Easter".

In the context of Orthodox liturgy, Patrick Reardon argues that Sunday is the end of a weekly cycle that starts with Wednesday:

"...Sunday evening is the quiet closing of a small weekly cycle commemorating the redemption that God "sent" unto  His people in the death and Resurrection of Christ.  That cycle began on Wednesday, when we observed a regular fast day to recall that dreadful Wednesday on which Judas sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.  Then, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we again bore in mind the events of the Lord's suffering, death, and burial..." (Christ in the Psalms, 2011 ed, p219)

I've suggested in this series that the psalm cycle in St Benedict's Office actually goes further than this, taking in the whole week in its story of Redemption: to the Wednesday to Sunday cycle can be the Incarnation and Christ's hidden life on earth up to his baptism on Monday; and Christ's earthly ministry on Tuesday.

Today, however, I want to look briefly at how St Benedict reflects that Sunday Resurrection focus in his Office.

Sunday in the Benedictine Office

St Benedict’s Sunday Office is radically different from the old Roman he started from, and in ways that I think serve to reinforce the idea that this is the end of the week as much as its beginning.

The old Roman Office, for example started Sunday Lauds at Psalm 1 and worked through in numerical order from there; St Benedict instead starts at Psalm 20, one of the Royal psalms which speaks of the crowning of the King.  Instead of reciting the entirety of Psalm 118 over the course of the day, he spreads it over Sunday and Monday.

In fact the only hours that are more or less the same are Vespers and Compline, and even there he shaves a psalm off in each case.

At Lauds, St Benedict shifted Psalms 92 & 99 (still said in Sundays in the 1962 version of the Roman Office) out of the day altogether (though due to later changes, these psalms are now said as ‘festal’ psalms on Sundays at certain periods of the year), and moved Psalm 117 from Prime to Lauds instead.

These are the days...

The more prominent position given to Psalm 117 in the Benedictine Office by placing it into one of the more elaborate ‘hinge hours’ is, I think, easily explained.

Probably originally composed as a liturgical hymn suitable for use in a procession, this is a joyous hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the harvest. For Christians though, it takes on an additional level of meaning as a prophesy of Our Lord’s Resurrection, and its verses are used extensively in the Easter liturgy, as well, I would suggest, as a remembrance of the Resurrection each Sunday in the Benedictine Office.

Psalm 117 is one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament, important in particular for the verses directly prophesying the Resurrection, such as verse 17, Non móriar, sed vivam, or, I shall not die but will live, and the reopening of the gates of heaven to the just (v19).

The verse starting Hæc est dies, this is the day the Lord has made (v23), is used throughout the Easter Octave.

Similarly verse 24 is quoted in the Sanctus (benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini).

The most important verse of all though, is arguably the reference to the stone that the builders rejected, verse 21, Lápidem, quem reprobavérunt ædificántes: hic factus est in caput ánguli.

Psalm 117

Give praise to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now say, that he is good: that his mercy endures for ever.
3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endures for ever.
4 Let them that fear the Lord now say, that his mercy endures for ever.
5 In my trouble I called upon the Lord: and the Lord heard me, and enlarged me.
6 The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man can do unto me.
7 The Lord is my helper: and I will look over my enemies.
8 It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in man.
9 It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes.
10 All nations compassed me about; and, in the name of the Lord I have been revenged on them.
11 Surrounding me they compassed me about: and in the name of the Lord I have been revenged on them. 12 They surrounded me like bees, and they burned like fire among thorns: and in the name of the Lord I was revenged on them.
13 Being pushed I was overturned that I might fall: but the Lord supported me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my praise: and he has become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles of the just.
16 The right hand of the Lord has wrought strength: the right hand of the Lord has exalted me: the right hand of the Lord has wrought strength.
17 I shall not die, but live: and shall declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord chastising has chastised me: but he has not delivered me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of justice: I will go in to them, and give praise to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord, the just shall enter into it.
21 I will give glory to you because you have heard me: and have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected; the same has become the head of the corner.
23 This is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.
25 O Lord, save me: O Lord, give good success.
26 Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and he has shone upon us. Appoint a solemn day, with shady boughs, even to the horn of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you: you are my God, and I will exalt you. I will praise you, because you have heard me, and have become my salvation.
29 O praise the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever.

Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus, quoniam in sæculum misericordia ejus.
2 Dicat nunc Israël : Quoniam bonus, quoniam in sæculum misericordia ejus.
3 Dicat nunc domus Aaron : Quoniam in sæculum misericordia ejus.
4 Dicant nunc qui timent Dominum : Quoniam in sæculum misericordia ejus.
5 De tribulatione invocavi Dominum, et exaudivit me in latitudine Dominus.
6 Dominus mihi adjutor; non timebo quid faciat mihi homo.
7 Dominus mihi adjutor, et ego despiciam inimicos meos.
8 Bonum est confidere in Domino, quam confidere in homine.
9 Bonum est sperare in Domino, quam sperare in principibus.
10 Omnes gentes circuierunt me, et in nomine Domini, quia ultus sum in eos.
11 Circumdantes circumdederunt me, et in nomine Domini, quia ultus sum in eos.
12 Circumdederunt me sicut apes, et exarserunt sicut ignis in spinis : et in nomine Domini, quia ultus sum in eos.
13 Impulsus eversus sum, ut caderem, et Dominus suscepit me.
14 Fortitudo mea et laus mea Dominus, et factus est mihi in salutem.
15 Vox exsultationis et salutis in tabernaculis justorum.
16 Dextera Domini fecit virtutem; dextera Domini exaltavit me : dextera Domini fecit virtutem.
17 Non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini.
18 Castigans castigavit me Dominus, et morti non tradidit me.
19 Aperite mihi portas justitiæ: ingressus in eas confitebor Domino.
20 Hæc porta Domini : justi intrabunt in eam.
21 Confitebor tibi quoniam exaudisti me, et factus es mihi in salutem.
22 Lapidem quem reprobaverunt ædificantes, hic factus est in caput anguli.
23 A Domino factum est istud, et est mirabile in oculis nostris.
24 Hæc est dies quam fecit Dominus; exsultemus, et lætemur in ea.
25 O Domine, salvum me fac; o Domine, bene prosperare.
26 Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini : benediximus vobis de domo Domini.
27 Deus Dominus, et illuxit nobis. Constituite diem solemnem in condensis, usque ad cornu altaris.
28 Deus meus es tu, et confitebor tibi; Deus meus es tu, et exaltabo te. Confitebor tibi quoniam exaudisti me, et factus es mihi in salutem.
29 Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus, quoniam in sæculum misericordia ejus.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Holy Saturday and the puzzle of Psalm 142

Harrowing of Hell, c1400

St Benedict sets only one Psalm at Lauds on Saturday, presumably in view of the length of the canticle of the day (which has been drastically truncated in the 1962 breviary).

A prayer of the crucifixion or Christ's coming?

Contemporary scholar Paul Bradshaw puzzles, however, in his book Daily Prayer in the Early Church, over just why the saint chose Psalm 142 for this position, given that the old Roman office had it on Friday, presumably for its references to the Crucifixion.

The answer to this puzzle, I think lies in the Patristic commentaries on this last of the seven penitential psalms, for they generally place it our lips, not Christ's: this is a prayer of the desperate longing of the penitent, who pleads with Christ to come in the Resurrection and heal him, rather than as the words of Christ himself on the Cross. Indeed, the psalm is used at the Ordinary Form Easter Vigil presumably for this very reason.

St Benedict presumably saw the reference to stretching out our arms as in imitation of his Crucifixion as set in context by the longing for his coming expressed in the second half of the verse: 'Expándi manus meas ad te: ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi, or, I spread forth my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee, as a dry land'.

Certainly St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus puts the verse in that light:

"Though he has prophesied the Lord Saviour's coming in countless passages, here too by stretching out his hands he formed the shape of the holy cross. The person who prays with hands extended imitates the cross of the Redeemer which was inflicted as punishment by the faithless Jews, but was none the less bestowed on believers as salvation…The comparison follows in which he says that his soul longs for God as the parched earth often absorbs abundant rain. The beginning of Psalm 41 is similar: As the hart pants after fountains of water, so my soul pants for thee, 0 God."

Today's liturgy invites us to ponder our own sins and repent of them, to remember the many times that God's people turned away from him and were punished for this. Yet each time a remnant was preserved, waiting in hope for their liberation, just as we wait in hope for the Second Coming, and more immediately perhaps, to celebrate the Eighth Day.

You can find verse by notes on the psalm in the context of the penitential psalms starting here.

Psalm 142 (143)

Psalm 142: Domine, exausi orationem meam

Psalmus David, quando persequebatur eum Absalom filius ejus.
A psalm of David, when his son Absalom pursued him
1 Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam: áuribus pércipe obsecratiónem meam in veritáte tua : * exáudi me in tua justítia.
Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in your truth: hear me in your justice.

2  Et non intres in judícium cum servo tuo: * quia non justificábitur in conspéctu tuo omnis vivens.
And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight no man living shall be justified.
3  Quia persecútus est inimícus ánimam meam: * humiliávit in terra vitam meam.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul: he has brought down my life to the earth.
4  Collocávit me in obscúris sicut mórtuos sæculi : * et anxiátus est super me spíritus meus, in me turbátum est cor meum.
He has made me to dwell in darkness as those that have been dead of old: And my spirit is in anguish within me: my heart within me is troubled.
5  Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.
I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
6  Expándi manus meas ad te: * ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi.
I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
7  Velóciter exáudi me, Dómine: * defécit spíritus meus.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
8  Non avértas fáciem tuam a me: * et símilis ero descendéntibus in lacum.
Turn not away your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
9  Audítam fac mihi mane misericórdiam tuam: * quia in te sperávi.
Cause me to hear your mercy in the morning; for in you have I hoped.
10  Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ámbulem: * quia ad te levávi ánimam meam.
Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.
11  Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine, ad te confúgi: * doce me fácere voluntátem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
12  Spíritus tuus bonus dedúcet me in terram rectam: * propter nomen tuum, Dómine, vivificábis me, in æquitáte tua.
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
13  Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
14  Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.
And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The sixth seal and Psalm 75 (76)

Simon Vouet 1622

Friday has of course always had an association with the Crucifixion in Christian piety, and for this reason it was the second fast day of the week (and still is, at least in theory, a day of abstinence or other penance).

St Benedict’s Office can certainly be seen as reflecting this association: the day opens at Matins with Psalm 85, which the Fathers interpreted as the prayer of Christ poured out in his Passion. Similarly, the psalms of Prime all have reasonably obvious connections with the Passion of Our Lord.

The sixth seal?

St Benedict’s choice of psalms for Friday Lauds though, has, puzzled some commentators because he shifted the more obvious choice of Psalm 142 from the Old Roman Office to Saturday, and added in Psalms 75 and 91 instead.

I will look at the possible reasons the saint had for moving Psalm 142 to Saturday tomorrow, but I want to suggest that the choice of Psalm 75 (and 91) for Friday does in fact make perfect sense in the context of a mini-Triduum celebrated each week in the Benedictine Office.

The Fathers often associated the Crucifixion, and the ‘sixth day’ with the description of the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 12-14:

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”

This imagery is particularly echoed in the (ferial) canticle that St Benedict imported from the old Roman Office (Habacuc 3:2-19), and aspects of it are picked up in many of the psalms of the day.

The earth trembled - and so should we

In particular, Psalm 75 includes the earthquake, surely that which occurred at the moment of Our Lord’s death, rending the temple veil in two, with the verse 'De caelo auditum fecisti judicium: terra tremuit et quievit (From heaven you have pronounced your judgment: the earth trembled and was still).  Though we mostly associate this verse with the Resurrection by virtue of the Easter Sunday Offertory, the verse surely works equally well in the context of Good Friday?

The key focus of the meditation St Benedict places before us in today's psalms seems to me to be on the terribleness of these events and their consequences: the God-man has been put to death by his own people; as a result, the old covenant has been closed, and the inheritance of Israel given to the gentiles.

The Old Testament historical context for the psalm (suggested by the title) is the victory over the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib described in 2 Kings 19: 35; Isaiah 37:36 (as indeed is Psalm 74). The language of fear and awe is an appropriate reaction to the scene described there:

“And it came to pass that night, that an angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead.”

Both Isaiah and this psalm imply that the attack of Sennacherib foreshadows the dawning of the Messianic era, reminding us of God’s stupendous power: Tu terríbilis es, et quis resístet tibi? ex tunc ira tua’, or You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath (verse 8).

God came to save...

This emphasis seems to me entirely consistent with the spirituality St Benedict articulates in his Rule, which is almost devoid of references to the humanity of Christ and the Cross. Instead, the saint emphasizes God’s awesome Majesty, his all-seeing, overwhelming power that redeems us and should lead us to cultivate a holy fear of Him.

The design of Friday Lauds surely reflects this: rather than placing a lot of emphasis on the sufferings of Christ, we are invited to meditate on the terrible and wondrous nature of his saving works, of just what it means that Christ, the man-God, died for us.

In particular, the psalm reminds us that despite God's 'anger', Christ died on the cross for a reason, namely ‘to save all the meek of the earth’ (v9).  And in the light of this, the opening references to God being known in Judaea, and in the Temple in (Jeru)salem, in verses 1-2, have, the Fathers point out, a layer of irony attached to them: when the people denied God the Son, the veil of the Temple was pierced, the earth trembled, and the true Judaea, where God is really known, became the Church.

Jerusalem too is transfigured into the heavenly Jerusalem, from which judgment comes, causing the earth to fear and stand still.

This psalm is a fierce reminder of God’s justice, power and might before which we should tremble.

No wonder then that it ends in a call to persevere in our vows and offerings.

Psalm 75

Unto the end, in praises, a psalm for Asaph: a canticle to the Assyrians.
In Judea God is known: his name is great in Israel.
3 And his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion:
4 There has he broken the powers of bows, the shield, the sword, and the battle.
5 You enlighten wonderfully from the everlasting hills.
6 All the foolish of heart were troubled. They have slept their sleep; and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.
7 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered that mounted on horseback.
8 You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath.
9 You have caused judgment to be heard from heaven: the earth trembled and was still,
10 when God arose in judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.
11 For the thought of man shall give praise to you: and the remainders of the thought shall keep holiday to you.
12 Vow and pay to the Lord your God: all you that are round about him bring presents. To him that is terrible,
13 even to him who takes away the spirit of princes: to the terrible with the kings of the earth.

In finem, in laudibus. Psalmus Asaph, canticum ad Assyrios.
Notus in Judæa Deus; in Israël magnum nomen ejus.
3 Et factus est in pace locus ejus, et habitatio ejus in Sion.
4 Ibi confregit potentias arcuum, scutum, gladium, et bellum.
5 Illuminans tu mirabiliter a montibus æternis;
6 turbati sunt omnes insipientes corde. Dormierunt somnum suum, et nihil invenerunt omnes viri divitiarum in manibus suis.
7 Ab increpatione tua, Deus Jacob, dormitaverunt qui ascenderunt equos.
8 Tu terribilis es; et quis resistet tibi? ex tunc ira tua.
9 De cælo auditum fecisti judicium : terra tremuit et quievit
10 cum exsurgeret in judicium Deus, ut salvos faceret omnes mansuetos terræ.
11 Quoniam cogitatio hominis confitebitur tibi, et reliquiæ cogitationis diem festum agent tibi.
12 Vovete et reddite Domino Deo vestro, omnes qui in circuitu ejus affertis munera : terribili,
13 et ei qui aufert spiritum principum : terribili apud reges terræ.