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.

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