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.

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