Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psalm 111 vs 2: The eternal Church

On every Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.  We are able to do this because of the divine institution of the Church, which creates a community that hands down the faith entrusted to it from generation to generation.

Psalm 111 reminds us of this vital importance of the institution of the Church as a great gift of God:

Potens in terra erit semen ejus; generatio rectorum benedicetur.
His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. 

Looking at the Latin

Potens (powerful/mighty) in terra (on the earth) semen ejus (hia seed/descendents/children) = his descendents will be mighty on the earth

potens, entis, p. adj.  powerful, mighty, strong.
terra, ae, the earth, in both a lit. and a fig. sense.
semen, enis, n. seed; descendants, children, posterity

generátio (the generation) rectorum (of the upright) benedicétur (let it be blessed) = the generation of the upright/righteous shall be blessed

Generatio here means the whole race or group.

generatio, onis, f, a begetting, generating, generation, "for ever and ever."
rectus, a, um, part. adj. just, right, righteous, upright; the just, just men, the good; steadfast, stable, steady.
benedico, dixi, dictum, ere 3  to bless, to praise, bless, give thanks to (God);  to be well pleased with, to take pleasure in

Penetrating the meaning of the verse

It is worth recalling here that virtually all of the psalms can be interpreted as references to Christ, who provides a model for us to imitate in order that we may learn to be perfect.  In this case, Christ is the ultimate ‘blessed man’, who shows his ‘fear of the Lord’ in his perfect obedience, even unto death.  

And because of his perfect sacrifice, he established a Church that has brought forth generation upon generation of blessed souls.

In the Old Testament, the blessing of having many descendants was usually taken literally.  In the New, though we are constantly reminded that it is our spiritual descendants that are truly important: the people who have knowingly or unknowingly benefitted from our prayers and actions; who have down the faith safeguard by the Church to us.

Accordingly, this verse should be a call to us to lay up our treasures in heaven, above all by cultivating that fear of God – or rather holy obedience – that is manifested in keeping the law.

Next verse

You can find the next part in this series here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Psalm 111, verse 1: The key to happiness

In this post I want to start taking a verse by verse look at Psalm 111, Beatus Vir, the third psalm of (the traditional version of) Sunday Vespers, and one of the many 'beatitude' psalms.

The first verse is:

Beatus vir qui timet Dominum : in mandatis ejus volet nimis 
Blessed is the man that fears the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments. 

Looking at the Latin

Beátus vir, qui timet Dóminum = Blessed the man who fears the Lord

beatus, a, um happy, blessed ,fortunate.
vir, viri, m., a man, any human being
timeo, ere 2, to fear, be afraid of.

in mandátis ejus volet nimis = in commandments his he will desire/delight/ exceedingly = he will desire his commandments greatly/exceedingly

The neo-Vulgate, it should be noted, changes 'volet' (he wishes/desires/takes please in) to 'cupit' (he longs for/wishes for)

mandatum, i, n.  law, precept, command, commandment (of God); commandments, precepts, decrees
volo, volui, velle, to will, wish, desire; to have pleasure or delight in, to love, hold dear, desire.
nimis, adv., exceedingly, greatly, beyond measure. 

The psalm in context

St John Chrysostom suggests that this line should be read as a continuation of the sentiments of the previous psalm:

"The opening seems to me to follow closely on the conclusion of the psalm before this, and to be continuous and connected like one body. I mean, there he said, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," while here, Happy is the man who fears the Lord, giving instruction in the fear of God in different words but the same ideas. There, remember, he said he is wise, here happy. This is truly being happy, however, at least to the extent that the other things are futility and shadow and things of no substance - even if you cite wealth, influence, bodily charm, affluent environment. They resemble falling leaves, after all, passing shadows, fleeting dreams. This, by contrast, is truly being happy."

One can also see the second phrase as the explanation for the first, as Pope Benedict XVI points out:

"...Psalm 112[111], a composition with a sapiental slant, presents us with the figure of these righteous ones who fear the Lord; they recognize his transcendence and trustingly and lovingly conform themselves to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death. A "beatitude" is reserved to these faithful: "Happy the man who fears the Lord" (v. 1). The Psalmist immediately explains what this fear consists in: it is shown in docility to God's commandments. He who "takes delight" in observing his commandments is blessed, finding in them joy and peace.  Docility to God is therefore the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience."

Trusting in God

The take out message of this, according to St Teresa of Avila, is that we cannot depend on ourselves or the spiritual props we have access to, but must rather always remember that everything depends on God:

 "What will we say to those who have won victory in these battles by the mercy of God, and who have reached heaven by their perseverance, but, 'Happy are those who fear the Lord' It was no small thing for His Majesty to reveal to me now the real meaning of this verse, since my understanding of this teaching is often slow....But allow me to give you one piece of advice: who you are, or who your mother was, will not save you; David was a very holy man, and we have seen what happened in the life of Solomon. Do not rely on the enclosure, or on the penance that you do, or on the fact that you strive to deal always with God through continuous prayer, or that you live apart from the world and may come to believe that no traces of worldliness remain within you. All these things are good, but they are not sufficient, as I have said, to allow us to abandon our fear of the Lord: therefore, live out the words of this verse, and recall it often to your mind, Blessed is the man who fears the Lord" (Interior Castle, 3, 1, 1,4).

For notes on the next verse, follow the link here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Introduction to Psalm 111 (112): Beatus vir

I'm continuing this series on the psalms of Sunday Vespers today, with an overview of the third psalm of the hour, Psalm 111 (112), Beatus Vir.

Psalm 111 is regarded as something of a twin to its predecessor, Psalm 110.

Both are alphabetical psalms in the original Hebrew.

More importantly, in this psalm, the just man (who fears God) and his works are praised in similar terms to those applied to God in the previous psalm.  In the previous psalm, we praised God for his great works, above all the gift of the Eucharist; in this psalm we are invited to contemplate on how, with the aid of grace, we can participate in the divine life ourselves.

Happy the man...

The opening line of the psalm 'Happy the man' immediately places it with the other 'beatitude' psalms, such as Psalm 1.

Pope Benedict XVI sees the psalmist as posing the question, how can we live well, and find happiness?

"This Psalm answers: happy is the man who gives; happy is the man who does not live life for himself but gives; happy is the man who is merciful, generous and just; happy is the man who lives in the love of God and neighbour. In this way we live well and have no reason to fear death because we experience the everlasting happiness that comes from God."

In the Septuagint and Vulgate, the title of the psalm is given as 'Alleluia, of the returning of Aggeus and Zacharias', which implies that the psalm was sung by the two prophets on returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon as an expression of their joy.  The Christian can feel the same joy at being admitted to the Eucharist each week after being freed from his or her sins.

Psalm 111

Here is the text as a whole.  You can hear the Latin being read out loud at the Boston Catholic Journal website.

1 Beatus vir qui timet Dominum : in mandatis ejus volet nimis
Blessed is the man that fears the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments.

2 Potens in terra erit semen ejus; generatio rectorum benedicetur.
His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed.

3 Gloria et divitiæ in domo ejus, et justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
Glory and wealth shall be in his house: and his justice remains for ever and ever.

4 Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis : misericors, et miserator, et justus.
To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness: he is merciful, and compassionate and just.

5 Jucundus homo qui miseretur et commodat; disponet sermones suos in judicio: quia in æternum non commovebitur.
Acceptable is the man that shows mercy and lends: he shall order his words with judgment: Because he shall not be moved for ever.

6 In memoria æterna erit justus; ab auditione mala non timebit.
The just shall be in everlasting remembrance: he shall not fear the evil hearing.

7 Paratum cor ejus sperare in Domino, confirmatum est cor ejus; non commovebitur donec despiciat inimicos suos.
His heart is ready to hope in the Lord: His heart is strengthened, he shall not be moved until he look over his enemies.

8 Dispersit, dedit pauperibus; justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi : cornu ejus exaltabitur in gloria.
He has distributed, he has given to the poor: his justice remains for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory.

10 Peccator videbit, et irascetur; dentibus suis fremet et tabescet : desiderium peccatorum peribit.
The wicked shall see, and shall be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

The next part in this series contains more detailed notes on verse 1 of the psalm.