Today's psalm in this series on Tenebrae, is Psalm 39, and it brings us back to a meditation on that greatest of sacrifices, our will. It is also said at Matins on Monday in the Benedictine Office, and as the first psalm of the third nocturn of Matins in the Office of the Dead.
It is worth noting that Psalm 39 is actually one of those two for one psalms: verses 19 onwards are repeated in Psalm 69.
The call to obedience
On Good Friday, we particularly contemplate Christ's perfect obedience, even unto death, and this psalm explains once more the rationale for this:
"No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; enough that thou hast given me an ear ready to listen. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God, is all my desire, to carry out that law of thine which is written in my heart." (Knox Translation)
These verses are given some more exposition in the Letter to the Hebrews:
"Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing. Son of God though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering, and now, his full achievement reached, he wins eternal salvation for all those who render obedience to him." (Knox Translation)
The help of the Church
The psalm also, though, also reminds us that we are not expected to achieve this holy state unaided, for Christ and his Church stand ready to aid us.
The psalm states that 'many shall see and fear', that there will be a great cloud of witnesses sharing the message of salvation.
Nor will they be left unguided, for in a verse particularly poignant, perhaps as we await the election of a new Pope, we are told:
"And he set my feet upon a rock, and directed my steps."
Psalm 39 (40)
Exspectans exspectavi Dominum, et intendit mihi.
Et exaudivit preces meas, et eduxit me de lacu miseriæ et de luto fæcis.
Et statuit super petram pedes meos, et direxit gressus meos.
Et immisit in os meum canticum novum, carmen Deo nostro.
Videbunt multi, et timebunt, et sperabunt in Domino.
Beatus vir cujus est nomen Domini spes ejus, et non respexit in vanitates et insanias falsas.
Multa fecisti tu, Domine Deus meus, mirabilia tua; et cogitationibus tuis non est qui similis sit tibi.
Annuntiavi et locutus sum : multiplicati sunt super numerum.
Sacrificium et oblationem noluisti; aures autem perfecisti mihi.
Holocaustum et pro peccato non postulasti; tunc dixi : Ecce venio.
In capite libri scriptum est de me, ut facerem voluntatem tuam. Deus meus, volui, et legem tuam in medio cordis mei.
Annuntiavi justitiam tuam in ecclesia magna; ecce labia mea non prohibebo : Domine, tu scisti.
Justitiam tuam non abscondi in corde meo; veritatem tuam et salutare tuum dixi;
non abscondi misericordiam tuam et veritatem tuam a concilio multo.
Tu autem, Domine, ne longe facias miserationes tuas a me; misericordia tua et veritas tua semper susceperunt me.
Quoniam circumdederunt me mala quorum non est numerus; comprehenderunt me iniquitates meæ, et non potui ut viderem.
Multiplicatæ sunt super capillos capitis mei, et cor meum dereliquit me.
Complaceat tibi, Domine, ut eruas me; Domine, ad adjuvandum me respice.
Confundantur et revereantur simul, qui quærunt animam meam ut auferant eam; convertantur retrorsum et revereantur, qui volunt mihi mala.
Ferant confestim confusionem suam, qui dicunt mihi : Euge, euge!
Exsultent et lætentur super te omnes quærentes te; et dicant semper : Magnificetur Dominus, qui diligunt salutare tuum.
Ego autem mendicus sum et pauper; Dominus sollicitus est mei.
Adjutor meus et protector meus tu es; Deus meus, ne tardaveris.
And the translation (Douay Rheims):
With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me.
And he heard my prayers, and brought me out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs.
And he set my feet upon a rock, and directed my steps.
And he put a new canticle into my mouth, a song to our God.
Many shall see, and shall fear: and they shall hope in the Lord.
Blessed is the man whose trust is in the name of the Lord; and who has not had regard to vanities, and lying follies.
You have multiplied your wonderful works, O Lord my God: and in your thoughts there is no one like to you.
I have declared and I have spoken they are multiplied above number.
Sacrifice and oblation you did not desire; but you have pierced ears for me.
Burnt offering and sin offering you did not require: Then said I, Behold I come.
In the head of the book it is written of me that I should do your will: O my God, I have desired it, and your law in the midst of my heart.
I have declared your justice in a great church, lo, I will not restrain my lips: O Lord, you know it.
I have not hid your justice within my heart: I have declared your truth and your salvation.
I have not concealed your mercy and your truth from a great council.
Withhold not, O Lord, your tender mercies from me: your mercy and your truth have always upheld me.
For evils without number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I was not able to see.
They are multiplied above the hairs of my head: and my heart has forsaken me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me. Look down, O Lord, to help me.
Let them be confounded and ashamed together, that seek after my soul to take it away.
Let them be turned backward and be ashamed that desire evils to me.
Let them immediately bear their confusion, that say to me: 'T is well, 't is well.
Let all that seek you rejoice and be glad in you: and let such as love your salvation say always: The Lord be magnified.
But I am a beggar and poor: the Lord is careful for me.
You are my helper and my protector: O my God, be not slack.
Nocturn I: Psalms 2, 21, 26*
Nocturn II: Psalms 37, 39, 53*
Nocturn III: Psalms 58, 87*, 93
Lauds: 50*, 142, 84, [Hab], 147
And you can find the next part in the series here.
And you can find the next part in the series here.