Friday, January 24, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 9 (part 1)

In the Benedictine Office, the first half of Psalm 9 is said on Tuesdays at Prime, closing that hour.

On Tuesdays in the Benedictine Office we are encouraged to focus on our heavenly destiny, and on how to ascend to it (mystically through the saying of the Gradual Psalms from Terce onwards) through the imitation of Christ.  This last psalm of Prime can be seen as a motivational contribution to that theme: it reminds us of the joy of heaven; of the grace God provides to aid us in our struggles; and of the reason we must follow the way of the Cross, least we face the reality of death, judgment and hell.

Psalm 9 part 1: Confitebor tibi Domine
In finem, pro occultis filii. Psalmus David.

Unto the end, for the hidden things of the Son. A psalm for David.
1 Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: * narrábo ómnia mirabília tua.
I will give praise to thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: I will relate all thy wonders.
2  Lætábor et exsultábo in te: * psallam nómini tuo, Altíssime.
I will be glad, and rejoice in thee: I will sing to thy name, O thou most high.
3  In converténdo inimícum meum retrórsum: * infirmabúntur, et períbunt a fácie tua.

When my enemy shall be turned back: they shall be weakened, and perish before thy face.

4  Quóniam fecísti judícium meum et causam meam: * sedísti super thronum, qui júdicas justítiam.
For thou hast maintained my judgment and my cause: thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice.
5  Increpásti Gentes, et périit ímpius: * nomen eórum delésti in ætérnum, et in sæculum sæculi.

Thou hast rebuked the Gentiles, and the wicked one hath perished; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.
6  Inimíci defecérunt frámeæ in finem: * et civitátes eórum destruxísti.
The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed
7  Périit memória eórum cum sónitu: * et Dóminus in ætérnum pérmanet.
Their memory hath perished with a noise: But the Lord remaineth for ever.
8  Parávit in judício thronum suum: * et ipse judicábit orbem terræ in æquitáte, judicábit pópulos in justítia.
He hath prepared his throne in judgment: And he shall judge the world in equity he shall judge the people in justice.
9  Et factus est Dóminus refúgium páuperi: * adjútor in opportunitátibus, in tribulatióne.
And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.
10  Et sperent in te qui novérunt nomen tuum: * quóniam non dereliquísti quæréntes te, Dómine.
And let them trust in thee who know thy name: for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord.
11  Psállite Dómino, qui hábitat in Sion: * annuntiáte inter Gentes stúdia ejus:
Sing ye to the Lord, who dwelleth in Sion: declare his ways among the Gentiles:
12  Quóniam requírens sánguinem eórum recordátus est: * non est oblítus clamórem páuperum.
For requiring their blood, he hath remembered them: he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor.
13  Miserére mei, Dómine: * vide humilitátem meam de inimícis meis.
Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies.
14  Qui exáltas me de portis mortis, * ut annúntiem omnes laudatiónes tuas in portis fíliæ Sion.
You that lift me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all your praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion.
15  Exsultábo in salutári tuo: * infíxæ sunt Gentes in intéritu, quem fecérunt.
I will rejoice in your salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they prepared.
16  In láqueo isto, quem abscondérunt, * comprehénsus est pes eórum.
Their foot has been taken in the very snare which they hid.
17  Cognoscétur Dóminus judícia fáciens: * in opéribus mánuum suárum comprehénsus est peccátor.
The Lord shall be known when he executes judgments: the sinner has been caught in the works of his own hands.
18  Convertántur peccatóres in inférnum, * omnes Gentes quæ obliviscúntur Deum.
The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God.
19  Quóniam non in finem oblívio erit páuperis: * patiéntia páuperum non períbit in finem
For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end: the patience of the poor shall not perish for ever.

The hidden mysteries of Christ's Redemption

At the end of psalm 7, King David promised to give God praise.  In Psalm 8, the marvelous works praised were God’s work of creation.  In this psalm, the marvelous works praised take the form of God’s practical help to David in relation to his kingdom in helping him defeat his enemies.

In addition to this literal meaning though, there is of course a Christological one, and in the title of this psalm, in the Septuagint,  'Unto the end, for the hidden things of the Son. A psalm for David', the Fathers and Theologians saw a reference to the mysteries of Christ's work of Redemption.  This title can be interpreted as referring not only to Our Lord’s first coming to redeem us (hidden in the sense that the people failed to realize that he was the promised Messiah), but also to his second coming to judge the world, as St Thomas Aquinas, for example, makes clear:

"So, hidden things of a son are as mysteries concerning Christ. For such hidden things of Christ are twofold, Christ's first coming on earth is hidden in reference to his divinity and glory,…Christ's second coming upon this earth will be evident…"

You that lift me up from the gates of death

Tuesday's section of the psalm broadly falls into two sections.  It opens with a hymn of praise for God's work in confounding the devil (verses 1-7).  It then turns to the Second Coming, and our proper preparation for it, in the form of the mission to the world (verse 11) and our trust in God, who will not forsake the poor (verses 9&19).

In fact the psalm emphasizes one of the most fundamental but today often overlooked messages of the Gospel, namely that Our Lord came to bring justice to all not just in the sense of social justice here and now, but above all in the eschatological sense.

Many today seem to think that what we do on this earth doesn't really matter, for all will be saved. But the Gospel message is that what we do think and say really does matter, for as the psalmist points out, ‘God is known for executing judgment’: he knows all and so can judge perfectly, ‘in equity’, based on both our thoughts and actions; and there are consequences for making the wrong choices.

The path to justice, however, the psalm makes clear, is not always as quick and easy as we would desire,  for evil does not give up without making a fight of it (the swords of verse 6, sound referred to in verse 7).   God does offer a key protection to the Church, through whom he ‘rebukes the gentiles’ by preaching the Gospel; opposes idolatry and error; and lifts it up, protecting it from ‘the gates of hell’ (verse 14).   Our way though, is the way of the Cross, and the poor and oppressed are required to show patience (verse 19); some will even be asked to die as martyrs (verse 12).

The three Tuesday Prime psalms together emphasize the duty to pray, worship and give thanks, and to ‘evangelize’.  In them, the psalmist expresses the upwelling of joy that the person truly committed to God feels, and the instinctive response to that, namely the desire to tell others about it (verses 1 &11), to spread the message about what revelation teaches us is right and wrong and thus ‘rebuke the nations’ and entreat them to repent (verses 5).  This duty is surely all the more imperative in the context put here of our rightful desire to avoid condemnation in the coming judgment both of ourselves, but also of our friends, family and the whole world.

The divisio puzzle(s)

Finally, by way of a footnote, a note on the division of the psalm into two.

In the older forms of the Roman Office, psalms (Psalm 118 aside) are never divided.

 St Benedict, however, does so quite frequently, and the final 'psalm' of Tuesday Prime is actually only the first half of Psalm 9.

In some cases, the main motivation for this is presumably to even up the number of verses said on each day at a particular hour: with the split, Tuesday Prime consists of 46 verses of psalmody, making it already one of the longer days of the week at Prime.

But that can't be the only, or even main reason, for in some cases splitting the psalms actually makes the days more uneven in length.  Prime for example, varies in length from a mere 21 verses on Thursday, to 53 on Friday.

A second possible rationale for splitting Psalm 9 is that the saint was following the Hebrew Masoretic Text's (somewhat illogical given that this is one of those alphabetic psalms, and the split occurs mid-way through the alphabet) division of the psalm into two.  Indeed the 1962 Breviarium Monasticum makes the divide occur at the same verse as that in protestant and modern Catholic Bibles.

Older versions of the Benedictine Office though, reflected in the Monastic Diurnal and Antiphonale Monasticum, actually split the psalm at a different point, two verses earlier.  I haven't (yet) tracked back how far this tradition goes, but I'm betting its a long way, because I actually think the saint has split the psalm across Tuesday and Wednesday to reflect his programmatic approach to the design of the Office, and more than a few commentators acknowledge that the change in tone in the psalm actually starts at verse 20, not 22, the point of the Masoretic Text divide.

In sum, Tuesday's half of the psalm is far more upbeat than Wednesday's: it sings of Sion, the heavenly city, one of the key themes of that day in the Benedictine Office, and praises the Lord for his coming.   Wednesday's section, on the other hand, is more of a song of lamentation and entreaty in the face of  deceit and betrayal, which is entirely consistent with the themes of that day in the Benedictine Office.   Accordingly, I have maintained the traditional Office dividing point here for expository purposes.

You can also find some short summaries of this part of the psalm, primarily from the Fathers and Theologians here.

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