Saturday, March 1, 2014

Psalm 137 in the context of Wednesday Vespers

Mercy and truth

The final psalm of Wednesday Vespers is Psalm 137, and as I've previously provided a series of notes on Psalm 137 in the context of the Office of the Dead, I'm just going to devote one post to it here, to point to some possible links to the themes of Wednesday in the Office.

This hymn of thanksgiving alternates between the personal concerns of the speaker, and a call for the praise of God to be spread amongst all nations.  God is to be worshipped, it argues, for his truth and mercy, for his help in times of tribulation and aid against enemies, and for his aid to the poor and marginalized.

So how does it fit into the Wednesday schema?

First, Wednesday's Vespers psalms have all focused on the issue of worshipping God in spirit and truth, and rejecting the allure of false substitutes such as power, wealth or pleasure.  Psalm 137's sentiments on praising God in the presence of the angels (verse 2) continues this theme, and reflects a point that St Benedict emphasizes in his Rule:

"We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that "the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place" (Prov. 15:3). But we should believe this especially without any doubt when we are assisting at the Work of God.  To that end let us be mindful always of the Prophet's words, "Serve the Lord in fear" and again "Sing praises wisely" and "In the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to You". Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in sight of the Godhead and of His Angels,  and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way that our mind may be in harmony with our voice." 

Secondly, the days psalms have been instructing us on resisting temptation, stopping us from becoming Judas' who will be cast out from the path of salvation.  Verses 4&8 in particular point to the aid that God will give us in difficult times to this end.

Finally, the psalms of Wednesday have been recalling for us key events in salvation history.  We now come to the most important of these, looking forward to the mini-Triduum of the Office, with the Passion.  The psalm points out in verse 9 that when we do fall, Christ is ready to pull us out again if we only repent, just as he rescued the Hebrews enslaved by Babylon whose lament we heard in the previous psalm.   We can never merit salvation through our own efforts, but as St Athanasius points out in his famous letter on the interpretation of the psalms, through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, we can yet be saved:

"Having thus shown that Christ should come in human form, the Psalter goes on to show that He can suffer in the flesh He has assumed... For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17] So in Psalm 137 we say, The Lord will make requital for me..."

Psalm 137 (138)– Confitebor tibi

Ipsi David.
For David himself.
Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: * quóniam audísti verba oris mei.
I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart: for you have heard the words of my mouth.
2  In conspéctu Angelórum psallam tibi: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum, et confitébor nómini tuo.
I will sing praise to you in the sight of the angels: 2 I will worship towards your holy temple, and I will give glory to your name.
3  Super misericórdia tua, et veritáte tua: * quóniam magnificásti super omne, nomen sanctum tuum.
For your mercy, and for your truth: for you have magnified your holy name above all.

4  In quacúmque die invocávero te, exáudi me: * multiplicábis in ánima mea virtútem.
3 In what day soever I shall call upon you, hear me: you shall multiply strength in my soul.
5  Confiteántur tibi, Dómine, omnes reges terræ: * quia audiérunt ómnia verba oris tui.
4 May all the kings of the earth give glory to you: for they have heard all the words of your mouth.
6  Et cantent in viis Dómini: * quóniam magna est glória Dómini.
5 And let them sing in the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.
7  Quóniam excélsus Dóminus, et humília réspicit: * et alta a longe cognóscit.
6 For the Lord is high, and looks on the low: and the high he knows afar off.
8  Si ambulávero in médio tribulatiónis, vivificábis me: * et super iram inimicórum meórum extendísti manum tuam, et salvum me fecit déxtera tua.
7 If I shall walk in the midst of tribulation, you will quicken me: and you have stretched forth your hand against the wrath of my enemies: and your right hand has saved me.
9  Dóminus retríbuet pro me: * Dómine, misericórdia tua in sæculum: ópera mánuum tuárum ne despícias.
8 The Lord will repay for me: your mercy, O Lord endures for ever: O despise not the works of your hands.

And that is the last post in this series of posts on the psalms of Wednesday Vespers.  I plan to resume this series on the psalms of each day in the office, focusing primarily on Vespers, later in the year, but next up, a Lenten series on the Penitential Psalms.

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