Friday, April 4, 2014

The Penitential Psalms - Psalm 101/4: verses 12-14

Destruction of Jerusalem under the Babylonian rule.
 Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

In the previous part of this mini-series on Psalm 101, I looked at the psalmist’s sense of isolation and loneliness, described in the first part of the psalm. That section of the psalm called attention to the necessity to do penance, appropriate to our state of life, and to take the opportunities life provides us to progress.

Still, that is only one part of the psalm's prescription for our ills.  The second part of the psalm points to two other ways out of the misery, depression and loneliness that comes from sin. The first, which I will talk about today in the context of verses 12-14, through the Church, symbolised by the restoration of Jerusalem. The second path alluded to in the psalm is, I think, the hope of heaven, which I will talk more about in the final part on this psalm.

Sin is the cause of our isolation and death

The original historical context of this psalm was, as I’ve noted previously, probably the Babylonian exile, which Scripture portrays as a punishment for the sins of the people of Israel. But the same isolation results when we are individually in a state of mortal sin: we are cut off from God; and separated, at least in the spiritual sense, from the community of the Church. In this state our good deeds – whether spiritual or corporal - avail us nothing, accruing no merit for us. In this state, unless we repent, our ultimate destiny is the final death of hell.

Verse 12 in the Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate) gives us two images to describe a man approaching death:

Dies mei sicut umbra declinavérunt: * et ego sicut fœnum árui.
Dies mei quasi umbra inclinati sunt, et ego quasi faenum arui.

First he says that ‘my days’ (dies mei) have departed or declined (declinare), like the lengthening of a shadow (umbra) that occurs as the sun sets. Then he says I have dried out (arere) like grass (foenum).

Mankind, the traditional commentaries on this verse remind us, was made to be immortal. But due to Adam’s sin, we are condemned to die. St Robert Bellarmine notes:

“Not only by reason of my own sins, but by reason of the old fall, that is, common to us all; "my days have declined like a shadow," quietly, insensibly, but steadily, until at sunset it disappears and passes into the shadow of night. "And I am withered like grass." I, who was created to flourish like the palm forever, am now prostrate and withered, like the grass that dries up immediately.”

By contrast, the first half of Verse 13 points out, God is immortal:

13 Tu autem, Dómine, in ætérnum pérmanes; that is, ‘But you (tu autem), Lord, endure (permanere) forever’.

God in majesty,
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 41v,
Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Verse 13-14: Christ bridges the divide

In this psalm, though, as the second half of the psalm makes clear, it is not fear of hell that is the prime motive for action, but rather the desire to be with God, to worship him properly in community, and to be with him forever.

Tu autem, Dómine, in ætérnum pérmanes: * et memoriále tuum in generatiónem et generatiónem.

‘But you (tu autem), Lord, endure (permanere) forever’. ‘your memory (memoriale tuum) from generation to generation (generatiónem et generatiónem)’

Verse 13 tell us that God allows the knowledge of himself, the faith to be passed down the generations: ‘your memory (memoriale tuum) from generation to generation (generatiónem et generatiónem)’ through a cloud of witnesses.

It is God’s action in time, in the form of the mission of Christ, that offers us the chance of immortal life:

Tu exsúrgens miseréberis Sion: * quia tempus miseréndi ejus, quia venit tempus.
Tu suscitans misereberis Sion: quia tempus est miserearis eius, quoniam uenit tempus quoniam uenit pactum. 

The psalmist may be talking first and foremost about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Jewish state after the Exile, but that event only foreshadows the true fulfilment of this verse in the coming of Christ and the establishment of his Church on earth. The objective of this restoration, as the psalm says, is that God may be properly worshipped by the community he creates:

“All the Gentiles shall fear your name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory. For the Lord has built up Sion: and he shall be seen in his glory... the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord… that they may declare the name of the Lord in Sion: and his praise in Jerusalem; when the people assemble together, and kings, to serve the Lord”. (verses 16-23)

But we must be transformed...

Yet though Our Lord’s death and resurrection, and through this, the graces available to us through his Church, give us the means to reclaim our lost inheritance of immortality, we have to submit our own claim for that free gift, be justified ourselves!

Psalm 101: Domine exaudi orationem meam
Oratio pauperis, cum anxius fuerit, et in conspectu Domini effuderit precem suam.
The prayer of the poor man, when he was anxious, and poured out his supplication before   the Lord.
1 Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam: * et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Hear, O Lord, my prayer: and let my cry come to you.
2  Non avértas fáciem tuam a me: * in quacúmque die tríbulor, inclína ad me aurem tuam.
Turn not away your face from me: in the day when I am in trouble, incline your ear to me.
3  In quacúmque die invocávero te: * velóciter exáudi me.
In what day soever I shall call upon you, hear me speedily.
4  Quia defecérunt sicut fumus dies mei: * et ossa mea sicut crémium aruérunt.
4 For my days are vanished like smoke, and my bones are grown dry like fuel for the fire.
5  Percússus sum ut fœnum, et áruit cor meum: * quia oblítus sum comédere panem meum.
5 I am smitten as grass, and my heart is withered: because I forgot to eat my bread.
6  A voce gémitus mei: * adhæsit os meum carni meæ.
6 Through the voice of my groaning, my bone has cleaved to my flesh.
7  Símilis factus sum pellicáno solitúdinis: * factus sum sicut nyctícorax in domicílio.
7 I have become like to a pelican of the wilderness: I am like a night raven in the house.
8  Vigilávi, * et factus sum sicut passer solitárius in tecto.
8 I have watched, and have become as a sparrow all alone on the housetop.
9  Tota die exprobrábant mihi inimíci mei: * et qui laudábant me, advérsum me jurábant.
9 All the day long my enemies reproached me: and they that praised me did swear against me.
10  Quia cínerem tamquam panem manducábam, * et potum meum cum fletu miscébam.
10 For I ate ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
11  A fácie iræ et indignatiónis tuæ: * quia élevans allisísti me.
11 Because of your anger and indignation: for having lifted me up you have thrown me down.
12  Dies mei sicut umbra declinavérunt: * et ego sicut fœnum árui.
12 My days have declined like a shadow, and I am withered like grass.
13  Tu autem, Dómine, in ætérnum pérmanes: * et memoriále tuum in generatiónem et generatiónem.
13 But you, O Lord, endure for ever: and your memorial to all generations.
14  Tu exsúrgens miseréberis Sion: * quia tempus miseréndi ejus, quia venit tempus.
14 You shall arise and have mercy on Sion: for it is time to have mercy on it, for the time has come.
15  Quóniam placuérunt servis tuis lápides ejus: * et terræ ejus miserebúntur.
15 For the stones thereof have pleased your servants: and they shall have pity on the earth thereof.
16  Et timébunt gentes nomen tuum, Dómine: * et omnes reges terræ glóriam tuam.
16 All the Gentiles shall fear your name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth your glory.
17  Quia ædificávit Dóminus Sion: * et vidébitur in glória sua.
17 For the Lord has built up Sion: and he shall be seen in his glory.
18  Respéxit in oratiónem humílium: * et non sprevit precem eórum.
18 He has had regard to the prayer of the humble: and he has not despised their petition.
19  Scribántur hæc in generatióne áltera: * et pópulus qui creábitur, laudábit Dóminum.
19 Let these things be written unto another generation: and the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord:
20  Quia prospéxit de excélso sancto suo: * Dóminus de cælo in terram aspéxit:
20 Because he has looked forth from his high sanctuary: from heaven the Lord has looked upon the earth.
21  Ut audíret gémitus compeditórum: * ut sólveret fílios interemptórum.
21 That he might hear the groans of them that are in fetters: that he might release the children of the slain:
22  Ut annúntient in Sion nomen Dómini: * et laudem ejus in Jerúsalem.
22 That they may declare the name of the Lord in Sion: and his praise in Jerusalem;
23  In conveniéndo pópulos in unum: * et reges ut sérviant Dómino.
23 when the people assemble together, and kings, to serve the Lord.
24  Respóndit ei in via virtútis suæ: * Paucitátem diérum meórum núntia mihi.
24 He answered him in the way of his strength: Declare unto me the fewness of my days.
25  Ne révoces me in dimídio diérum meórum: * in generatiónem et generatiónem anni tui.
25 Call me not away in the midst of my days: your years are unto generation and generation.
26  Inítio tu, Dómine, terram fundásti: * et ópera mánuum tuárum sunt cæli.
26 In the beginning, O Lord, you founded the earth: and the heavens are the works of your hands.
27  Ipsi peribunt, tu autem pérmanes: * et omnes sicut vestiméntum veteráscent.
27 They shall perish but you remain: and all of them shall grow old like a garment:
28  Et sicut opertórium mutábis eos, et mutabúntur: * tu autem idem ipse es, et anni tui non defícient.
And as a vesture you shall change them, and they shall be changed. 28 But you are always the selfsame, and your years shall not fail.
29  Fílii servórum tuórum habitábunt: * et semen eórum in sæculum dirigétur.
29 The children of your servants shall continue and their seed shall be directed for ever.

More on this in the next part of this series.  In the meantime, enjoy to a chant setting of verses 16-17.

And you can find the next part in this series on Psalm 101 here.

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