Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Penitential Psalms - Psalm 142 v6&7

Death of St Benedict, Monte Cassino
Verse 6 of Psalm 142 is particularly important.  The reference to outstretched hands is often taken as a reference to Christ on the Cross, hence justifying the psalms traditional placement usage in the Roman Office on Fridays.  St Benedict however, shifted this psalm to Saturday, a day that marks Christ resting in the tomb, and the verse's second phrase, which seems to express a fervent longing for an absent Christ, fits well with that interpretation.

Expándi manus meas ad te: * ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi.
Expandi manus meas ad te: animia mea quasi terra sitiens ad te.

‘Stretching out the hands’ (expandi manus) is a gesture of prayer.  The literal translation of the second phrase is something like ‘my soul is like the earth without water to you’, however most translators interpret the missing verb as ‘thirsts’ on the basis of similar sentiments in other psalms.  The Septuagint however omits the tibi which solves the problem a slightly different way, so that NETS makes it ‘I spread out my hands to you, my soul was like a parched land’.  The sense is not that different however.

expando pani pansum ere to spread out, stretch out

I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
I spread out my hands to you, my soul was like a parched land
I spread forth my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee, as a dry land.
I stretch out my hands to Thee, my soul thirsteth after Thee, like parched soil
I stretch forth my hands unto thee; my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.

Cassiodorus summarises the Patristic interpretations of the passage:

"Though he has prophesied the Lord Saviour's coming in countless passages, here too by stretching out his hands he formed the shape of the holy cross. The person who prays with hands extended imitates the cross of the Redeemer which was inflicted as punishment by the faithless Jews, but was none the less bestowed on believers as salvation. When Moses was warring with the Amalekites, this was how he fared: he conquered when he stretched forth his hands, he was defeated if he let his arms fall. The comparison follows in which he says that his soul longs for God as the parched earth often absorbs abundant rain. The beginning of Psalm 41 is similar: As the hart pants after fountains of water, so my soul pants for thee, 0 God.Notice that he said: Unto thee, not to anyone else, so that you would not attach this longing to evil desires."

Bellarmine likewise sees this verse as a plea for God's grace:

The consideration of God's mercy having inspired him with hope, he began to sigh and to look up to him. "I stretched forth my hands to thee" in prayer; for my soul thirsts as much for your grace, as the parched earth does for the rain. A most appropriate comparison; for as the earth, when devoid of mois­ture, does not adhere together, is not clothed with herbage, nor adorned with flowers, produces no fruit, and is altogether idle and unproductive; so the soul, without God's grace, offers no resistance to temptation; but like the dust, that is carried about by the wind, has neither the clothing of justice, nor the orna­ments of wisdom, nor the fruit of good works, of all of which the penitent had practical experience, and was therefore the more thirsty.

Velóciter exáudi me, Dómine: * defécit spíritus meus.
Cito exaudi me, Domiu ; defecit spiritus meus :

velociter, adv.  swiftly, quickly, speedily, rapidly
deficio, fed, fectum, ere 3 to fail, to be wasted, spent, consumed, cease to be, come to an end, vanish, long for, pine for,

Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
Hear me speedily, O Lord; my spirit has failed
Hear me, O Lord, and that soon, for my spirit waxeth faint;

St Augustine expands on this plea for mercy:

For what need of delay to inflame my thirst, when already I thirst so eagerly? You delayed the rain, that I might drink and imbibe, not reject, Your inflowing. If then Thou for this cause delayed, now give; for my spirit has failed. Let Your Spirit fill me. This is the reason why You should speedily hear me. I am now become poor in spirit, make Thou me blessed in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3 For he in whom his own spirit lives, is proud, is puffed up with his own spirit against God....

St Robert Bellarmine turns it into a call for action on our part:

The turpitude of the sin he acknowledged and the desire of grace now so presses on the penitent, that he can brook no further delay; and the fact of the penitent not deferring his con­fession, and the other remedies suggested, from day to day, but running at once to his spiritual physician, just as one taken suddenly ill would urgently send for the doctor, or one suffer­ing from thirst would run to the water, is a sign of true contri­tion. "Hear me speedily;" I cannot bear my wretched state any longer; wash me quickly from my iniquities; heal, at once, my disease; because "my spirit hath fainted away;" I am in the last extremities, can scarce draw my breath.

Psalm 142: Domine, exaudi orationem meam
Psalmus David, quando persequebatur eum Absalom filius ejus.
A psalm of David, when his son Absalom pursued him
1 Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam: áuribus pércipe obsecratiónem meam in veritáte tua : * exáudi me in tua justítia.
Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in your truth: hear me in your justice.

2  Et non intres in judícium cum servo tuo: * quia non justificábitur in conspéctu tuo omnis vivens.
And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight no man living shall be justified.
3  Quia persecútus est inimícus ánimam meam: * humiliávit in terra vitam meam.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul: he has brought down my life to the earth.
4  Collocávit me in obscúris sicut mórtuos sæculi : * et anxiátus est super me spíritus meus, in me turbátum est cor meum.
He has made me to dwell in darkness as those that have been dead of old: And my spirit is in anguish within me: my heart within me is troubled.
5  Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.
I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
6  Expándi manus meas ad te: * ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi.
I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
7  Velóciter exáudi me, Dómine: * defécit spíritus meus.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
8  Non avértas fáciem tuam a me: * et símilis ero descendéntibus in lacum.
Turn not away your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
9  Audítam fac mihi mane misericórdiam tuam: * quia in te sperávi.
Cause me to hear your mercy in the morning; for in you have I hoped.
10  Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ámbulem: * quia ad te levávi ánimam meam.
Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.
11  Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine, ad te confúgi: * doce me fácere voluntátem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
12  Spíritus tuus bonus dedúcet me in terram rectam: * propter nomen tuum, Dómine, vivificábis me, in æquitáte tua.
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
13  Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
14  Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.
And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.

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

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