Sunday, September 18, 2016

Psalm 20 - Our king will reign forever

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Psalm 20: Sunday Matins I, 1 
In finem. Psalmus David.
Unto the end. A psalm for David.
1 Dómine, in virtúte tua lætábitur rex: * et super salutáre tuum exsultábit veheménter.
In your strength, O Lord, the king shall joy; and in your salvation he shall rejoice exceedingly.
2  Desidérium cordis ejus tribuísti ei: * et voluntáte labiórum ejus non fraudásti eum.
3 You have given him his heart's desire: and have not withholden from him the will of his lips.
3  Quóniam prævenísti eum in benedictiónibus dulcédinis: * posuísti in cápite ejus corónam de lápide pretióso.
4 For you have prevented him with blessings of sweetness: you have set on his head a crown of precious stones.
4  Vitam pétiit a te: * et tribuísti ei longitúdinem diérum in sæculum, et in sæculum sæculi.
5 He asked life of you: and you have given him length of days for ever and ever.
5  Magna est glória ejus in salutári tuo: * glóriam et magnum decórem impónes super eum.
6 His glory is great in your salvation: glory and great beauty shall you lay upon him.
6  Quóniam dabis eum in benedictiónem in sæculum sæculi: * lætificábis eum in gáudio cum vultu tuo.
7 For you shall give him to be a blessing for ever and ever: you shall make him joyful in gladness with your countenance.
7  Quóniam rex sperat in Dómino: * et in misericórdia Altíssimi non commovébitur.
8 For the king hopes in the Lord: and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved
8  Inveniátur manus tua ómnibus inimícis tuis: * déxtera tua invéniat omnes, qui te odérunt.
9 Let your hand be found by all your enemies: let your right hand find out all them that hate you.
9  Pones eos ut clíbanum ignis in témpore vultus tui: * Dóminus in ira sua conturbábit eos, et devorábit eos ignis.
10 You shall make them as an oven of fire, in the time of your anger: the Lord shall trouble them in his wrath, and fire shall devour them.
10  Fructum eórum de terra perdes: * et semen eórum a fíliis hóminum.
11 Their fruit shall you destroy from the earth: and their seed from among the children of men.
11  Quóniam declinavérunt in te mala: * cogitavérunt consília, quæ non potuérunt stabilíre.
12 For they have intended evils against you: they have devised counsels which they have not been able to establish.
12  Quóniam pones eos dorsum: * in relíquiis tuis præparábis vultum eórum.
13 For you shall make them turn their back: in your remnants you shall prepare their face.
13  Exaltáre, Dómine, in virtúte tua: * cantábimus et psallémus virtútes tuas.
14 Be exalted, O Lord, in your own strength: we will sing and praise your power.

St Benedict's selection of Psalm 20 to open Matins each Sunday was a radical one: starting at Psalm 1 was the norm for all of the traditional forms of the Office, monastic or otherwise.  So why did he do it?

In the Rule, St Benedict explicitly makes a link between this starting point and Prime.  After explaining how the psalms of Prime are to be divided and allocated to each day of the week, he says St Benedict's Rule says:
'Thus it comes about that the Night Office on Sundays will always begin with the twentieth psalm.' (RB18).  
 The Resurrection

 The most obvious reason for the linkage is the Resurrection, a fitting opening prayer for the 'Lord's Day' when we celebrate that event afresh each week.

The variable psalmody of Saturday in the Office's mini-Triduum ends with Psalm 19, which, you will recall, is a prediction of the Resurrection and sings the praises of the triumphant king.  Cassiodorus explains its concluding verse, O Lord save the king...' as meaning, 'Let Christ the Lord rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and intercede for us'.

As St Liguori reminds us, Psalm 20 is a song of the Resurrection:
Hymn of thanksgiving which the people address to God for the victories granted to the arms of David. According to Bellarmine, this psalm is understood in the spiritual sense of the victory which Jesus Christ gained through the merits of his Passion over sin and over hell.
Verse 4 is the key to this interpretation as St Augustine makes clear:
He asked life; and You gave Him: He asked a resurrection, saying, Father, glorify Your Son; and You gave it Him, Length of days for ever and ever. The prolonged ages of this world which the Church was to have, and after them an eternity, world without end.
Life of Christ in a week

The link between Psalm 19 and Psalm 20 also provides a link between that theme and the weekly program around the life of Christ that St Benedict sets out in Matins above all.

St Benedict makes Prime above all about Christ the King, the first and last, who fulfils the law and leads us into heaven.  But the psalms of that hour also link to the schema that I think is traces out each week the life of Christ from the Incarnation on Monday to the Resurrection on Sunday.

Against the denial of the divinity of Christ

The third reason for St Benedict's approach may have been to make a strong statement against the Arian heresy which was widespread in Italy in his time, and denied the true divinity of Christ.

Cassiodorus saw Psalms 18, 19 and 20 as setting out Christ's two natures, human and divine, and his discussion of Psalm 20 provides a strong exposition of its applicability in countering the Arian heresy (reborn in our time, above all in those who claim Christ was unaware of his divine nature and mission, acted in ways conditioned by the times, and so forth).  He comments:
Here a kind of panegyric is recited about His incarnation, and later the deeds of His divinity are recounted so that all may understand that the Son of Mary ever a virgin is identical with the Word of the Father. Our belief which is conducive to salvation is that there are two natures, divine and human, in Jesus Christ, and they continue in one Person unchangeably for ages without end. This statement should be repeated frequently, because regularly hearing and believing it brings life...
Accordingly, starting with Psalm 20 each week may have been a firm statement against that heresy, consistent with the many other anti-Arian features of the Benedictine Office (the addition of the Gloria to each psalm, for example, and the closing 'litany', Kyrie eleimson, Christie eleison, Kyrie eleison' for example were all adopted in Gaul in the early sixth century to this end).

The eighth day

Above all though, the choice of the psalm surely reflects the eschatological character St Benedict gives Matins.  He sets out his instructions for Matins in the eighth chapter of the Rule; says it should be started at the eighth hour on what was in early Christian parlance the 'eighth day', the dawn of the first day of the new creation ushered in by the Resurrection.

And St Athanasius summarises the psalm as revealing:
Christ’s kingdom, and the power of his judgment, and his coming again in the flesh to us and the summoning of the nations.

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