Monday, October 31, 2016

Psalm 99 - Serve the Lord with gladness

Psalm 99 - Jubiláte Deo, omnis terra - Festal Lauds/Matins Friday II, 5 
Psalmus in confessione.
A psalm of praise.
1 Jubiláte Deo, omnis terra: * servíte Dómino in lætítia.
Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve the Lord with gladness.
2  Introíte in conspéctu ejus, * in exsultatióne.
Come in before his presence with exceeding great joy.
3  Scitóte quóniam Dóminus ipse est Deus: * ipse fecit nos, et non ipsi nos.
3 Know that the Lord he is God: he made us, and not we ourselves
4  Pópulus ejus, et oves páscuæ ejus: * introíte portas ejus in confessióne, átria ejus in hymnis: confitémini illi.
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Go into his gates with praise, into his courts with hymns: and give glory to him.
5  Laudáte nomen ejus: quóniam suávis est Dóminus, in ætérnum misericórdia ejus, * et usque in generatiónem et generatiónem véritas ejus.
Praise his name: 5 For the Lord is sweet, his mercy endures for ever, and his truth to generation and generation.

The second of the festal psalms of Lauds is Psalm 99, which is the last of the set of psalms focusing on Christ's kingship that started with Psalm 92, the first of the festal psalms of Lauds.

As St Augustine points out, the psalm is reasonably straightforward in its meaning: is short, and not obscure: as if I had given you an assurance, that you should not fear fatigue....The title of this Psalm is, A Psalm of confession. The verses are few, but big with great subjects; may the seed bring forth within your hearts, the barn be prepared for the Lord's harvest.
Similarly, St Liguori summarises it as:
The royal prophet exhorts the faithful to praise God and to thank him first for having created us; then for having given us for our mother this holy Church which nourishes her children as young and tender sheep.
The whole psalm is very upbeat, urging us to joy, and Cassiodorus therefore alludes to the use of the imagery of the sheep of his pasture in Psalm 94 (the Matins invitatory) and the instruction to serve the Lord with gladness in verse 2:
Though service to the Lord is seen to be discharged by the various functions of ecclesiastical orders, monasteries of the faithful, solitary hermits, and devoted laity, all are appropriately associated with these five words, serve the Lord with gladness, and not with murmuring or mental bitterness, as happened in the desert when the Jewish people murmured against the Lord.  This gladness is none other than charity...So those who server the Lord with gladness are those who love Him above all else and show brotherly charity to each other.
Cassiodorus' interpretation of the gates reflects the theme of charity reflected in works:
The Lord's gates are humble repentance, sacred baptism, holy charity, almsgiving, mercy and the other commands by which we can attain his presence.  So the prophet urges us first to enter the gate's of the Lord's mercy by means of this humble confession...
Place in Lauds

Once again it doesn't contain any overt references to morning or light, but it does have a strong connection to the key themes of Lauds they we have noted in this series.

In particular it fits perfectly with the 'entering into heaven' and 'truth and mercy' memes of the Lauds group, in which position it has been placed in the festal office.  And this in turn perhaps suggests that as in a number of other cases, St Benedict was not, in his Lauds selections, starting from nothing, but rather taking an existing theme and amplifying it, making it more explicit.

It also suggests that St Benedict's decision not to use this psalm at Lauds may perhaps have been dictated by factors such as the design of the Matins cursus as much as the content of this particular psalm.  Still, the focus of the psalm is primarily on the kingship of Christ rather than his priesthood, so that too may have been a factor.

And that ends this series on the variable psalms of Lauds.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Psalm 92 and the sixth day of creation

Weltchronik Fulda Aa88 003r detail.jpg
Rudolf von Ems: Weltchronik. Böhmen (Prag), 3.
Viertel 14. Jahrhundert. Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda, Aa 88.

Psalm 92 - Dóminus regnávit, decórem indútus est - Festal Lauds/Matins Friday I, 5
Laus cantici ipsi David, in die ante sabbatum, quando fundata est terra.
Praise in the way of a canticle, for David himself, on the day before the sabbath, when the earth was founded.
1 Dóminus regnávit, decórem indútus est: * indútus est Dóminus fortitúdinem, et præcínxit se.
The Lord has reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and has girded himself.
2  Etenim firmávit orbem terræ, * qui non commovébitur.
For he has established the world which shall not be moved.
3  Paráta sedes tua ex tunc: * a sæculo tu es.
2 My throne is prepared from of old: you are from everlasting.
4  Elevavérunt flúmina, Dómine: * elevavérunt flúmina vocem suam.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord: the floods have lifted up their voice
5  Elevavérunt flúmina fluctus suos, * a vócibus aquárum multárum.
The floods have lifted up their waves, 4 with the noise of many waters.
6  Mirábiles elatiónes maris: * mirábilis in altis Dóminus.
Wonderful are the surges of the sea: wonderful is the Lord on high.
7  Testimónia tua credibília facta sunt nimis: * domum tuam decet sanctitúdo, Dómine, in longitúdinem diérum.
5 Your testimonies have become exceedingly credible: holiness becomes your house, O Lord, unto length of days.

The kingship of Christ

The reasons for Psalm 92's use in the festal Office are obvious: this is the first of a group of psalms (to Psalm 99) that proclaim the kingship of God, and looks forward to the establishment of his dominion over the earth.

St Alphonsus Liguori, for example, comments:
The psalmist exalts the power that God manifested in creating heaven and earth; and transporting himself in thought to the first moment of creation, he represents to himself God, who in some way proceeds from the mystery of his eternal existence, in order to reveal himself in the production of creatures.
The reasons for its omission in St Benedict's original version of the Benedictine Office perhaps rather less so.

It is true of course that it contains no clear references to morning prayer or dawn.  Still, verses 1-2 and 6 are certainly interpreted by the Fathers as references to the future after the Resurrection, so it fits in well with the general themes we have identified in the psalms of Lauds, thus perhaps explaining its ready acceptance in later versions of the Office.

The days of creation in the Office

One possibility is that St Benedict felt its particular relevance to the day of the week, suggested by the title, outweighed its relevance to his Lauds themes.  

In the past I've mainly talked about a cycle around the life of Christ built into the Benedictine Office, but there are also traces, I think, of a (not unrelated) cycle around the seven days of creation.

St Augustine provides the explanation of how this psalm fits with that:
It is entitled, The Song of praise of David himself, on the day before the Sabbath, when the earth was founded. 
Remembering then what God did through all those days, when He made and ordained all things, from the first up to the sixth day (for the seventh He sanctified, because He rested on that day after all the works, which He made very good), we find that He created on the sixth day (which day is here mentioned, in that he says, before the Sabbath) all animals on the earth; lastly, He on that very day created man in His own likeness and image. For these days were not without reason ordained in such order, but for that ages also were to run in a like course, before we rest in God. But then we rest if we do good works....
And because these good works are doomed to pass away, that sixth day also, when those very good works are perfected, has an evening; but in the Sabbath we find no evening, because our rest shall have no end: for evening is put for end. As therefore God made man in His own image on the sixth day: thus we find that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the sixth age, that man might be formed anew after the image of God. 
For the first period, as the first day, was from Adam until Noah: the second, as the second day, from Noah unto Abraham: the third, as the third day, from Abraham unto David: the fourth, as the fourth day, from David unto the removal to Babylon: the fifth period, as the fifth day, from the removal to Babylon unto the preaching of John. The sixth day begins from the preaching of John, and lasts unto the end: and after the end of the sixth day, we reach our rest. The sixth day, therefore, is even now passing. And it is now the sixth day, see what the title has; On the day before the Sabbath, when the earth was founded.
In this light, Cassiodorus, for example, sees this psalm as primarily celebrating the Incarnation of Christ rather than the Resurrection.  He suggests that:
The first topic describes His beauty, the second His strength, the third His deed, the fourth His power, the fifth praises of the whole creation, the sixth the truth of His words, and the last praise of His house which fittingly basks in eternal joy...
It is worth noting that while some of the Fathers (including St Benedict in my view) seem to place the Incarnation on Sunday or Monday in their schemas, others linked the Incarnation with the creation of man on the sixth day and our redemption through the cross in their commentaries on the Hexameron.

In any case, St Benedict perhaps preferred to focus Lauds on Friday on the major theme of the day, namely the Passion, and on Sunday, to psalms with a more overt focus on the Resurrection, such as Psalm 117.

And you can notes on the last psalm in this series on Lauds, Psalm 99, here.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The festal Office of Lauds - a case of organic development of the liturgy or not?

Image result for divine office festal lauds

So far in this series we have looked at the psalms that St Benedict assigned to Lauds, and the logic he used to selected them.

Over time, however, a 'festal' Office has developed involving the substitution of Psalm 92 for Psalm 50; Psalm 99 for the first variable psalm of the day; Psalm 62 for the second variable psalm of the day; and the use of a 'festal' canticle in place of the traditional ferial one.

To what extent should this festal Office be regarded as a valid and/or desirable development?  Is there a case for reverting to the ancient practice specified by St Benedict (particularly given that the modern Liturgy of the Hours largely moves away from festal Offices, with the exception of Vespers)?

Organic development of the liturgy

The Benedictine Rule specifies exactly which psalms should be said at each hour and day.  Nonetheless, though the Rule is always the guide for Benedictines, nothing in it is set in stone: St Benedict regularly encourages the abbot to adapt its provisions to the needs of his particular monastery, and this applies to the Office as much as any other part of the Rule.

St Benedict explicitly provides, for example, for a less onerous method of saying the Office in smaller monasteries, and offers a permission to order the psalm cursus differently (notwithstanding some later opinions to the effect that this was just a humility formula).

Nor is the liturgy something that is pickled in amber; rather it is a living entity that grows and develops over time.

That 'development' process, though, is not always entirely linear: the entire repertoire of Gregorian chant that is now the norm for the traditional form of the Office, for example, was largely a reconstruction of medieval practice effected by the Solesmes Congregation centuries after it had been abandoned in practice.

Accordingly, by better understanding the reasons for St Benedict's original specifications, we are better placed to consider whether particular developments in the Office are consistent with what came before and a logical outgrowth of them ('organic') or not; and whether such developments remain desirable now.

The festal Office of Lauds and its origins

The Rule itself mentions a festal Office only for Matins (Vigils): St Benedict instructs that the psalms of the day are to be used, but in the framework of the Sunday Office structure.  That is, three Nocturns with twelve readings is to be used on major feast days.

It is easy how to see,though, how this logic could be applied to the other hours: all that was necessary was to change the antiphons to ones appropriate to the feast.

The priority St Benedict placed on his psalm cursus probably reflects both the particular character with which he invests in each of the hours through his selection of psalms (such as the references to morning prayer at Lauds, and the repeated motifs or memes we have been discussing in this series) and to the weekly thematic program I think he has designed into his Office around the life of Christ (that flows from the Old Testament canticles of Lauds).

The desire to give a greater prominence to the great feasts of the liturgical year in the Office though, and to the feasts of the saints, seems to have led to modifications of the Benedictine Office very early indeed. 

A letter of Abbot Theodore of Monte Cassino (held office 777-796), for example, explains that the monks there used psalms and responsories of the Roman, rather than the Benedictine (getting to twelve psalms by the expedient of dividing three of them), for the major feasts such as Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and the major saints (viz SS Peter, Martin and Benedict).

And a document from 836 (between the monasteries of St Denis and Fleury) provides the first record of fully developed monastic festal Offices, for the feasts of St Denis and the Transitus of St Benedict.

The substitution of Psalm 92 for Psalm 50 at Lauds on major feasts in imitation of the Roman Office seems to have been one of these very early innovations, though the addition of the other two 'festal' psalms of Lauds doesn't seem to have occurred until the fourteenth century, and then only in selected locations.

There are also purely practical reasons for the development of sets of festal psalms, namely limiting the number of different psalm tones that have to be learnt, given that antiphons can require any of ten different psalm tones (ie the 8 standard tones plus the tonus peregrinus and the tonus irregulariter) to be used.  As the Office chants became more elaborate, and the number of feasts proliferated, this was perhaps increasingly important.

Personally though, I have to admit a strong attachment to the ferial psalm cursus, given the careful selection process that clearly went into it, and would prefer to see it restored.

Nonetheless, the last few posts in this series look at each of the festal psalms.

You can find notes on the first of them, Psalm 92, here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Psalm 91 - God who soothes and caresses; chastens and scourges...

The Crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell / Sicilian
The Crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell in a New Testament,
 Sicilian, late 1100s.
 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig I 5, fol. 191v

Psalm 91 (92): Bonum est confiteri Dominum - Friday Lauds
Psalmus cantici, in die sabbati.
A psalm of a canticle on the sabbath day.
1 Bonum est confitéri Dómino: * et psállere nómini tuo, altíssime.
It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to your name, O most High.
2  Ad annuntiándum mane misericórdiam tuam: * et veritátem tuam per noctem
To show forth your mercy in the morning, and your truth in the night:
3  In decachórdo, psaltério: * cum cántico, in cíthara.
4 Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp.
4. Quia delectásti me, Dómine, in factúra tua: * et in opéribus mánuum tuárum exsultábo.
5 For you have given me, O Lord, a delight in your doings: and in the works of your hands I shall rejoice.
5  Quam magnificáta sunt ópera tua, Dómine! * nimis profúndæ factæ sunt cogitatiónes tuæ
6 O Lord, how great are your works! your thoughts are exceeding deep.
6  Vir insípiens non cognóscet: * et stultus non intélliget hæc.
7 The senseless man shall not know: nor will the fool understand these things.
7  Cum exórti fúerint peccatóres sicut fœnum: * et apparúerint omnes, qui operántur iniquitátem.
8 When the wicked shall spring up as grass: and all the workers of iniquity shall appear:
8  Ut intéreant in sæculum sæculi: * tu autem Altíssimus in ætérnum, Dómine.
That they may perish for ever and ever: 9 But you, O Lord, are most high for evermore.
9  Quóniam ecce inimíci tui, Dómine, quóniam ecce inimíci tui períbunt: * et dispergéntur omnes, qui operántur iniquitátem.
10 For behold your enemies, O lord, for behold your enemies shall perish: and all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
10. Et exaltábitur sicut unicórnis cornu meum: * et senéctus mea in misericórdia úberi.
11 But my horn shall be exalted like that of the unicorn: and my old age in plentiful mercy.
11  Et despéxit óculus meus inimícos meos: * et in insurgéntibus in me malignántibus áudiet auris mea.
12 My eye also has looked down upon my enemies: and my ear shall hear of the downfall of the malignant that rise up against me.
12  Justus, ut palma florébit: * sicut cedrus Líbani multiplicábitur.
13 The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.
13  Plantáti in domo Dómini, *  in átriis domus Dei nostri florébunt.
14 They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God.
14  Adhuc multiplicabúntur in senécta úberi: * et bene patiéntes erunt,  ut annúntient:
15 They shall still increase in a fruitful old age: and shall be well treated, 16 that they may show,
15  Quóniam rectus Dóminus, Deus noster: * et non est iníquitas in eo.
That the Lord our God is righteous, and there is no iniquity in him.

Christ our high priest

The title of this psalm indicates that it was said on Saturday (the Sabbath) in Jewish tradition: it was sung in the Temple on the Sabbath at the offering of the first lamb in the morning, when the wine was poured out.  It has retained that position in the Roman Office through several sets of reforms.

St Benedict, though, moved it to Friday for obvious symbolic reasons, as Patrick Reardon has pointed out:
"That liturgical setting of Psalm 91 in the ancient temple goes far to explain its traditional use in the Church. From times past remembering, the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict testifies to the primitive Christian custom of chanting this psalm at daybreak on Friday, the true Pascha and Atonement Day, on which the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. Thus, the "mercy" declared "in the morning" bears a most specific sense, for our Friday is both Yom Kippur and Passover, the day of that "darkness over the whole earth," the three hours of that ninth plague immediately prior to the atoning death of the Firstborn, the sprinkling of that paschal blood without which there is no remission.  Prayed on Friday mornings, as the ancient Western monastic rule prescribed, this psalm reminds the Church why it is no longer necessary to make the daily offering of lambs in the temple, for those sacrifices had only "a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (Heb. 10:1)." Christ in the Psalms, pg 181
The psalm reminds us that to secular man, the cross is a scandal, a senseless waste, not an atoning triumph:
Vir insípiens non cognóscet: * et stultus non intélliget hæc. The senseless man shall not know: nor will the fool understand these things.
Towards the Resurrection

One of the interesting features of the Benedictine Office, in my view, is that St Benedict doesn't actually dwell much on Christ's sufferings, but always places them in the context of the Resurrection and life to come: his main focus is Christ's divinity not his humanity.

On Sundays, for example, when we have a weekly celebration of the Resurrection, we also say the psalms Christ said on the cross (Psalms 20 forward); on Friday's, though there are multiple allusions to the Passion, his selection of psalms for this purpose all look forward to the future.

This may in part be something of a response to the heresies of his time: the Arian and monophysite heresies were rife in the early sixth century, and much effort was expended at this time to combat them and their many variants.

In our time, these heresies seem to be thriving once again, so it is useful to consider the messages embedded in the Office that can serve as a correction to these errors.  In the case of Psalm 91, for example, St Augustine reminds that:
We are not Christians, except on account of a future life: let no one hope for present blessings, let no one promise himself the happiness of the world, because he is a Christian: but let him use the happiness he has, as he may, in what manner he may, when he may, as far as he may. When it is present, let him give thanks for the consolation of God: when it is wanting, let him give thanks to the Divine justice. Let him always be grateful, never ungrateful: let him be grateful to his Father, who soothes and caresses him: and grateful to his Father when He chastens him with the scourge, and teaches him: for He ever loves, whether He caress or threaten: and let him say what you have heard in the Psalm.
The message then, it seems to me, is that though in this life we are called on to 'share by patience in the sufferings of Christ', this is not an end in itself; rather it is so that 'we may deserve to be partakers also of his kingdom'. (Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict).

How then do we share in the sufferings of Christ?  Cassiodorus' commentary on the psalms argues that the true sabbath is about 'rest' from sin:
The sabbath day denotes rest, by which we are schooled to desist from all vicious action, and by the holiness of heavenly deeds to give our minds a holiday from vices.
The psaltery and harp: word study

A little meme that recurs in several places in the psalms are references to the psaltery (psalterium, iin, a stringed instrument) and harp (cithara -ae f):

Psalm 42 (Tuesday): 
5  Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: 
To you, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: 

Psalm 56 (Tuesday)
11  Exsúrge, glória mea, exsúrge psaltérium et cíthara: * exsúrgam dilúculo.
Arise, O my glory, arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.

Psalm 91
3  In decachórdo, psaltério: * cum cántico, in cíthara.
4 Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp.

And of course there are the references in the Laudate psalms said at Lauds each day:

Psalm 149
3  Laudent nomen ejus in choro: * in tympano, et psaltério psallant ei.
3 Let them praise his name in choir: let them sing to him with the timbrel and the psaltery.

Psalm 150
3  Laudáte eum in sono tubæ: * laudáte eum in psaltério, et cíthara.
3 Praise him with the sound of trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp.

(See also Psalms 32, 48, 70, 80,107, 143 and 146).

In each case the verse can be read literally, presenting a contrast between the beautiful music of the just, and the bitter words of evil-doers.  But in each case the Fathers and Theologians also saw a spiritual level of meaning to the allusions.

The instruments themselves have particular resonances.  Revelation 5:8-10, for example describes those singing the 'new song' referred to in these psalms:
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals,for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth."
St Bede gives these verses a particularly Benedictine interpretation:
For by "harps," in which strings are stretched on wood, are represented bodies prepared to die, and by "bowls", hearts expanded in breadth of love.
Similarly, the ten-stringed instrument (decacordus a um or decacordum i n) of today's psalm:
In decachórdo, psaltério: * cum cántico, in cíthara. Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp. (Ps 91)
and which also occurs in Psalm 143, said at Vespers tonight (Friday)
Deus, cánticum novum cantábo tibi: * in psaltério, decachórdo psallam tibi.  To you, O God, I will sing a new canticle: on the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings I will sing praises to you. 
can be seen as an allusion to the ten commandments.  St Thomas Aquinas, for example, in his commentary on Psalm 2, says:
Mystically speaking, however, by the ten strings of the psalterium is signified the law of God, which consists in ten commandments, and it is appropriate that it be touched with the hand, that is with good performance, and from above, because these commandments are to be satisfied according to the hope of eternal life, otherwise it would be touched from what is below.
St Augustine's commentary on a similar verse in Psalm 32 summarises the message as:
Praise the Lord with harp: praise the Lord, presenting unto Him your bodies a living sacrifice. Sing unto Him with the psaltery for ten strings let your members be servants to the love of God, and of your neighbour, in which are kept both the three and the seven commandments.
Cassiodorus builds on this to argue that:
Clearly the ten-stringed psaltery denotes the ten commandments of the Law, for they are strings which if we strum with the character of goodly deeds will play the tune of salvation and lead to the kingdom of heaven... He added: With canticle and harp; these represent the joy of good works, in other words, the pleasure shown in distributing alms. As Paul says: God loves a cheerful giver? Harp indicates active deeds which though achieved with toil and tension will bear the greatest fruit if fulfilled with the addition of joy. The man who performs good works without harsh melancholy is singing with the harp.
The psalm as a whole, Cassiodorus argued, urges us to good works that we may rest with God eternally:
...we must give thanks to the Godhead in all our actions; for psalm, as has often been stated, denotes spiritual works which rise upwards to the Lord Christ. In them we should sing and ever offer thanks, for by His kindness we are freed, whereas by our own efforts we were bound with the chains of sins. The person who devotes all his life to giving thanks is singing a psalm.   
Let us, then, gives thanks each Friday in particular, for Christ's saving sacrifice.

I've previously provided notes on this psalm both in the context of Friday in the Office and its use at Tenebrae of Holy Saturday.

The next part of this series is on the development of the festal Office of Lauds.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Psalm 89 - Seventy years in this life; eighty years old to eternity...

Image result for psalm 89 Dómine, refúgium factus es nobis
William Blake

Psalm 89: Domine refugium factus es nobis - Thursday Lauds
Oratio Moysi, hominis Dei.
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
1 Dómine, refúgium factus es nobis: * a generatióne in generatiónem.
 Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation.
2  Priúsquam montes fíerent, aut formarétur terra et orbis: * a sæculo et usque in sæculum tu es, Deus.
2 Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.
3  Ne avértas hóminem in humilitátem: * et dixísti: Convertímini, fílii hóminum.
3 Turn not man away to be brought low: and you have said: Be converted, O you sons of men.
4  Quóniam mille anni ante óculos tuos, * tamquam dies hestérna, quæ prætériit.
4 For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, which is past.
5  Et custódia in nocte, * quæ pro níhilo habéntur, eórum anni erunt.
And as a watch in the night,  things that are counted nothing, shall their years be.
6  Mane sicut herba tránseat, mane flóreat, et tránseat: * véspere décidat, indúret et aréscat.
6 In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither.
7  Quia defécimus in ira tua, * et in furóre tuo turbáti sumus.
7 For in your wrath we have fainted away: and are troubled in your indignation.
8  Posuísti iniquitátes nostras in conspéctu tuo: * sæculum nostrum in illuminatióne vultus tui.
8 You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
9  Quóniam omnes dies nostri defecérunt: * et in ira tua defécimus.
9 For all our days are spent; and in your wrath we have fainted away.
10  Anni nostri sicut aránea meditabúntur: * dies annórum nostrórum in ipsis, septuagínta anni.
Our years shall be considered as a spider:  The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years.
11  Si autem in potentátibus, octogínta anni: * et ámplius eórum, labor et dolor.
But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow.
12  Quóniam supervénit mansuetúdo: * et corripiémur.
For mildness has come upon us: and we shall be corrected.
13  Quis novit potestátem iræ tuæ: * et præ timóre tuo iram tuam dinumeráre?
11 Who knows the power of your anger, and for your fear  can number your wrath?
14  Déxteram tuam sic notam fac: * et erudítos corde in sapiéntia.
So make your right hand known: and men learned in heart, in wisdom.
15  Convértere, Dómine, úsquequo? * et deprecábilis esto super servos tuos.
13 Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants.
16  Repléti sumus mane misericórdia tua: * et exsultávimus, et delectáti sumus ómnibus diébus nostris.
14 We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days.
17  Lætáti sumus pro diébus, quibus nos humiliásti: * annis, quibus vídimus mala.
15 We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.
18  Réspice in servos tuos, et in ópera tua: * et dírige fílios eórum.
16 Look upon your servants and upon their works: and direct their children.
19  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos: * et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
17 And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

Psalm 89, it seems to me, is the high point of this set of Lauds psalms, and key to understanding the whole set.  Attributed to Moses, it not only contains many references to morning and light, it also provides the link between these and the truth and mercy theme.

Truth and mercy

The overarching theme is God's eternity, compared to the ephemeral nature of our life on this earth.  And against this background God confronts us with the truth about ourselves:
You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
Sinful and doomed to die, mankind lies suffering, awaiting God's mercy; then the Lord indeed arrives on this earth, creating for us a morning that is the dawn of the new creation, where in we can live forever with God:
We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days.
What is necessary for this to occur: that we cultivate humility, and allow the Lord to direct the works of our hands:
We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils....and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.
Cassiodorus and many others saw this is as a key prayer, perhaps used daily by the people in their desert wanderings, and in his introduction to it, he offers a mini-treatise on the effects of prayer:
 A prayer, by which the Lord's anger is deferred, pardon gained, punishment avoided, and generous rewards obtained when he speaks to the Lord, gossips with the Judge, and pictures before his eyes Him whom he cannot see. 
By his prayer he placates Him whom he eagerly exalts by his actions. 
Prayer in some sense affords clois­tered converse with the Lord, and offers an opportunity for intimations; the sinner is granted access to the Judge's inner sanctum, and the only person rejected is he who is found lukewarm in his prayer. 
He seeks what he desires, he acquires more than he deserves. He approaches his prayer with melancholy, but departs from it in glad­ness. 
Prayer which is holy saves the committed and makes them blessed; it also welcomes the wicked. There are countless examples of this blessing, but it must suffice that the Lord Himself in giving us precepts for living deigned to pray. So it is appropriate that a prayer was placed before this noble and great man, who often softened the angry Lord with a marvellous mode of entreaty for us to follow.
 Cassiodorus summarises the content of the psalm as follows:
Moses, a most holy man remarkable for his achievements, and ven­erable because of his converse with God, begins in the first section with praise of the Judge, briefly recounting His kindnesses and His power. Next he asks for support for our weakness, which he demon­strates with many instances. Thirdly, he begs that the coming of the Lord Saviour may become known more quickly, for he knew that it would afford benefits for the human race.
Life expectancy and the number of the psalms

Cassiodorus offers another reason for seeing this psalm as a key to the others, and that goes to the life expectancy of men (70 year or 80 if...) and the number of the psalms (ie 70+80=150).

The Fathers viewed numbers as part of the divine law, inherent in creation, as Cassiodorus explains here:
Let us ponder, men of the greatest wisdom, how many mysteries of the sacred law are revealed to us by the various numbers. ..Other mysteries of the divine law are contained in various numbers. We read that the grains of sand of the sea, the drops of rain, the hairs of men's heads are counted. So that we may in brief grasp the praise and power of the discipline of number, Solomon says that God has ordered all things in measure and number and weight. Thus it becomes clear and indubitable to all that the discipline of arithmetic is pervasive every­where. 
In this particular case, he notes:
Moses here by computation of the numbers seventy and eighty draws the lives of men together. The entire sequence of psalms is embraced by that number... 
Cassiodorus also alludes to the number symbolism here as referring to the combination of Old and New Testaments - the old symbolised by the seven days of creation (and perhaps also the 70 translators of the Septuagint); the new by the eighth day of the new creation.


This psalm includes several references to the illuminating power of God, from lux, lucis (light), including:

8  Posuísti iniquitátes nostras in conspéctu tuo: * sæculum nostrum in illuminatióne vultus tui.
8 You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.


19  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos: * et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
17 And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

It is worth noting that the expression that St Benedict uses in his rule (in the received text) on the time for Lauds is 'qui incipiente luce agendi sunt', or when light begins, starts to take hold.  He also uses a word frequently used in these psalms to describe the hour itself: matutinis.

In Scripture, first light and dawn are often described by reference to light for example: before the light (ante lucem, Psalm 62); at first light (prima luce, 1 Esdras 9:41); morning light  (lux matutinas); lux aurora; light shining in the darkness; and so forth.

The most beautifully poetic of these is surely that of Psalm 18 (Prime on Saturday):

5  In sole pósuit tabernáculum suum: * et ipse tamquam sponsus procédens de thálamo suo.
He has set his tabernacle in the sun: and he as a bridegroom coming out of his bridechamber,
6  Exsultávit ut gigas ad curréndam viam, * a summo cælo egréssio ejus.
Has rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven,

I've also written about this psalm in the context of the psalms for Thursday and Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday.

Or you can continue on to the next part in this series.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Psalm 64 - You have visited the earth O Lord

Image result for ps 64 te decet

Psalm 64: Te Decet hymnus Deus in Sion - Lauds, Wednesday
In finem. Psalmus David, canticum Jeremiæ et Ezechielis populo transmigrationis, cum inciperent exire.
To the end, a psalm of David. The canticle of Jeremiah and Ezechiel to the people of the captivity, when they began to go out.
1 Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion: * et tibi reddétur votum in Jerúsalem.
A hymn, O God, becomes you in Sion: and a vow shall be paid to you in Jerusalem
2  Exáudi oratiónem meam: * ad te omnis caro véniet.
3 O hear my prayer: all flesh shall come to you.

3  Verba iniquórum prævaluérunt super nos: * et impietátibus nostris tu propitiáberis.
4 The words of the wicked have prevailed over us: and you will pardon our transgressions.
4  Beátus quem elegísti et assumpsísti: * inhabitábit in átriis tuis.
5 Blessed is he whom you have chosen and taken to you: he shall dwell in your courts.
5  Replébimur in bonis domus tuæ, sanctum est templum tuum: *  mirábile in æquitáte.
We shall be filled with the good things of your house; holy is your temple, 6 wonderful in justice.
6  Exáudi nos, Deus salutáris noster: * spes ómnium fínium terræ et in mari longe.
Hear us, O God our saviour, who is the hope of all the ends of the earth, and in the sea afar off
7  Præparans montes in virtúte tua, accínctus poténtia: * qui contúrbas profúndum maris sonum flúctuum ejus.
7 You who prepares the mountains by your strength, being girded with power: 8 Who troubles the depth of the sea, the noise of its waves.
8  Turbabúntur Gentes, et timébunt qui inhábitant términos a signis tuis: * éxitus matutíni, et véspere delectábis.
The Gentiles shall be troubled, 9 and they that dwell in the uttermost borders shall be afraid at your signs: you shall make the outgoings of the morning and of the evening to be joyful.
9  Visitásti terram, et inebriásti eam: * multiplicásti locupletáre eam.
10 You have visited the earth, and have plentifully watered it; you have many ways enriched it.
10  Flumen Dei replétum est aquis; parásti cibum illórum: * quóniam ita est præparátio ejus.
The river of God is filled with water, you have prepared their food: for so is its preparation.
11  Rivos ejus inébria multíplica genímina ejus: * in stillicídiis ejus lætábitur gérminans.
11 Fill up plentifully the streams thereof, multiply its fruits; it shall spring up and rejoice in its showers.
12  Benedíces corónæ anni benignitátis tuæ: * et campi tui replebúntur ubertáte.
12 You shall bless the crown of the year of your goodness: and your fields shall be filled with plenty.
13  Pinguéscent speciósa desérti: * et exsultatióne colles accingéntur.
13 The beautiful places of the wilderness shall grow fat: and the hills shall be girded about with joy,
14  Indúti sunt aríetes óvium et valles abundábunt fruménto: * clamábunt, étenim hymnum dicent.
14 the rams of the flock are clothed, and the vales shall abound with corn: they shall shout, yea they shall sing a hymn.

The claim for this psalm's place at Lauds presumably comes from verse 8's reference to morning; although Hildemar's commentary on the Rule also sees a reference to dawn in the poetic image of verse 13.  It also contains multiple allusions to heaven (Sion, Jerusalem, the house of God, the halls of God), though instead of the 'leading us in' motif, it highlights God's choice and action in bringing ys up to him.

The psalm though, has much stronger resonances with the overall themes of the day, viz Judas' betrayal paving the way for the establishment of the Church.  Accordingly, perhaps Christ's mission of bringing truth and mercy can be seen as being referred to implicitly in the psalm, in the promises of the new Jerusalem described here.

The new Jerusalem

St Augustine, for example, explains the psalm's, 'Unto the end, a Psalm of David, a song of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, on account of the people of transmigration when they were beginning to go forth' as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem following our Lord's crucifixion, and the promise of its being rebuilt in the form of the Church Triumphant in heaven:
...For the captive people Israel from the city of Jerusalem was led into slavery unto Babylon.  But holy Jeremiah prophesied, that after seventy years the people would return out of captivity, and would rebuild the very city Jerusalem, which they had mourned as having been overthrown by enemies. But at that time there were prophets in that captivity of the people dwelling in Babylon, among whom was also the prophet Ezekiel. But that people was waiting until there should be fulfilled the space of seventy years, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. 
It came to pass, when the seventy years had been completed, the temple was restored which had been thrown down: and there returned from captivity a great part of that people. But whereas the Apostle says, these things in figure happened unto them, but they have been written for our sakes, upon whom the end of the world has come: we also ought to know first our captivity, then our deliverance: we ought to know the Babylon wherein we are captives, and the Jerusalem for a return to which we are sighing. For these two cities, according to the letter, in reality are two cities... 
That they might not lose their place, they killed the Lord; and they lost it [Jerusalem], even because they killed. Therefore that city, being one earthly, did bear the figure of a certain city everlasting in the Heavens: but when that which was signified began more evidently to be preached, the shadow, whereby it was being signified, was thrown down: for this reason in that place now the temple is no more, which had been constructed for the image of the future Body of the Lord. We have the light, the shadow has passed away....
The psalm then, according to Cassiodorus, tells us that:
The people who have abandoned worldly sinning and returned to the Lord Saviour are liberated, and at the outset of the psalm acknowledge their Creator. They ask that their prayer be heard, and say that only he who has deserved to attain God's courts is blessed.
 In the second section they call the Lord the hope of all the ends of the earth. They enunciate His various praises and His power by allegorical comparison. They say that His holy ones rejoice in hymns of joy sung to Him...With remarkable brevity he has described the glory of His incarnation. This faithful teacher has informed us what Christ conferred on the world. Finally he tells us that at the future resurrection all His saints will rejoice in Him with joyful hymns of praise. Thus the psalmist has recounted the present with marvellous brevity and has promised us future rewards to rouse the greatest hope. Heavenly King, grant that we too may be rescued from the barrenness of sin and more abundantly watered by the river of Your mercy. May we deserve to grow fat, so that in the company of Your saints we can sing continually to You a hymn of praise.
The heavenly harvest

 Some have suggested that today’s psalm was originally a hymn used for the harvest festival.  In Christian usage, however, that harvest has become the heavenly one, for verses 1 and 2 are used in the Introit of the Requiem Mass.

The harvest theme is appropriate though, for it is on Holy Wednesday that Our Lord is traditionally said to have prophesied his death to his disciples, reminding them that the seed has to die in order for new life to grow (Jn 12: 24).  Similarly this psalm tells us that the Lord has ‘visited the earth, and have plentifully watered it; you have many ways enriched it’, such that the streams are full, and everything is set for a ripe harvest.

In the weekly mini-cycle on the life of Christ, Wednesday marks the end of Our Lord's three year period of preaching, and the beginning of the Passion cycle.  This fits neatly with St John Chrysostom's interpretation of the rain provided here as Christ’s teaching, and Cassiodorus’ interpretation of verse 7 as suggesting that the ‘prepared mountains’ here refers to the apostles:
So we fittingly interpret allegorically the prepared mountains as the apostles who were chosen to proclaim the word. They had strength of faith and height of sanctity; they were lowly in style of life, but deservedly ranked higher. The Lord prepared them by His strength because He performed great miracles through them, so that by the greatness of the Word they could convert unbelievers, and admiration at their deeds could soften the hardest hearts.
Word study: coronasti

In terms of words to look at more closely, I want to focus today on corona, meaning a crown or wreath or garland:

12  Benedíces corónæ anni benignitátis tuæ: * et campi tui replebúntur ubertáte.
12 You shall bless the crown of the year of your goodness: and your fields shall be filled with plenty.

The related verb corono, (avi, atum, are, to crown, to bestow some thing on as a mark of honor, to adorn; to surround, encompass) is used in the last verse of Psalm 5:

15  Dómine, ut scuto bonæ voluntátis tuæ * coronásti nos.
O Lord, you have crowned us, as with a shield of your good will.

The verb also occurs in Psalm 8:

6  Minuísti eum paulo minus ab Angelis, glória et honóre coronásti eum: * et constituísti eum super ópera mánuum tuárum.
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.

Most often, though, it is used in Scripture to mark those blessed with gifts from God, such as wisdom, or the saints in heaven in Revelation 4:4:
Et in circuitu sedis sedilia viginti quatuor: et super thronos viginti quatuor seniores sedentes, circumamicti vestimentis albis, et in capitibus eorum coronæ aureæ.
Round it were twenty-four seats, and on these sat twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with crowns of gold on their heads.

You can read more on the psalm in the context of the Office on Wednesday and the Office of the Dead.

Or you can can go on to the next part in this series, on Psalm 89.