Saturday, October 22, 2016

Psalm 142 - Christ and the harrowing of hell


Albani-Psalter Abstieg Christi ins Totenreich.jpg
St Alban's Psalter

Saturday Lauds has only one variable psalm in the Benedictine Office, Psalm 142, due to the length of the traditional canticle of the day, Deuteronomy 13:1-43 (reduced to verses 1-27 in the 1963 Monastic Breviary; verses 1-18 in the Monastic Diurnal, and to verses 1-12 in the 1980 Psalterium Monasticum).

Psalm 142 is also the last of the seven penitential psalms.

Psalm 142: Domine, exaudi orationem meam
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
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.




St Augustine makes it clear that this psalm should be read as referring to Christ:
The title of the Psalm is, To David himself, when his son was pursuing him. We know from the Books of Kings that this happened:...but we must recognise here another David, truly strong in hand, which is the explanation of David, even our Lord Jesus Christ. For all those events of past time were figures of things to come. 
Let us seek then in this Psalm our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, announcing Himself beforehand in His prophecy, and foretelling what should happen at this time by things which were done long ago. For He Himself foretold Himself in the Prophets: for He is the Word of God... Let then our Lord speak; let Christ with us, whole Christ, speak.
The references to them that go down into the pit, then, and bringing souls out of trouble in particular, surely account for its allocation to Saturday in our weekly mini-Triduum.  It's placement at Lauds, though, is surely in part due to its reference to the entry to heaven meme:
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
Cassiodorus adds an extra level to this, seeing an important significance in its position as the seventh of the penitential psalms:
It is perhaps the case that just as we sin in the seven days which represent the extent of a week in the world, so we may be saved by the gift of healing repentance through this same number. 
This psalm also arguably completes a cycle of the first variable psalm of Lauds pointing us to our entry to heaven, with the line:
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land
Word study: darkness

Darkness is often used to contrast the light of God in the psalms, and in today's psalm the word used to convey this is the adjective obscurus, (dark, obscure; fig., sinful, the dark, darkness), used as a substantive:
 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.
There is also related verb, obscurare, to make dark or darken.

The more common word for darkness though is tenebrae,( arum, f.  darkness; ignorancey; Sheol; misfortune. danger; horror, shuddering) with its wn related adjective, tenebrosus, a, um (dark).  So in Psalm 87 we have:

Posuérunt me in lacu inferióri : in tenebrósis, et in umbra mortis. They have laid me in the lower pit: in the dark places, and in the shadow of death.
and
Numquid cognoscéntur in ténebris mirabília tua, et justítia tua in terra obliviónis? Shall your wonders be known in the dark; and your justice in the land of forgetfulness?
Other words that suggest darkness include umbra, as used above ('the shadow of death) and caligo, inis, which literally means a fog or mist mist.

The next part of this series is on Psalm 62.

You can find also verse by verse notes on the psalm starting here.

And you can find my previous notes on the psalm in the context of Saturday here and in the context of Tenebrae here.

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