Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Psalm 42 - Bring me into your holy tabernacles

The first of the variable psalms of Lauds on Tuesday is Psalm 42, which will be familiar to EF Mass goers due to its use in the prayers at the foot of the altar.

Psalm 42 - Lauds Tuesday
Psalmus David
A psalm for David.
Júdica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta, * ab hómine iníquo, et dolóso érue me.
Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
2  Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: * quare me repulísti? et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?
For you are God my strength: why have you cast me off? And why do I go sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicts me?
3  Emítte lucem tuam et veritátem tuam: * ipsa me deduxérunt, et adduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.
Send forth your light and your truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto your holy hill, and into your tabernacles.
4  Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: * ad Deum, qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who gives joy to my youth.
5  Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: * quare tristis es, ánima mea? et quare contúrbas me?
To you, O God my God, I will give praise upon the harp: why are you sad, O my soul? And why do you disquiet me?
6  Spera in Deo, quóniam adhuc confitébor illi: * salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus.
Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.

Light and truth

At first blush, Psalm 42 barely meets the criteria of a reference to morning prayer and/or light.

There is some connection though, as Pope John Paul II's exegesis makes clear:
The person praying has not yet reached the temple of God, he is still overwhelmed by the darkness of the trial; but now before his eyes shines the light of the future encounter, and his lips already experience the tone of the song of joy. At this point, the appeal is largely characterized by hope.
One of the key themes of the psalm, and one that echoes through the Lauds psalms, is that in shining his light on us, we cannot help but be discomforted as we are confronted with the reality of our sinfulness.  Pope John Paul II, for example continued:
In commenting on our Psalm St Augustine in fact observes:  "Hope in God, he will respond to him whose soul disquiets him.... Meanwhile live in hope:  for "hope that is seen is not hope; but if we hope for that which we cannot see, it is thanks to patience that we wait for it' (cf. Rom 8, 24-25)"... The Psalm then becomes the prayer of the one who is a pilgrim on earth and still finds himself in contact with evil and suffering, but has the certainty that the endpoint of history is not an abyss of death, but rather a saving encounter with God. 
It is for this reason that in the prayers at the foot of the altar it is linked to the saying of the Confiteor: our proper response to this light is to confess our sins and throw ourselves on God's mercy, placing our hope in him.

The reference to the altar here, though, should not be viewed literally.  Psalm 42 has thematic connections both to the songs of Sion sung at Matins and the Gradual psalms sung at the hours from Terce to Vespers (and completed at Compline) on Tuesdays in the Benedictine Office, all of which can be seen as referring not just to the physical temple, but also to each of us, as temples of Christ, and to the Church.  St Liguori, for example, applies the psalm to the individual:
David begs of God to be delivered from his enemies, and consoles himself with the hope of again seeing the Tabernacle of the Lord. In the spiritual sense this psalm applies to the just man who in the trials of the present life longs to leave this world, and to go to his heavenly country.
Temple, tabernacle and altar

But there is a double meaning to this invitation to enter into the altar, for it also, I think, applies to the hear and now.  The Fathers, following St Paul, interpreted the images of temple, tabernacle and altar as symbolising both the Church in this present life, and the individual Christian.

In the Office we are invited each day to commit ourselves to our rest, a mini-sleep of death, but with the hope of Resurrection: dormiam et requiescam (Psalm 4).  In the dark of the night we rise again with Christ (Psalm 3):

6  Ego dormívi, et soporátus sum: * et exsurréxi, quia Dóminus suscépit me.
I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me

Now at Lauds we are invited to take the next step in building that future temple, the new Jerusalem by participating in the work of building the temple within ourselves and in our communities, offering ourselves as a holocaust to God on the altar of our bodies and souls through conversion, penance and good works.

St Bede, for example, saw the altar of incense in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-2) as symbolising:
that general way of life of the righteous who daily crucify their flesh with its vices and desires and are accustomed to offer themselves to God as a living sacrifice...the way of life of those who are perfect (On the Tabernacle III:11)
He interprets this psalm as the prayer of those who "offer nothing to the Lord but prayers of longing, having completely quenched all the charms of the flesh and laid them to rest".

Where the ancient Israelites offered animal and other sacrifices on their altars, he argues, we perform this spiritually when we place faith in the Lord's Incarnation and Passion; the bases of the altar are 'the hearts of the elect which are prepared by the precepts of the teachers' (On Ezra, Book I).  St Bede goes on to point to our Lauds prayer as dedicated to ensuring that at every moment we be seen to be pleasing to God.

St Benedict makes this connection between good works and being 'dwellers in the tabernacle' many times throughout the Rule, and it is in the Tuesday psalms that it gets its most explicit workout.

The coming of Christ

Cassiodorus' explanation of the number of the psalm may also have some relevance to its selection for Tuesday Lauds:
It was in the forty-second generation from Abraham that the Lord Saviour came and saved the world by His coming, so it is rightly believed that this faithful spokesman known to have been associated with this ancient number will attain the Lord's kingdom. So the faithful soul finds here all virtues and all pleasures; thus whoever obtains that spark of divine love can console and renew himself by God's grace.

Latin word study: heaven/the Church

In the psalms of Lauds we have already looked at we have seen a number of words that are typically taken by the Fathers as references to heaven and/or the Church, including


Psalm 117
2  Dicat nunc Israël quóniam bonus: * quóniam in sæculum misericórdia ejus.
2 Let Israel now say, that he is good: that his mercy endures for ever.

Tabernacle (tabernaculum), or tent

Psalm 117
15  Vox exsultatiónis, et salútis: * in tabernáculis justórum.
15 The voice of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles of the just.

Jersualem, a city surrounded by walls and protected with gates and towers

Psalm 117
19  Aperíte mihi portas justítiæ, ingréssus in eas confitébor Dómino: * hæc porta Dómini, justi intrábunt in eam.
19 Open to me the gates of justice: I will go in to them, and give praise to the Lord 20 This is the gate of the Lord, the just shall enter into it.

The temple (templum), whose cornerstone is the Lord

Psalm 117
21  Lápidem, quem reprobavérunt ædificántes: * hic factus est in caput ánguli.
22 The stone which the builders rejected; the same has become the head of the corner.

Psalm 5
8  Introíbo in domum tuam: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum in timóre tuo.
I will come into your house; I will worship towards your holy temple, in your fear.

The house of the Lord (domus Dei or Domini)

Psalm 117
25  Benedíximus vobis de domo Dómini: * Deus Dóminus, et illúxit nobis.
We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and he has shone upon us.

Psalm 5
8  Introíbo in domum tuam: * adorábo ad templum sanctum tuum in timóre tuo.
I will come into your house; I will worship towards your holy temple, in your fear.

(Holy) Mountain (mons, montis; Sion)

Today's psalm adds the holy mountain to the list:

3  Emítte lucem tuam et veritátem tuam: * ipsa me deduxérunt, et adduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.
Send forth your light and your truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto your holy hill, and into your tabernacles.

There are many more such references to come!

You can find some more notes on this psalm here.

And the next part in this series is on Psalm 63.

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