Friday, October 21, 2016

Psalm 75 - The earth trembled

c9th Stuttgart Psalter

 Psalm 75 - Lauds Friday
In finem, in laudibus. Psalmus Asaph, canticum ad Assyrios.
Unto the end, in praises, a psalm for Asaph: a canticle to the Assyrians.
Notus in Judæa Deus: * in Israël magnum nomen ejus.
2 In Judea God is known: his name is great in Israel.
2  Et factus est in pace locus ejus: * et habitátio ejus in Sion.
3 And his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion:
3  Ibi confrégit poténtias árcuum: * scutum, gládium, et bellum.
4 There has he broken the powers of bows, the shield, the sword, and the battle.
4  Illúminans tu mirabíliter a móntibus ætérnis: * turbáti sunt omnes insipiéntes corde.
5 You enlighten wonderfully from the everlasting hills. 6 All the foolish of heart were troubled.
5  Dormiérunt somnum suum: * et nihil invenérunt omnes viri divitiárum in mánibus suis.
They have slept their sleep; and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.
6  Ab increpatióne tua, Deus Jacob, * dormitavérunt qui ascendérunt equos.
7 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered that mounted on horseback
7  Tu terríbilis es, et quis resístet tibi? * ex tunc ira tua.
8 You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath.
8  De cælo audítum fecísti judícium: * terra trémuit et quiévit.
9 You have caused judgment to be heard from heaven: the earth trembled and was still,
9  Cum exsúrgeret in judícium Deus, * ut salvos fáceret omnes mansuétos terræ.
10 when God arose in judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.
10  Quóniam cogitátio hóminis confitébitur tibi: * et relíquiæ cogitatiónis diem festum agent tibi.
11 For the thought of man shall give praise to you: and the remainders of the thought shall keep holiday to you.
11  Vovéte, et réddite Dómino Deo vestro: * omnes, qui in circúitu ejus affértis múnera.

12  Terríbili et ei qui aufert spíritum príncipum, * terríbili apud reges terræ.
To him that is terrible, 13 even to him who takes away the spirit of princes: to the terrible with the kings of the earth.

Friday has of course always had an association with the Crucifixion in Christian piety, and for this reason it was the second fast day of the week (and still is, at least in theory, a day of abstinence or other penance).

Psalm of the Passion

St Benedict’s Office can certainly be seen as reflecting this association: the day opens at Matins with Psalm 85, which the Fathers interpreted as the prayer of Christ poured out in his Passion.

At Lauds Psalm 75 depicts an earthquake, surely that which occurred at the moment of Our Lord’s death, rending the temple veil in two, with the verse 'De caelo auditum fecisti judicium: terra tremuit et quievit (From heaven you have pronounced your judgment: the earth trembled and was still).  Though we mostly associate this verse with the Resurrection by virtue of the Easter Sunday Offertory, the verse surely works equally well in the context of Good Friday.

Indeed,, the Fathers often associated the Crucifixion, and the ‘sixth day’ (of the week) with the description of the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 12-14:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
The Old Testament historical context for the psalm (suggested by the title) is the victory over the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib described in 2 Kings 19: 35; Isaiah 37:36 (and Psalm 74). The language of fear and awe is an appropriate reaction to the scene described there:
And it came to pass that night, that an angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead.
Festal Lauds and Psalms 75&91

That Benedictines have long understood that the two variable psalms of Friday are particularly appropriate to the day is indirectly attested to in the rubrics of Matins.

On most days of the week, if the variable psalms are displaced by the festal in the modern Office they are not said at all in that particular week.  On Fridays alone, however, they are slotted into the Matins sequence, replacing Psalms 92 and 99 there.

One possible explanation for this might be to avoid repetition of psalms on the same day.

But that explanation doesn't seem to hold up, as the table below illustrates.  In reality many of the sets of special psalms used on particular feasts, as well as the 'Commons' as they now stand can potentially or invariably involve repetition of a psalm on the same day: pretty much all of Matins Commons include psalms said at Prime, and several also include Psalm 4, said every day at Compline.  Most of them also Lauds psalms, though the repetition will generally be avoided by use of the festal psalms.

Psalm repetitions on the same day in the Office
Psalms said at Matins in the Common of…
Potentially repeated at Lauds
Potentially repeated at Prime
Repeated as Compline

Martyrs (during Eastertide)
5, 63, 64, [91*]
1, 2, 8, 10, 14
Martyrs (outside Eastertide)
1,2, 10, 14, 15,

Confessor bishops
1,2,8,10, 14
Virgins and holy women**


Dedication of a church
5, 87


8, 18

*Not repeated due to special provision in the rubrics

**These two Offices also include potential repetitions between Vespers and Terce and None, through the use of Psalms 121 and 126

 Judgment and our entry to heaven

Yesterday I pointed out that the first group of Lauds variable psalms talk about our entry to heaven, following Christ, with a pause on Thursday for a reflection on the necessity of the suffering of Christ and the harrowing of hell.

This psalm arguably returns to the other side of the theme of the sequences, since both Isaiah and this psalm imply that the attack of Sennacherib foreshadows the dawning of the Messianic era, reminding us of God’s stupendous power: Tu terríbilis es, et quis resístet tibi? ex tunc ira tua’, or You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath (verse 8).

Heaven, we are reminded here, in this ‘Song of Sion’, is the place where God dwells in peace, and evil has no domain.

The path to peace, though, lies through the spiritual warfare.

The Lord as a warrior

The image of God as a mighty warrior, an all-conquering figure whose anger is to be feared exceedingly, features in the canticles set both for Thursday and Friday at Lauds.  On Thursday, he have the story of the Pharaoh's army being thrown into the seas; in the canticle set for today, as in this psalm, it is the earth itself that trembles in fear.

But this image also takes in again the destruction of earthly forces, symbolised by the bow (arcus, us, m), arrows (sagitta, ae, f., an arrow; sagitto, avi, atum, are, to shoot with arrows), shield (scutum, i, n. a shield, buckler; defense, protection), sword (gladius, ii, m., a sword) and other warlike appurtenances (bellum, i, n. war, battle; war-equipment of every sort):

3  Ibi confrégit poténtias árcuum: * scutum, gládium, et bellum.
4 There has he broken the powers of bows, the shield, the sword, and the battle.

Consider also some of the other such references in the Lauds psalms and canticles:

Psalm 56 (Tuesday)
6  Fílii hóminum dentes eórum arma et sagíttæ: * et lingua eórum gládius acútus.
The sons of men, whose teeth are weapons and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

Psalm 63 (Wednesday)
3  Quia exacuérunt ut gládium linguas suas: * intendérunt arcum rem amáram, ut sagíttent in occúltis immaculátum.
For they have whetted their tongues like a sword; they have bent their bow a bitter thing, to shoot in secret the undefiled.
4  Súbito sagittábunt eum, et non timébunt: * firmavérunt sibi sermónem nequam.
They will shoot at him on a sudden, and will not fear: they are resolute in wickedness.
8  Sagíttæ parvulórum factæ sunt plagæ eórum: * et infirmátæ sunt contra eos linguæ eórum.
The arrows of children are their wounds: And their tongues against them are made weak

Canticle of Anna (Wednesday)
6  Arcus fórtium superátus est, * et infírmi accíncti sunt róbore.
4 The bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength.

The most important treatment of this theme though comes in today's Canticle:

4  Deus ab Austro véniet: * et sanctus de monte Pharan.
3 God will come from the south, and the holy one from mount Pharan:
9   Aspéxit, et dissólvit Gentes : * et contríti sunt montes sæculi.
He beheld, and melted the nations: and the ancient mountains were crushed to pieces.
10   Incurváti sunt colles mundi, * ab itinéribus æternitátis ejus.
The hills of the world were bowed down by the journeys of his eternity.
12  Numquid in flumínibus irátus es, Dómine? * aut in flumínibus furor tuus? vel in mari indignátio tua?
8 Were you angry, O Lord, with the rivers? Or was your wrath upon the rivers? Or your indignation in the sea?
14  Súscitans suscitábis arcum tuum: * juraménta tríbubus quæ locútus es.
9 You will surely take up your bow: according to the oaths which you have spoken to the tribes.
15  Flúvios scindes terræ : vidérunt te, et doluérunt montes: * gurges aquárum tránsiit.
You will divide the rivers of the earth. 10 The mountains saw you, and were grieved: the great body of waters passed away.
16  Dedit abyssus vocem suam: * altitúdo manus suas levávit.
The deep put forth its voice: the deep lifted up its hands.
17  Sol, et luna stetérunt in habitáculo suo, * in luce sagittárum tuárum, íbunt in splendóre fulgurántis hastæ tuæ.
11 The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation, in the light of your arrows, they shall go in the brightness of your glittering spear.
32  Et super excélsa mea dedúcet me victor * in psalmis canéntem.
and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.

You can find my previous notes on the psalm here and here (in the context of Tenebrae)

And the next part of this series is on Psalm 142.

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