Monday, March 27, 2017

Introduction to Psalm 125 - (Gradual Psalm No 7/1)

Biserica Ortodoxă din Deal, Cluj-Napoca), Romania.

Psalm 125 is the second of the second block of the Gradual Psalms when said devotionally, but in the Benedictine Office it opens weekday None.

Psalm 125: In convertendo Domino 
Canticum graduum.

 In converténdo Dóminus captivitátem Sion: * facti sumus sicut consoláti:
When the Lord brought back the captivity of Sion, we became like men comforted.
2  Tunc replétum est gáudio os nostrum: * et lingua nostra exsultatióne
2 Then was our mouth filled with gladness; and our tongue with joy.
3  Tunc dicent inter Gentes: * Magnificávit Dóminus fácere cum eis.
Then shall they say among the Gentiles: The Lord has done great things for them.
4  Magnificávit Dóminus fácere nobíscum: * facti sumus lætántes.
3 The Lord has done great things for us; we have become joyful.
5  Convérte, Dómine, captivitátem nostram, * sicut torrens in austro.
4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as a stream in the south.
6  Qui séminant in lácrimis, * in exsultatióne metent.
5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

7  Eúntes ibant et flebant, * mitténtes sémina sua.
6 Going they went and wept, casting their seeds.
8  Veniéntes autem vénient cum exsultatióne, * portántes manípulos suos.
7 But coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Scriptural context: foreshadowing the reopening of heaven

Joy and the cross?

In the context of None there is something of a paradox associated with this psalm, since this psalm is about joy and comfort, whereas None is traditionally associated with the hour when Christ died on the Cross, when the Temple veil was torn in two by a dramatic earthquake.

The paradox is readily resolved though, if one considers St Benedict's constant orientation towards the Resurrection: as Our Lord pointed out immediately before the events of holy week, and alluded in verse 5, the seed has to die in order to bring forth new life.  Accordingly this psalm focuses on the triumph of the Cross, presenting us with the image of God as our comforter, who turns sorrow into joy.

Pope Benedict XVI’s commentary on this psalm at a General Audience developed this theme, drawing on St Bede:
….St Bede the Venerable (672/3-735), commenting on the words by which Jesus announced to his disciples the sorrow that lay in store for them, and at the same time the joy that would spring from their affliction (cf. Jn 16: 20). Bede recalls that "Those who loved Christ were weeping and mourning when they saw him captured by his enemies, bound, carried away for judgment, condemned, scourged, mocked and lastly crucified, pierced by the spear and buried. Instead, those who loved the world rejoiced... when they condemned to a most ignominious death the One of whom the sight alone they could not tolerate. The disciples were overcome by grief at the death of the Lord, but once they had learned of his Resurrection, their sorrow changed to joy; then when they had seen the miracle of the Ascension, they praised and blessed the Lord, filled with even greater joy, as the Evangelist Luke testified (cf. Lk 24: 53).”
Convert us O Lord

A number of modern commentators start from the reference to captivity to suggest that this psalm originated as a response to the return of the Exiles to Jerusalem after being freed by the Persians.  While that is certainly plausible, this view is entirely conjectural, and the sentiments, as St John Chrysostom points out, fit any number of historical occasions.  The real captivity that Scripture is pointing us to, surely, is our captivity to our sins, and in particular the legacy of Adam's sin, which locked mankind out of heaven.
In salvation history, the deliverance of the chosen people from Egypt and the return after the Babylonian captivity both foreshadow the spiritual sense of the psalm: St Augustine explains that Sion here really means heaven; our captivity is that due to sin which makes all of us in this world pilgrims rather than immediate citizens of the heavenly realm.  But due to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are freed from the captivity of sin, and can rightly rejoice. 

There is though, perhaps a two stage process suggested in this psalm: verses 1-4 point to the things God has previously done for us, in reopening the way to heaven; but verses 5-7 can perhaps be interpreted as about us individually in the here and now, who still need to have Christ's redemption applied to us.  We have to sow through faith and good works, so that we can reap our reward through Christ.

Freedom from attachment to the things of this world

St Robert Bellarmine gives the reference to captivity a slightly different spin that I think is also worth considering, seeing it as a reference to attachment to the things of this world:also picks up this theme, warning us not to be too attached to our captivity to the world:
Having asked God to bring back all the captives to their country, he now addresses the captives themselves, and exhorts them not to be deterred by the labor of the journey, or to be detained by regard for any property they may have acquired in a foreign land, as they were sure to have much more and more valuable property in their own; and most happily compares them to the sower and the reaper… 
This applies peculiarly to us, pilgrims as we are; for those who are content with their captiv­ity, and are so engaged by the love of this world as never to think on their country, heaven; they look upon the road adopt­ed by the just to be nothing better than a positive loss and an injury. While the true exiles make all the haste they can to their country above; they freely give to the poor, who will never return what is given; they labor, without fee or reward, in teaching their brethren, as did the apostles; they freely renounce all manner of pleasure; all which seems the height of folly to those who know not what is to come of it, while, in real­ity, it is "sowing in tears," that they may afterwards, in due time, "reap in joy." 
And if they who are still so attached to their captivity, would seriously reflect on this, they certainly would change their mind, would begin to go up, and, no matter what it may cost them, they would sow the seed, that they may soon after reap it in joy in the kingdom of heaven.”

And you can find verse by notes on the psalm either by continuing on here, or jumping to the relevant verse:

Psalm 125 verse 1
Psalm 125 verse 2
Psalm 125 verses 3-4
Psalm 125 verse 5
Psalm 125 verse 6
Psalm 125 verse 7
Psalm 125 verse 8

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