|St Patrick's Colebrook, Tasmania,|
where the house of God is being built once more by the new Prior of Our Lady of Cana
Photo credit: Joshua, Oriens Journal
Yet the psalm also reflects that tension between the promise of heaven, and foretaste of it we experience now in the liturgy, since for the Christian, the Church Militant is our Jerusalem; more, Scripture tells us that Christ himself is the temple.
Psalm 121: Laetatus sum
1 Lætátus sum in his, quæ dicta sunt mihi: * In domum Dómini íbimus.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.
2 Stantes erant pedes nostri, * in átriis tuis, Jerúsalem.
2 Our feet were standing in your courts, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerúsalem, quæ ædificátur ut cívitas: * cujus participátio ejus in idípsum.
4 Illuc enim ascendérunt tribus, tribus Dómini: * testimónium Israël ad confiténdum nómini Dómini.
4 For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord: the testimony of
5 Quia illic sedérunt sedes in judício, * sedes super domum David.
5 Because their seats have sat in judgment, seats upon the house of David.
6 Rogáte quæ ad pacem sunt Jerúsalem: * et abundántia diligéntibus te:
6 Pray for the things that are for the peace of
7 Fiat pax in virtúte tua: * et abundántia in túrribus tuis.
7 Let peace be in your strength: and abundance in your towers
8 Propter fratres meos, et próximos meos, * loquébar pacem de te:
8 For the sake of my brethren, and of my neighbours, I spoke peace of you.
9 Propter domum Dómini, Dei nostri, * quæsívi bona tibi.
9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for you.
Liturgical uses of Psalm 121
Psalm 121 is a Vespers psalm in the Roman Office, but in the Benedictine Rite, it closes Terce.
It also features in the 'Common' for all of the types of women saints, including feasts of Our Lady.
In the Mass, it is used in both the Gradual and Communio for the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), which focuses heavily on the theme of Jerusalem, as well as on the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
The pilgrimage sets off
Although some modern commentators seem to read this psalm very literally, suggesting that the pilgrims have now arrived at Jerusalem, the more traditional explanation of it is that the pilgrims are actually only just setting off on their journey, and are here contemplating where they are headed. In the previous two psalms, we've been getting ready to go: in the first, realising that it is time; and in the second, considering the help we can hope for along the way. In this psalm, the pilgrims are finally ready to set out, for the first verse of Psalm 121 is a formulaic way of announcing that one is going on a pilgrimage.
Where are they headed? The courts of Jerusalem (or gates in the Hebrew Masoretic Text) of verse 2 can be seen as a looking forward to our final destination of heaven, with the towers and abundance of verses 6&7 referring to the promise of safe haven and eternal happiness that is enjoyed by the Church Triumphant.
The Church in the here and now
Yet there is a sense in which we are already standing in the courts of heaven, at least when we worship, for the Jerusalem of the psalm can also be read as a reference to Christ's earthly mission, and his establishment of the Church in the here and now, the Church Militant.
From this perspective, the compactness of the city that makes it easily defensible is a reminder that the culture we must embrace is not the secularist one that surrounds us, but rather that which comes from Christ. Dom Gueranger’s commentary, in his Liturgical Year, on this psalm on the context of its use as an Introit explains this dual meaning:
...celebrate once more the joy felt by the Christian people at hearing the glad tidings, that they are soon to go into the house of the Lord. That house is heaven, into which we are to enter on the last day, our Lord Jesus Christ leading the way. But the house is also the temple in which we are now assembled, and into which we are introduced by the representatives of that same Lord of ours, that is, by His priests.There is of course a considerable challenge in this for us, in that the human representatives of the Church in this world all too often seem all too intent on leading us away from heaven, leading the People of God to hell instead, and of persecuting those who do remain faithful. Verse 5, though, reminds us that those who are supposed to be leading the tribes of the true Israel will themselves be held accountable, and that:
...he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.The peace of Christ
The second half of the psalm is intended to excite our desire for heaven, for it speaks of that very Benedictine virtue, the pursuit of a truly Christian peace.
In a General Audience on this psalm, Pope Benedict XVI drew on Pope St Gregory the Great to explains what this should mean for us:
"Pope St Gregory the Great tells us what the Psalm means for our lives in practice. He tells us that we must be a true Jerusalem in the Church today, that is, a place of peace, "supporting one another" as we are; "supporting one another together" in the joyful certainty that the Lord "supports us all". In this way the Church will grow like a true Jerusalem, a place of peace."More reading
You can notes on the individual verses of the psalm here:
- Introduction to Psalm 121
- verses 1-3;
- verses 4-6;
- verses 7-9; and
- in the context for the Mass propers of the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Or you can go on to Psalm 122.