Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psalm 111 vs 2: The eternal Church




On every Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.  We are able to do this because of the divine institution of the Church, which creates a community that hands down the faith entrusted to it from generation to generation.

Psalm 111 reminds us of this vital importance of the institution of the Church as a great gift of God:

Potens in terra erit semen ejus; generatio rectorum benedicetur.
His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. 

Looking at the Latin

Potens (powerful/mighty) in terra (on the earth) semen ejus (hia seed/descendents/children) = his descendents will be mighty on the earth

potens, entis, p. adj.  powerful, mighty, strong.
terra, ae, the earth, in both a lit. and a fig. sense.
semen, enis, n. seed; descendants, children, posterity

generátio (the generation) rectorum (of the upright) benedicétur (let it be blessed) = the generation of the upright/righteous shall be blessed

Generatio here means the whole race or group.

generatio, onis, f, a begetting, generating, generation, "for ever and ever."
rectus, a, um, part. adj. just, right, righteous, upright; the just, just men, the good; steadfast, stable, steady.
benedico, dixi, dictum, ere 3  to bless, to praise, bless, give thanks to (God);  to be well pleased with, to take pleasure in

Penetrating the meaning of the verse

It is worth recalling here that virtually all of the psalms can be interpreted as references to Christ, who provides a model for us to imitate in order that we may learn to be perfect.  In this case, Christ is the ultimate ‘blessed man’, who shows his ‘fear of the Lord’ in his perfect obedience, even unto death.  

And because of his perfect sacrifice, he established a Church that has brought forth generation upon generation of blessed souls.

In the Old Testament, the blessing of having many descendants was usually taken literally.  In the New, though we are constantly reminded that it is our spiritual descendants that are truly important: the people who have knowingly or unknowingly benefitted from our prayers and actions; who have down the faith safeguard by the Church to us.

Accordingly, this verse should be a call to us to lay up our treasures in heaven, above all by cultivating that fear of God – or rather holy obedience – that is manifested in keeping the law.

Next verse

You can find the next part in this series here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Psalm 111, verse 1: The key to happiness



In this post I want to start taking a verse by verse look at Psalm 111, Beatus Vir, the third psalm of (the traditional version of) Sunday Vespers, and one of the many 'beatitude' psalms.

The first verse is:

Beatus vir qui timet Dominum : in mandatis ejus volet nimis 
Blessed is the man that fears the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments. 

Looking at the Latin

Beátus vir, qui timet Dóminum = Blessed the man who fears the Lord

beatus, a, um happy, blessed ,fortunate.
vir, viri, m., a man, any human being
timeo, ere 2, to fear, be afraid of.

in mandátis ejus volet nimis = in commandments his he will desire/delight/ exceedingly = he will desire his commandments greatly/exceedingly

The neo-Vulgate, it should be noted, changes 'volet' (he wishes/desires/takes please in) to 'cupit' (he longs for/wishes for)

mandatum, i, n.  law, precept, command, commandment (of God); commandments, precepts, decrees
volo, volui, velle, to will, wish, desire; to have pleasure or delight in, to love, hold dear, desire.
nimis, adv., exceedingly, greatly, beyond measure. 

The psalm in context

St John Chrysostom suggests that this line should be read as a continuation of the sentiments of the previous psalm:

"The opening seems to me to follow closely on the conclusion of the psalm before this, and to be continuous and connected like one body. I mean, there he said, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," while here, Happy is the man who fears the Lord, giving instruction in the fear of God in different words but the same ideas. There, remember, he said he is wise, here happy. This is truly being happy, however, at least to the extent that the other things are futility and shadow and things of no substance - even if you cite wealth, influence, bodily charm, affluent environment. They resemble falling leaves, after all, passing shadows, fleeting dreams. This, by contrast, is truly being happy."

One can also see the second phrase as the explanation for the first, as Pope Benedict XVI points out:

"...Psalm 112[111], a composition with a sapiental slant, presents us with the figure of these righteous ones who fear the Lord; they recognize his transcendence and trustingly and lovingly conform themselves to his will in the expectation of encountering him after death. A "beatitude" is reserved to these faithful: "Happy the man who fears the Lord" (v. 1). The Psalmist immediately explains what this fear consists in: it is shown in docility to God's commandments. He who "takes delight" in observing his commandments is blessed, finding in them joy and peace.  Docility to God is therefore the root of hope and interior and exterior harmony. Observance of the moral law is the source of profound peace of conscience."

Trusting in God

The take out message of this, according to St Teresa of Avila, is that we cannot depend on ourselves or the spiritual props we have access to, but must rather always remember that everything depends on God:

 "What will we say to those who have won victory in these battles by the mercy of God, and who have reached heaven by their perseverance, but, 'Happy are those who fear the Lord' It was no small thing for His Majesty to reveal to me now the real meaning of this verse, since my understanding of this teaching is often slow....But allow me to give you one piece of advice: who you are, or who your mother was, will not save you; David was a very holy man, and we have seen what happened in the life of Solomon. Do not rely on the enclosure, or on the penance that you do, or on the fact that you strive to deal always with God through continuous prayer, or that you live apart from the world and may come to believe that no traces of worldliness remain within you. All these things are good, but they are not sufficient, as I have said, to allow us to abandon our fear of the Lord: therefore, live out the words of this verse, and recall it often to your mind, Blessed is the man who fears the Lord" (Interior Castle, 3, 1, 1,4).

For notes on the next verse, follow the link here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Introduction to Psalm 111 (112): Beatus vir



I'm continuing this series on the psalms of Sunday Vespers today, with an overview of the third psalm of the hour, Psalm 111 (112), Beatus Vir.

Psalm 111 is regarded as something of a twin to its predecessor, Psalm 110.

Both are alphabetical psalms in the original Hebrew.

More importantly, in this psalm, the just man (who fears God) and his works are praised in similar terms to those applied to God in the previous psalm.  In the previous psalm, we praised God for his great works, above all the gift of the Eucharist; in this psalm we are invited to contemplate on how, with the aid of grace, we can participate in the divine life ourselves.

Happy the man...

The opening line of the psalm 'Happy the man' immediately places it with the other 'beatitude' psalms, such as Psalm 1.

Pope Benedict XVI sees the psalmist as posing the question, how can we live well, and find happiness?

"This Psalm answers: happy is the man who gives; happy is the man who does not live life for himself but gives; happy is the man who is merciful, generous and just; happy is the man who lives in the love of God and neighbour. In this way we live well and have no reason to fear death because we experience the everlasting happiness that comes from God."

In the Septuagint and Vulgate, the title of the psalm is given as 'Alleluia, of the returning of Aggeus and Zacharias', which implies that the psalm was sung by the two prophets on returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon as an expression of their joy.  The Christian can feel the same joy at being admitted to the Eucharist each week after being freed from his or her sins.

Psalm 111

Here is the text as a whole.  You can hear the Latin being read out loud at the Boston Catholic Journal website.

1 Beatus vir qui timet Dominum : in mandatis ejus volet nimis
Blessed is the man that fears the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments.

2 Potens in terra erit semen ejus; generatio rectorum benedicetur.
His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed.

3 Gloria et divitiæ in domo ejus, et justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
Glory and wealth shall be in his house: and his justice remains for ever and ever.

4 Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis : misericors, et miserator, et justus.
To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness: he is merciful, and compassionate and just.

5 Jucundus homo qui miseretur et commodat; disponet sermones suos in judicio: quia in æternum non commovebitur.
Acceptable is the man that shows mercy and lends: he shall order his words with judgment: Because he shall not be moved for ever.

6 In memoria æterna erit justus; ab auditione mala non timebit.
The just shall be in everlasting remembrance: he shall not fear the evil hearing.

7 Paratum cor ejus sperare in Domino, confirmatum est cor ejus; non commovebitur donec despiciat inimicos suos.
His heart is ready to hope in the Lord: His heart is strengthened, he shall not be moved until he look over his enemies.

8 Dispersit, dedit pauperibus; justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi : cornu ejus exaltabitur in gloria.
He has distributed, he has given to the poor: his justice remains for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory.

10 Peccator videbit, et irascetur; dentibus suis fremet et tabescet : desiderium peccatorum peribit.
The wicked shall see, and shall be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.



The next part in this series contains more detailed notes on verse 1 of the psalm.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 10: A liturgy of gratitude



The previous verse of Psalm 110 spoke of the importance of cultivating a healthy fear of the Lord.  

This final verse of the psalm verse points to the importance of putting this right attitude into action, providing a nice link to the next psalm of Vespers: Psalm 110 focuses on God's wonderful works; Psalm 111 shifts the emphasis to man's participation in the divine through good works.  

Here is the verse:

Intelléctus bonus ómnibus faciéntibus eum: * laudátio ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continues for ever and ever

Lectio

The Douay-Rheims renders this verse ‘A good understanding to all that do it’.  Brenton’s translation from the Septuagint, however, is rather clearer, making it ‘And all that act accordingly have a good understanding’.  

The sense is, all who practice fear of the Lord acquire a good understanding or insight of the good things God gives us, such as the Eucharist.

intellectus, us, m.  understanding, insight.
bonus, a, um, good; pleasant; upright  good things, possessions, prosperity
omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything
facio, feci, factum, ere 3,  to make, do, cause, bring to pass

laudátio (the praise) ejus (his) manet (continues) in sæculum sæculi (forever and ever).

This good understanding in turn generates a response of a continuous prayer of praise.  

laudatio, onis, f. praise.
maneo, mansi, mansum, ere 2 to abide, remain, continue, endure

Meditatio

The psalm opened with a commitment to praising God for his great works, and it ends with an explanation of just why we should praise God.  It teaches that our faith is not just a passive thing, a mere belief, but rather must translate into action to be real.  St John Chrysostom comments:

Faith, you see, is not sufficient if a way of life in keep­ing with faith is not forthcoming.’

Just as God acts, manifesting himself in his great works, so too must we.

Oratio

Deepen our faith, O Lord, that we may always see your goodness, and thereby act rightly.

Help us to pray ceaselessly, that we may praise you thus in heaven.

Contemplatio

Pope Benedict comments:

“And if the very first word of the hymn is a word of thanksgiving, the last word is a word of praise: just as the Lord's saving justice "[stands] firm for ever" (v. 3), the gratitude of the praying person knows no bounds and re-echoes in his ceaseless prayer (cf. v. 10). To sum up, the Psalm invites us, lastly, to discover the many good things that the Lord gives us every day. We more readily perceive the negative aspects of our lives. The Psalm invites us also to see the positive things, the many gifts we receive, and thus to discover gratitude, for only in a grateful heart can the great liturgy of gratitude be celebrated: the Eucharist.”

Psalm 110

Here is the whole psalm again for reference purposes.

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: * in consílio justórum, et congregatióne.
I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Magna ópera Dómini: * exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus: * et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continues for ever and ever.

Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum, miséricors et miserátor Dóminus: * escam dedit timéntibus se.
 He has made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He has given food to them that fear him.

Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui: * virtútem óperum suórum annuntiábit pópulo suo:
He will be mindful for ever of his covenant:  He will show forth to his people the power of his works.

Ut det illis hereditátem géntium: * ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium.
That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment.

Fidélia ómnia mandáta ejus: confirmáta in sæculum sæculi, * facta in veritáte et æquitáte. All his commandments are faithful: confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity.

Redemptiónem misit pópulo suo: * mandávit in ætérnum testaméntum suum.
He has sent redemption to his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever.

Sanctum, et terríbile nomen ejus: * inítium sapiéntiæ timor Dómini.
Holy and terrible is his name: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Intelléctus bonus ómnibus faciéntibus eum: * laudátio ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continues for ever and ever.


This is the final part in this series on Psalm 110.  But for a look at the next psalm of Sunday Vespers, click on the link here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 9: Fear of the Lord


Moses and the burning bush, c1450

Verse 9 of Psalm 110 reminds us of the fear and awe we should feel at the divine:

Sanctum, et terríbile nomen ejus: inítium sapiéntiæ timor Dómini.
Holy and terrible is his name: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Lectio

Sanctum (holy) et (and) terríbile(terrible) nomen (name) ejus (His)

sanctus, a, um,  holy, holy person
terribilis, terrible, dreadful, fearful. Often used of God and of His works
nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,

inítium (the beginning) sapiéntiæ (of wisdom) timor (fear) Dómini (of the Lord) 

initium, ii beginning, commencement.
sapientia, ae, f wisdom.
timor, oris, m. fear; an object of fear.

‘Beginning’ here doesn’t literally mean elementary wisdom, but rather the chief part, basis or foundation of it, hence St Jerome’s from the Hebrew translation uses ‘principium’ instead of initium here.    

Pope Benedict XVI notes: 

Next, quoting a sapiential saying (cf. Prov 1: 7; 9: 10, 15: 33), the Psalmist invites every member of the faithful to cultivate "fear of the Lord" (Ps 111[110]: 10), the beginning of true wisdom. It is not fear and terror that are suggested by this word, but serious and sincere respect which is the fruit of love, a genuine and active attachment to God the Liberator.”

Meditatio

The Incarnation of Our Lord poses for us a tension.  

On the one hand, God becomes man, making him more approachable to us, someone with whom we can have a genuine personal relationship.

Yet he remains always omnipotent God, someone who invokes a sense of awe, as numerous stories in the Gospels attest.  St John Chrysostom summarises it thus:

“Holy and fearsome is his name, that is, instilling amazement, com­plete wonder. Now, if his name has that effect, how much more so his being? But in what way is his name holy and fearsome? De­mons tremble at it, ailments quail before it, the apostles invoked this name to set all the world at rights…

Contemplatio

Pope Benedict XVI comments: 

The end of Psalm 111[110] is sealed by contemplation of the divine face, the Lord's very person, symbolized by his holy and transcendent "name".”

And for the final part in this series on Psalm 110, click the link here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 8: Redemption




Verse 8 of Psalm 110 is a high point of the psalm, offering us hope:

Redemptiónem misit pópulo suo: mandávit in ætérnum testaméntum suum.

He has sent redemption to his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever.

Lectio

Redemptiónem (Redemption, deliverance) misit (he has sent) pópulo (to the people) suo (his)

The key words in it are:

redemptio onis f a buying back, ransoming, deliverance, redemption
mitto, misi, missum, ere 3, to send
populus, i, people; the chosen people

This is one of those phrases with a double meaning: it refers firstly to the Old Testament liberation of the Jews from Egypt, and their being given the earthly Jerusalem. But it also of course refers to the coming of Jesus and the promise of the heavenly Jerusalem, as Luke 1:68 makes clear: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.

mandávit (he has commanded) in ætérnum (in eternity, forever) testaméntum suum (His covenant)

The key words are:

mando, avi, atum, are to enjoin, order, command
aeternus, a, um eternal. forever
testamentum, i, n. a covenant, testament

Meditatio

This verse is the climax of the psalm, the making of the new covenant, which unlike the Old, lasts forever as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

Now, Christ redeemed his people from the captivity and the slavery of sin and from the powers of darkness, by the price of his blood, and in such manner he really and truly "hath commanded his covenant forever;" that is, he ordered and settled it finally, that his covenant or his compact regarding true, real salvation, and the enjoyment of the kingdom of heaven, should be everlasting, and not like that of the possession of Palestine, which was only temporary, as we know from experience; and therefore, Jer. 31 has, "Behold, the days will come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda. Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Oratio

We should thank God for the sacrifice of Christ, which reopened the way to heaven for us, and ask for the grace to take up his invitation and live as good Christians.

Contemplatio

In this new covenant the law still has a key role, as St John Chrysostom explains:

“Here he refers to the New Testament: since he mentioned precept and Law, which were broken and aroused his wrath, he says, He sent redemption to his people, as he said in person, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." When the Law was transgressed, you see, it dealt punishment: "The Law in fact brings wrath; that is, where there is no law, there is no transgression;" and, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified by his grace as a gift." Hence the psalmist spoke that way, The Lord sent redemption to his people. Yet it is not redemption pure and simple: after redemption there is law as well, so that we may give evidence of a way of life that is worthy of grace."

And you can find the next part of the series here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 7 - The immutable law



Today's verse of Psalm 110 reminds us that the judgments of God alluded to in the previous verse are based on the immutable laws that he has put in place:

Fidélia ómnia mandáta ejus: confirmáta in sæculum sæculi, facta in veritáte et æquitáte
All his commandments are faithful: confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity.

Lectio

Fidélia ómnia mandáta ejus = trustworthy/sure/faithful [are] all his commandments/precepts/laws

confirmáta in sæculum sæculi = established/confirmed forever and ever

facta in veritáte et æquitáte = made/done in truth and fairness/equity/uprightness

Meditatio

Chrysostom draws attention to the fairly standard juxtaposition in the psalms, between the wonder of creation and the wonder of the law:

“As he often does, he does here too, moving from the wisdom in his richly varied creation and from his care to his lawmaking, and discussing in turn this part of his providence. I mean, he corrected the human race not only by creating a creation of this kind and extent but by laying down laws...In the same way here, too, after speaking about his marvels and wonders and works, he shifts his attention to the subject of his precepts, speaking this way…”

He goes on to explain the significance of ‘all’ in the phrase. By the law, he means firstly the laws of science, that govern the operation of the world around us. He points secondly to the natural law, written on men’s hearts. And finally there is the written law of the Old Testament and the New.

Oratio

We are invited to delight in the commands or laws of God.

Contemplatio

Chrysostom invites us to adopt Christ’s teaching on fulfilling not just the letter of the law, but also its spirit:

“There are also laws that are in writing. And all these remain in force. If some have been abrogated, however, they have been changed not for the worse but for the better. That one, for example, "You shall not kill," has not been abrogated but extended; and that one, "You shall not commit adultery," has not been cancelled but has become more comprehensive. Hence he also said, "I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them." That is to say, the person who does not give way to rage will be far more likely to abstain from murder, and the one not giving free rein to a roving eye will keep a greater distance from adultery. Consequently, law has this particular character, special, immortal, invariable - the law of creation, the law of nature, the law of sound values, and the law of the New Testament.” Hence he says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away," indicating their immovable character.”

You can find the next part of this series here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 6: Fairness and punishment


Hieronymous Bosch 1500-1525
Today's verse of Psalm 110, with its allusion to the ejection of the Canaanites from the 'Promise Land' of the Jews, invites us to meditate on why some are saved, yet others are not:

"Ut det illis hereditátem géntium: ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium.
That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment"

Lectio

Ut det illis hereditátem géntium = so that he may give them the inheritance of the gentiles

Note that this is an ‘Ut+subjunctive’ construction, meaning in order that/so that…may. It can also be rendered as ‘to give them’, or ‘in giving them’. Note that in the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is (he, she, it).

But what constitutes the ‘inheritance of the gentiles’? In the Old Testament it was interpreted literally as the land of Canaan, the promised land given to the Jews. But metaphorically it stands for heaven.

ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium = the works of his hands [are] truth and justice

Hand here is, of course, meant metaphorically rather than literally.

Meditatio

In this verse, we are asked to consider the Old Testament situation, namely God’s promise of the land of the Canaanites to the Jews. Wasn’t this unfair dispossession?

This psalm is alluded to in Revelation 15:3-4, where it highlights the concept that God’s judgments of our actions that are currently hidden will be revealed to all. Justice, in other words, requires that the good be rewarded, those who do evil and refuse to repent will be condemned. The psalmist’s answer to the question of fairness is that in fact the dispossession of the Canaanites was a work of God’s justice, a punishment for their sins, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“As God promised Abraham, then, that he would give that country to his posterity, he acted in truth or faithfulness; and as he did not expel the Chanaaneans until "the measure of their sins was filled up," for which they deserved to be expelled, he also acted in justice; and, therefore, "the works of his hands are truth and justice."

Oratio

We should join with the angels and saints in the praise of God:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed." (Rev 15:3-4)

Contemplatio

Bellamine’s commentary on the verse continues with a warning as to the need for our personal conversion:

“That the Chanaaneans deserved to be punished, and to be expelled from the land of promise, the Prophet proves, by reason of their not having observed the natural law, that is common to all, binding all and immutable, for they contain the first principles of justice; for, when God, in Lev. 18, prohibits incest, adultery, sins against nature, idolatry, and the like, he adds— "For all these detestable things the inhabitants of the land have done that were before you, and have defiled it. Beware, then, lest in like manner it vomit you also out if you do the like things, as it vomited out the nation that was before you."

Next verse

Notes on the next verse can be found here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 5: God's covenant with man


c840
Today's verse of Psalm 110 reminds us that the heavenly food referred to in the previous verse is the sign of God's testament with his people:

Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui: virtútem óperum suórum annuntiábit pópulo suo:

He will be mindful for ever of his covenant: He will show forth to his people the power of his works.

Lectio

Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui = he will be mindful/remember forever of his covenant

virtútem óperum suórum =the power of his works = his mighty works

annuntiábit pópulo suo = he will make known/announce/show forth/will declare to his people

Meditatio

We can see this verse as summarizing both the Old and New Testaments.

First let us consider the Old. St Robert Bellarmine points to the carrying through of God’s Covenant with Abraham chronicled there:

“…that is, by his constant providence and protection, he will show that he is mindful of his covenant and his promises. The principal point in the treaty that God made with Abraham was, that he should give his posterity the land of the Chanaaneans, which was, consequently, afterwards called the land of promise. He, therefore, shows how "he is mindful of his covenant," when he says, "he will show forth to his people the power of his works;" that is to say, bearing his promise in mind, he will display his power to his people, by turning back the waters of the Jordan, by levelling the walls of Jericho with the sound of the trumpet, by stopping the sun and moon at the command of Joshua, by raining down stones from heaven on the enemies of the Jews, and by many other similar miracles.

Oratio

But of course, the New Testament is the more complete fulfillment of the Old, and one can pray this daily as we say the Benedictus (Luke 1:72) at Lauds: “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”.

Contemplatio

Cassiodorus takes up this theme, and argues that the verse is fulfilled in the Gospel with the miracles Christ performed, and communicated to St John the Baptist:

The thought contained in the three verses is here filled out. The power of his works is that which he states in the gospel: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the dead rise again, and blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me. He has announced, in other words, made plain, that is to the Christian people whom He redeemed with His precious blood. They express this with the spirit of prophecy, for with holy faith they believed in the Lord before His coming. He gave them the inheritance of the Gentiles when He fashioned the Catholic Church from living stones from all nations. This is the inheritance promised to Abraham: I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea-shored They revealed the reason why he announced to his people the power of his works; it was to give them the inheritance of the Gentiles. It was the purpose of the miracles that they should believe, and by believing obtain the promised rewards.”

Vocab

memor, oris mindful of, thoughtful of; to remember, call to mind, think of, take thought for, recall, recount, etc.
testamentum, i, n. a covenant, testament
virtus, utis, f strength, power, might; an army, host; annuntio, avi, atum, are to announce, proclaim, publish, make known.
populus, i, people; the chosen people; a heathen nation

Next Verse

Notes on the next verse can be found here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 4 - Our heavenly food


Sant'Angelo in Formis (Capua)
c1100

Today's verse of Psalm 110 is deeply Eucharistic, and perhaps explains to us what this psalm is particularly focusing in on when it talks about God's wonderful works.
 
First, here are the verses we have looked at so far in this series once again:
 
Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne.
I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus: et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continues for ever and ever.

And today's verse:

Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum, miséricors et miserátor Dóminus: escam dedit timéntibus se.
He has made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He has given food to them that fear him.

Lectio: What does the text mean

Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum = he has made/caused/effected a remembrance of his wonderful works

The word memoria is important here, as the Decree on the Eucharist from the Council of Trent explains:

“Our Savior, therefore, when about to depart from this world to the Father, instituted this sacrament in which He poured forth, as it were, the riches of His divine love for men, "making a remembrance of his wonderful works", and He commanded us in the consuming of it to cherish His "memory", and "to show forth his death until He come" to judge the world….

miséricors et miserátor Dóminus = merciful and gracious/compassionate is the Lord

St Thomas Aquinas explains that mercy and graciousness, in reference to God, are not emotions:

“Mercy is especially to be attributed to God, as seen in its effect, but not as an affection of passion. In proof of which it must be considered that a person is said to be merciful [misericors], as being, so to speak, sorrowful at heart [miserum cor]; being affected with sorrow at the misery of another as though it were his own. Hence it follows that he endeavors to dispel the misery of this other, as if it were his; and this is the effect of mercy.”

escam dedit timéntibus se = he has given food to those [who fear] fearing him

The food referred to here is generally interpreted as the Eucharist, foreshadowed by the gift of manna in the desert, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“He now discusses a special work of divine providence, the raining of manna from heaven, which was a work of great mercy, not only to those who were then fed by it in the desert, but also to those who succeeded them, to whom he left an urn full of it as a memorial of the miracles he performed in the desert, see Exod. 16, and Heb. 9. That manna was a type of the Eucharist, that he gave Christians for their spiritual food, and in memory of the wonderful things Christ did while on earth, the most wonderful of which was his glorious passion, that destroyed death itself by death, and triumphed over the prince of this world; and he, therefore, says, "He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord." The food named here is the manna that God rained from heaven, and gave, "to them that fear him;" to the Jews who worship him; for; though there were many sinners among them, still they worshipped the true God, and fearing and worshipping signify the same thing in the Scriptures. And as he wished the people to bear in mind the wonderful things he did when he brought them out of Egypt, and led them through the desert to the land of promise…”

Meditatio

Pope Benedict XVI sees this verse as referring to the signs of the covenant between a compassionate and loving God and his people:

“Therefore, the heart of the Psalm becomes a hymn to the covenant (cf. vv. 4-9), that intimate bond which binds God to his people and entails a series of attitudes and gestures. Thus, the Psalmist speaks of "compassion and love" (cf. v. 4) in the wake of the great proclamation on Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34: 6). "Compassion" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the faithful, while "love" is expressed in the original Hebrew with the use of a characteristic term that refers to the maternal "womb" of the Lord, even more merciful than that of a mother (cf. Is 49: 15).”

Oratio

We must ask that God's love transfigure us, particularly as we receive the sign of the New Covenant, the Eucharist.

Contemplatio

Yet there is a sting in the tail of this verse, in the reference to those who fear God.  It should perhaps, call to mind the dire warnings of Scripture on those who presume to receive the blessed Sacrament while not in a state of grace, or without the proper dispositions.  It is a reminder that while the grace available for the reception of Holy Communion is infinite, the actual effect on us depends on our receptivity.  We must therefore cultivate fervour!

Vocab

memoria, ae, f memory, remembrance
mirabilis, e wonderful, marvelous; subst., mirabilia, mm, wonders, wonderful works, marvellous things.
misericors, cordis merciful, abounding in mercy.
miserator, oris, m. merciful, one who shows mercy
esca, ae, f food for men or beasts.
timeo, ere 2, to fear, be afraid of.



Notes on the next verse can be found here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 3: God's judgment deferred

St Alban's psalter


So far in this series we've looked at the first two verses of Psalm 110, the second psalm of Sunday Vespers:

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne.

I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Today a look at Verse 3:

Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus: et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continues for ever and ever.
Neo-Vulgate: Decor et magnificentia opus eius, et iustitia eius manet in saeculum saeculi
 
Lectio: looking at the text
 
Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus = Splendour and majesty his work = splendid and magnificent/glorious his work

The first issue with this verse is the omitted words!  The Douay-Rheims makes opus (work) the subject, so translates this phrase as 'His work is praise and mangificence'.  A more obvious translation though would be 'his work is splendid and glorious'.  A third possibility, followed by a number of translations, is to interpret the phrase along the lines ‘his work is worthy of thanksgiving and honour’.  

The problem arises from the use of two nouns (confessio et magnificentia) as adjectives, in imitation of the Hebrew; the Neo-Vulgate has accordingly changed the first to an actual adjective (décor), reflecting a translation approach is less concerned with conveying the linguistic flavour of the original text.

et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi = and his justice abides forever and ever

The Greek translated as justitia here is actually δικαιοσύνη, which is more often translated as righteousness in English, and this is reflected in the RSV and other translations.

Meditatio: What is the text saying to us?
 
St John Chrysostom sees this verse as reminding us of the praise and thanksgiving that naturally pours out from us when we are conscious of the wonder of creation, and the working out of God’s providential plan in history:

“Each of the visible realities, in fact, is sufficient to prompt the observer to thanksgiving, to hymnody, to praise, to giving glory. You are not allowed to ask, "Why is this?" "For what purpose is this?" Instead, both darkness and daylight, famine and feast, desert and wilderness, fertile fields and productive, life and death, and all visible things are for those studying them with precision sufficient and capable of prompting them to thanksgiving.”

The Fathers argue that even the exercise of his justice contains a kind of terrible beauty, evident above all in his saving redemption through the Cross, and even in his punishments, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah.

Oratio
 
Help us to see the greatness of God's work in the Government of the world, including the exercize of his justice.  Help us O Lord, to learn well the lesson you set in all that happens to us; help us say with Solomon: "The one the Lord loves, you see, he disciplines; he chas­tises every son he welcomes. His righteousness endures for ages of ages."

Contemplatio

St Benedict instructs us God withholds his judgment for a time, allowing us the grace to repent:

"Having given us these instructions, the Lord daily expects us to make our life correspond with his holy admonitions.  And the days of our life are lengthened and a respite allowed us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways."



And the next part in the series can be found here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 2: The wonder of God's saving works

Adam and Eve
Lucas Cranach c1530

Verse 1 of Psalm 110 placed us in the midst of the Church, praising God.  Verse 2 of Psalm 110 tells us what we are to praise God for:

Vulgate: Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Neo-Vulgate: Magna opera Domini, exquirenda omnibus, qui cupiunt ea.
Douay Rheims: Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Lectio: What does the text mean?

Magna (nom pl of magnus a um, great, agreeing with opera) ópera (nom pl opus –eris n work) Dómini (gen) = great [are] the works of the Lord

The first phrase is a complement: 'sunt' is understood.

exquisíta (perfect participle passive) in (in +acc) omnes (acc pl) voluntátes (acc pl) ejus = sought out/studied for all his plans/will(s)

The verb is the passive perfect participle, and both Brenton (from the Greek) and the Douay-Rheims (from the Latin) translate this as “sought out according to his will”; the sense, according to Boylan, is that “the works of the Lord are specially chosen and wrought so as to declare them accurately his will.” In order to discover God’s will, study it, in other words. The neo-Vulgate, however, changes this to an ablative absolute.

Note however that Hugh Ballantyne’s Latin vocabulary listing for the psalms suggests an alternative translation, interpreting it as exquisitus a um, excellent, well-wrought.  While it certainly makes sense of the verse (including that puzzling plural for voluntas), it does not seem to me to be supported by either the Greek or Hebrew, nor is it reflected in any of the authoritative translations, Catholic or protestant, at least as far as I can find.

The verb cupio used by the Neo-Vulgate means to desire, long for, and reflects the Hebrew Masoretic Text (chephets) for the verse rather than the Septuagint. As a result of this difference, Coverdale translates the verse as ‘The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’. Similarly, the Monastic Diurnal renders the verse ‘Great are the works of the Lord, sought by all that delight in them’.  By contrast, the sense of the Septuagint/Vulgate is more that “the works of the Lord are specially chosen and wrought so as to declare them accurately his will.”

Either interpretation, however, can fit with the broader context of the psalm, as we shall see.

Meditatio: What does the text say to us?

Revelation 15:3 puts this verse in the mouths of the just, alluded to in the previous verse of the psalm:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages!...”

So what, then, are the words of the Lord spoken of here? Pope Benedict XVI to the saving interventions of God in the face of man's sin and need for redemption:

“The subject of this prayer, which also includes the rite of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word "works" (cf. vv. 2, 3, 6, 7)."Works" indicate the saving interventions of the Lord, an expression of his "justice" (cf. v. 3), a word which, in biblical language, suggests in the very first place the love from which salvation is born.”

Oratio: What do we say to God?

We too should take the time to remember God’s saving works, for his great care for us in sending his Christ, that the way to heaven might be reopened to us.

Contemplatio: What conversion is he asking of us?

St Robert Bellarmine draws attention to the tension between the way God’s creation is set out according to his will, and yet he grants us in turn free will, and thus opens up to us the possibility, say rather the inevitability of sin and its consequences:

“And not only are his works great, but "they are sought out according to all his wills;" prepared and settled previously, to be applied to any purpose he may choose, according to Psalm 118, "For all things serve thee;" for, as St. Augustine most properly observes, nothing seems to be more repugnant to the will of God, than free will, through which sins, forbidden by God, are committed; and yet, God deals as he wills with free will, for he reforms it through grace, or he punishes it in justice; and had he not given free will, there would have been no sin...”

Thus our struggle must be to conform our will to his; to bring about in ourselves the new creation made possible by grace.

Vocab

magnus, a, um, great, mighty; elders
opus, eris, n., work.
exquiro quaesivi itum ere 3, to seek, seek after
omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything
voluntas, atis, f. wish, desire; good will, favor, graciousness. plan, counsel
in+acc=into, onto, against, for (the purpose of)

Verse 3

And the next part in the series can be found here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 1: In the midst of the Church


Church Militant and Triumphant
Andrea di Bonaiuto, c1365
The opening verse of Psalm 110 places us in the midst of both the Church Militant here on earth, and the Church Triumphant in heaven:

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne

I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Lectio: What does the text mean?
 
Confitébor (deponent: 1st person fut Confiteor, to praise, give thanks, confess) tibi, Dómine = I will give praise to you O Lord
 
Confitebor, comes from confiteor, a deponent verb is an ambiguous word: it can mean both to confess our sins, but also to let out our praises for God. The following verses, however, make it clear that praise is what is meant here.

in (in +abl) toto (totus, -a -um whole, entire) corde (cor, cordis n heart) meo = with all my heart/with my whole heart

The speaker is giving this praise his total attention. 
in (in+abl) consílio (consilium, ii, n counsel) justórum (gen pl) = in the company of the just et congregatióne (congregation, onis f gathering, assembly, congregation) = and in the congregation/assembly

The Hebrew for consilio (cowd) implies an intimate circle of friends, thus contrasting the ‘congregation’ below (edah) meaning a large group, publicly. Cassiodorus interprets these respectively as the elect in heaven, and the Church of all regions here below.

Meditatio: What does the text say to us?

This opening verse of Psalm 110 places us immediately in the midst of the Church, both visible and invisible, for when we pray liturgically, we pray joined both horizontally to those on earth who also pray this hour of Vespers, but also with the angels and saints in heaven.

What does this then imply for us?  Well surely our wholehearted attention, as St Robert Bellarmine's commentary on this verse suggests:

"Holy David begins the hymn by an invocation, and tells us at the same time how God should be praised with advantage to ourselves. "I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart." Praise, in order to be of any value, must spring from the heart, and not only from the heart, but from the entire heart; that is, with all the affections of the heart, that praises nothing, loves nothing, so much as the thing in question. "With my whole heart;" also implies the greatest attention, thinking of nothing else, for it does not become one who is praising that God whom the Cherubim and Seraphim adore in fear, to let his mind down to unworthy matters."

Oratio: What do we say to the Lord?

The first word of this psalm states that we will confess, or praise God. 

Accordingly, let us seek to praise God as we pray this psalm.  And ask for the grace that we continue to do so in the future, not just as part of the assembly or congregation here below, but in the company of the elect hereafter.

Contemplatio: What conversion of mind, heart and life is God asking of us?

The psalm calls on us to adopt an attitude of thankfulness.  St John Chrysostom argues that the ability to praise God at all time, even in the face of constant tribulations as Job did, is something we must cultivate:

"God looks for nothing as much as this, after all: this sacrifice, this offering, this sign of a grateful spirit, this is a blow against the devil. For this Job was crowned and cel­ebrated, for not being swayed despite countless trials besetting him and despite his wife's obstructing him; instead, he persisted in thanking the Lord for everything, not when he was rich but also when poor, not when he was well but also when stricken in body, not when things went smoothly for him but also when that violent storm fell upon his whole house and his whole person. This, you see, is a particular mark of a thankful attitude, to give heartfelt thanks to God in tribulations and hardship, and remain thankful throughout - which is therefore what the psalmist him­self suggested obliquely in what follows. I mean, many people give thanks when all goes well for them, but are displeased when the contrary occurs, some even finding fault with the way things turn out."

And on to the next part in this series here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Those other psalms: Extend our lives O Lord that we may yet live!




Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry
I want to continue, today, with my look at the ferial canticles in the traditional Office, so today Isaiah 38:10-20, of the Canticle of King Hezekiah.

The imitation of Christ 

Tuesdays in the Benedictine Office, I’ve previously suggested, focus on Our Lord’s public life, when he teaches us how to make the mystical ascent to heaven through the imitation of him; when he teaches us what it means to be truly human. At the very beginning of his ministry, Our Lord asserts that he himself is the true Temple; through our worship of that true Temple we that were sick with sin can gain everlasting life.

The historical story behind today's canticle is that King Hezekiah was told by the prophet Isaiah that he was about to die. At first he resisted the message out of pride (2 Chron 32: 24). But then he repented, and prayed desperately to God for more time. His prayer was granted, a miracle confirmed by the sign of the sundial winding backwards (Is 38:7-8; 2 Kings 20).

The story of Hezekiah’s miraculous restoration to health appears three times in the Old Testament, signaling its importance: as well as Isaiah 38, the story also appears in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron 32.

In the liturgy, the canticle is also used in Lauds for the Office of the Dead.

Tuesday in the Office

At first blush, however, its appropriateness for Tuesday in the Office is perhaps less than obvious. Hrabanus Maurus, however, explains the significance of the Canticle for us as follows:

“On Tuesday the canticle or if prayer of Ezekiel is sung, in which recovering from his infirmity the actions of grace from God for his salvation refers, admonishing us in order that after receiving the grace of God and the sacred absolution of baptism by which we are freed from the chains of death for all the time of life, we must be diligent to give our thanks to God.”

St Benedict, I think, provides psalms for Tuesday that expand on three aspects of this canticle.

First, the sense, in the first half of the canticle, that we start off far away from God, cut off from him, condemned to a foreshortened, alienated life even, just as the psalmist bewails his exile in the first of the Gradual psalms said at Terce.

The second, more important theme, though, is the possibility of reform: in verse 16 the psalmist asks for God to correct him, that he may yet have hope of life, and this process of gradual sanctification, of spiritual ascent or deification is the major focus of the day. Christ came to earth, after all, as a physician for our souls, sent to bring us to repentance and gives us healing grace.

And for this reason, the Council of Tent cited verse 10 in its explanation of the sacrament of penance, even citing it in one of its canons:

“If anyone says that this contrition, which is evoked by examination, recollection, and hatred of sins "whereby one recalls his years in the bitterness of his soul" ( Isa. Is 38,15), by pondering on the gravity of one's sins, the multitude, the baseness, the loss of eternal happiness, and the incurring of eternal damnation, together with the purpose of a better life, is not a true and a beneficial sorrow, and does not prepare for grace, but makes a man a hypocrite, and a greater sinner; finally that this sorrow is forced and not free and voluntary: let him be anathema.”

But the third key idea, that gives meaning to the previous two is our ultimate objective: our hope is, with Hezekiah, that God will save us, so that we can worship him all the days of our life in heaven.

Extend our lives that we may yet be saved!

St Benedict, in the Prologue to his Rule, sets out, I think, exactly this theology:

“Wherefore the Lord also saith in the Gospel: He that heareth these my words and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock. The floods came and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. Having given us these instructions, the Lord daily expects us to make our life correspond with his holy admonitions. And the days of our life are lengthened and a respite allowed us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. For the Apostle saith: Knowest thou not that the patience of God inviteth thee to repentance? For the merciful Lord saith: I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live.”

The Canticle of Hezekiah

Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Ego dixi: in dimídio diérum meórum * vadam ad portas ínferi.
10 I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell:
2  Quæsívi resíduum annórum meórum. * Dixi : Non vidébo Dóminum Deum in terra vivéntium.
I sought for the residue of my years. 11 I said: I shall not see the Lord God in the land of the living.
3  Non aspíciam hóminem ultra, * et habitatórem quiétis.
I shall behold man no more, nor the inhabitant of rest.
4  Generátio mea abláta est, et convolúta est a me, * quasi tabernáculum pastórum.
12 My generation is at an end, and it is rolled away from me, as a shepherd's tent.
5  Præcísa est velut a texénte, vita mea: dum adhuc ordírer, succídit me: * de mane usque ad vésperam fínies me.
My life is cut off, as by a weaver: whilst I was yet but beginning, he cut me off: from morning even to night you will make an end of me.
6  Sperábam usque ad mane, * quasi leo sic contrívit ómnia ossa mea:
13 I hoped till morning, as a lion so has he broken all my bones:
7  De mane usque ad vésperam fínies me: * sicut pullus hirúndinis sic clamábo, meditábor ut colúmba:
from morning even to night you will make an end of me. 14 I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove:
8  Attenuáti sunt óculi mei, * suspiciéntes in excélsum:
my eyes are weakened looking upward
9  Dómine, vim pátior, respónde pro me. * Quid dicam, aut quid respondébit mihi, cum ipse fécerit?
Lord, I suffer violence; answer for me.
15 What shall I say, or what shall he answer for me, whereas he himself has done it?
10  Recogitábo tibi omnes annos meos * in amaritúdine ánimæ meæ.:
I will recount to you all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
11  Dómine, si sic vivítur, et in tálibus vita spíritus mei, corrípies me et vivificábis me. * Ecce in pace amaritúdo mea amaríssima
16 O Lord, if man's life be such, and the life of my spirit be in such things as these, you shall correct me, and make me to live. 17 Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter:
12  Tu autem eruísti ánimam meam ut non períret: * projecísti post tergum tuum ómnia peccáta mea.
but you have delivered my soul that it should not perish, you have cast all my sins behind your back.
13  Quia non inférnus confitébitur tibi, neque mors laudábit te: * non exspectábunt qui descéndunt in lacum, veritátem tuam.
18 For hell shall not confess to you, neither shall death praise you: nor shall they that go down into the pit, look for your truth.
14  Vivens vivens ipse confitébitur tibi, sicut et ego hódie: * pater fíliis notam fáciet veritátem tuam.
19 The living, the living, he shall give praise to you, as I do this day: the father shall make the truth known to the children.
15  Dómine, salvum me fac, * et psalmos nostros cantábimus cunctis diébus vitæ nostræ in domo Dómini.
20 O Lord, save me, and we will sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.