Friday, June 21, 2013

Psalm 112, verse 8: Making disciples through his Church

Hannah and Samuel

The last verse of Psalm 112 gives us the image of the barren woman granted the children she desperately desires, a typology that is repeated for us several times in Scripture, for it prefigures for us the spiritual children granted to the Church:

Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo, matrem filiorum lætantem
Who makes a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children

Lectio

Qui (who) habitare (to live)  facit (he makes) sterilem (the barren [woman]) in (in) domo (the house)
matrem (the mother) filiorum (of sons/children) lætantem (rejoicing) 

Note: laetantem is the part sg pres fem acc of laetor, to rejoice

sterilis, e  unfruitful, barren.
domus, us, f. a house, structure; a house, abode, dwelling place; Temple; ;a race, people, nation; the priesthood.
mater, tris, f.  mother.
filius, ii, m. a son, child
laetor, atus sum, ari,  to rejoice, be joyful, take delight in

Meditatio

These days, many, instead of trusting God, seek to defy him through the use of immoral reproductive technologies.  Yet this verse reminds us of God's miraculous cure of the sterility of many women in Scripture who put their trust in him, including Hannah, Sara, Rebecca, Rachel and Elizabeth. 

But there is also a less literal meaning of this verse, St Robert Bellarmine points out, for their fertility prefigures the establishment of the Church:

"With mankind a low and contemptible position is consid­ered a misfortune, while barrenness is looked upon in the same light by womankind; but, as God looks down on the humble man so as to raise him from the lowest to the highest position, he also looks down on the humble woman, thereby changing her barrenness into fertility. This is quite applicable to several females, such as Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Anne, and others; but it applies, in a higher sense, to the Church gathered from the Gentiles, that remained barren a long time, but ultimately begot many children, as the apostle has it, "Rejoice thou barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry out, thou that travailest not: for many are the children of the desolate, more than that of her that hath a husband."

Oratio

Lord through your death and resurrection you invite us to be your sons and daughters, to become members of the spiritual family you have called to yourself; for this great grace we praise your name forever.

Make us, too spiritual mothers and fathers of many, working to bring all into your kingdom.

Contemplatio (Psalm 112)

1 Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
2 Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
3 A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini.
4 Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, et super cælos gloria ejus.
 5 Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat, et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra?
6 Suscitans a terra inopem, et de stercore erigens pauperem:  
7 ut collocet eum cum principibus, cum principibus populi sui.
8 Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo, matrem filiorum lætantem.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Psalm 112, verses 6-7: Strive to become great saints

Job on the dungheap
The next two verses of Psalm 112 remind us of God's promises of what he will do for those who believe in him:

6 Suscitans a terra inopem, et de stercore erigens pauperem:
Raising up the needy from the earth, and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill:

7 ut collocet eum cum principibus, cum principibus populi sui.
That he may place him with princes, with the princes of his people.

Lectio

Suscitans( lifting up/reviving/raising up) a (from) terra (the earth)  inopem (the needy)
et (and) de (from) stercore (the dung heap) erigens (lifting up) pauperem (the poor)

ut (in order to) collocet (place/set) eum (him) cum (with) principibus (princes) cum (with)  principibus (the princes) populi (of the people) sui (his)

suscito, avi, atum, are, to raise up, set up; to raise up, revive; to raise up, exalt.
inops, opis, without means or resources; poor, needy, indigent, destitute
stercus, oris, n., dung, the dunghill as a symbol of destitution and miser; dust, mire, filth.
erigo, rexi, rectum, ere 3  to raise, lift or set up, raise, place upright.
pauper, eris, adj., poor, needy, indigent, helpless, destitute, wretched.
colloco, avi, atum, are  to set, place, put; to lie down, to rest.
princeps, cipis, m.  prince, ruler, sovereign.
populus, i, people.  the chosen people; a heathen nation

Meditatio

These verses have both a literal and metaphorical meaning. It points us first especially to the poor and lowly; those God raises up from the lowest to the highest of positions - figures such as David and Mary.  Indeed, the words are echoed in 1 Kings 2, the Song of Hannah, and of course in the Magnificat.

Yet they potentially apply to us all, as Cassiodorus explains:

"Those in need and want should not claim this benefit solely for themselves, for anyone who through God's grace is raised from this blemished body, is exalted from the dunghill and from pov­erty. In fact, even a king in this world is empty of God's gifts and rolls in the dung, for vices of the flesh are his master. So the Lord raises up those of any rank or age when He bestows the gifts of His mercy."

The dung heap, St Robert Bellarmine explains, is the mire of original sin; the 'princes of the people' are not earthly princes, but rather the citizens of heaven:

".. our Savior said, "Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom." Now, mankind lay prostrate on the earth, wallowing on the dunghill of original sin, and its consequent evils, and yet God, who is seated in heaven, looked down on the earth, and raised up the needy, that is, the man despoiled by the robbers, who was lying on the dunghill of misery, to "place him with princes;" not in the general acceptation of the word; but with "the princes of his people," the possessors of the heavenly Jerusalem, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven...the ele­vation from a state of sin and death to that of glory and immortality, to an equality with the angels, to share in that happiness that forms a part of God's own happiness, that, indeed, is the true, the truly great, and the most to be sought for elevation."

Oratio

Look upon us with mercy O Lord and free us from our mire of our sin.  Grant that through your Son we may put off this earthly raiment and be worthy of the white robes of salvation.

Contemplatio

How are we to be worthy of this honour?  We must strive to be great saints, working to make disciples of all men.  Cassiodorus explains:

"But you are not to believe that the preeminence mentioned here is the distinc­tion sought by human aspirations; rather, it is the preeminence granted by the Lord's generosity which is lofty in humility, certain in faith, unflinching in mental strength. As for the addition: Of his people, it points to the Catholic Church spread through the whole world."

The psalm so far

1 Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
2 Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
3 A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini.
4 Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, et super cælos gloria ejus.
 5 Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat, et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra?
6 Suscitans a terra inopem, et de stercore erigens pauperem:  
7 ut collocet eum cum principibus, cum principibus populi sui.



You can find the final post in this series of notes on Psalm 112 here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Psalm 112, verses 4-5: Between God and man


The next section of Psalm 112 emphasizes the chasm between God and man, yet reminds us to that God bridges it, for he cares about us:

4 Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, et super cælos gloria ejus. 
The Lord is high above all nations; and his glory above the heavens. 

5 Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitatet humilia respicit in cælo et in terra?
 Who is as the Lord our God, who dwells on high: And looks down on the low things in heaven and in earth? 

Lectio

Excelsus (high) super (above) omnes (all) gentes (nations/peoples) Dominus (the Lord)

et (and ) super (above) cælos (the heavens) gloria (glory) ejus (his) =and his glory above the heavens

Quis (who) sicut ( [is] like) Dominus (the Lord) Deus (God) noster (our), qui (who) in (in) altis (the heights)  habitat (he lives)


et (and) humilia (the humble) respicit (he takes thought for/looks down on) in cælo (in heaven) et (and) in terra (on earth)?   

excelsus, a, um  high, august, sublime, towering aloft ; uplifted; heights, high places; billows, high waves
gens, gentis, f  sing., people, nation, the chosen
caelum, i, n., or caeli, orum, m.  heaven, the abode of God; the heavens as opposed to the earth; the air;
gloria, ae, f. glory, honor, majesty
quis, quid, interrog, pron., who? which? what? why? wherefore?
sicut, adv., as, just as, like.
altus deep,  high
habito, avi, atum, are  to dwell, abide, live.
humiliathe lowly, God's people and their affairs.
respicio, spexi, spectum, ere 3  to look upon, behold, consider; take thought for, heed, have regard to;  

Meditatio

Many of the psalms emphasize the immense distance that stands between man and God: and it is an important point, for the root of original sin is man's attempt to make himself into a god.  True humility starts from the realisation that between God and man lies an immense chasm.

Indeed, the chasm extends even to heaven, for it too is part of creation, and God therefore stands outside and above it and the angels too, as St Robert Bellarmine points out in his commentary on the verse:

"Matter for God's praise is to be found not only through the length and breadth, but even through the height of the world; for, though there may be many great kings and power­ful princes therein, God far out-tops them all, and he lords it over, not only "all the nations," but even over all the angels, for "his glory is above the heavens," and all who dwell therein."

Oratio

Lord help us to serve you in fear, to cultivate respectful humility always, that our prayers may be worthy and ascend to you.

Through your son you have sent down that ladder of humility, that we might climb out of the chasm and be transformed in you, and so arrive at that heavenly exaltation you have promised.

How wonderful you are Lord, above all the earth.

Contemplatio

Who is like God, in his divinity so high above us?  And yet he is not in fact a distant God, but one who cares: and cares not for the great, but the humble and lowly!

In Christ he humbled himself, in Christ he shares with us a nature, and infuses our humanity with his divinity, lifting all humanity up to him.

The Psalm so far

1 Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
2 Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
3 A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini.
4 Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, et super cælos gloria ejus. 
5 Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat



You can find the next set of notes on this Psalm here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Psalm 112 verses 2-3: the holy names of God



Continuing this series on Psalm 112, today a look at two verses that focus on the never-ending song of praise of the name of God:

2 Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth now and for ever. 

3 A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini. 
3 From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.

 Lectio

I've moved these verses around out of order in the discussion below, in order to show more clearly the linkage in ideas between them. 

First the injunctions and instruction given to us concerning the name of the Lord, revealed to us in Jesus Christ:

laudate (praise) nomen (the name) Domini (of the Lord)

Sit (let it be) nomen (the name) Domini (of the Lord) benedictum (blessed)
...laudabile (praiseworthy) nomen (the name) Domini (of the Lord)

nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,
laudabilis -e praiseworthy, commendable, estimable, laudable,

ex (from) hoc (this) nunc (now) et (and) usque (henceforward) in sæculum (forever)
...A (from) solis (of the sun) ortu (rising) usque (until) ad (to) occasum (the setting)

The second group of phrases remind us that the duty of worship of God is eternal: it is the work of heaven.  But it is also our task here and now: our daily round of praise has particular high points in the created world, recognised by the Church in the 'hinges' of the Office, namely dawn (Lauds) and the setting of the sun (Vespers), that remind us that all creation resounds with the praise of God, it is our duty to join in it.

ortus, us, m. ,, a rising of the heavenly bodies;  the east. From the rising of the sun unto its setting.
sol, solis, m., the sun.
occasus, us, m. prop., the going down or setting of the sun, stars, etc; the quarter of the heavens in which the sun sets: the west, sunset.

Meditatio

Why do we praise the name of God? 

The catechism instructs: "Among all the words of Revelation, there is one which is unique: the revealed name of God. God confides his name to those who believe in him; he reveals himself to them in his personal mystery. The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy. "The Lord's name is holy." For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it."

Oratio

How wonderful your name in all the earth, O Lord, how great a power to defend us.

To the people of old your name was ever hidden from view, symbol of the separation of man from heaven.

But for us you have opened the door by taking on our flesh, and taking on a human form and name.  You invite us to call you friend and brother; to call God Father.

How wonderful your name in all the universe O Lord, the name that by confessing we are saved.

Contemplatio

How fitting it is that we praise the name of God from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof each Sunday when we celebrate the Resurrection.

The psalm so far

1 Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
2 Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
3 A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini. 



You can find the next post in this series of notes on Psalm 112 here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Psalm 112 verse 1: Reject the quest for an 'adult' faith!


In the last post I provided a general introduction to Psalm 112.  Now some lectio divina notes on the first verse.

We often hear, these days, about the need to develop an 'adult' faith.  Too often it is code for rejecting the teaching of the Church in favour of our own desires.

Scripture, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the need to cultivate a child-like attitude of trust, as the first verse of Psalm 112 suggests:

Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
Praise the Lord, you children: praise the name of the Lord.

Lectio

Laudate (Praise, imperative), pueri (O children/servants (vocative), Dominum (the Lord)

The allusion to children here is interpreted by the Fathers as reflecting the Gospel injunction (and numerous Old Testament allusions) to the need to be childlike in our openness to the faith: Christ, after all, instructs us to pray to God as 'Our Father'.  It is an injunction to cultivate the purity of heart necessary for worship.

It is true, of coures, that in both Greek and Latin the same word can be used to mean both 'servants' and 'children'.  Yet given the line of continuity in the patristic commentaries, as well as the Our Lord's own emphasis on cultivating a childlike faith, the change of the Latin in the Neo-Vulgate to servi seems a poor choice.

laudo, avi, atum, are  to praise, glorify, to boast, glory, rejoice.
puer, eri, m. lit., a boy, child; a servant.

 Meditatio

What does a childlike faith entail?

The Fathers variously suggest purity and piety as key components of this state.  But there are other dimensions we need to consider.  First, St Augustine teaches that it lies not in the rejection of an adult understanding of the faith, but rather in the rejection of pride:

"For it is pride that, presuming in false greatness, suffers not man to walk along the narrow path, and to enter by the narrow gate; but the child easily enters through the narrow entrance; and thus no man, save as a child, enters into the kingdom of heaven."


St Robert Bellarmine adds the duty of obedience to the mix, providing a helpful reconciliation of the two possible meanings of pueri, suggesting that the key duty of both children and servants is to obey the will of God:

"Children, here, represent the servants of the Lord who worship him in all sincerity. That is clear from the Hebrew for children. Children and servants, however, are so clearly allied that the term may be applied indiscriminately to both, for ser­vants should be as obedient to their masters as children are to their parents. Hence, St. Paul says, "As long as the heir is a child he differeth nothing from a servant." We are, therefore, reminded by the term "children," that we should be the pure and simple servants of God, and be directed by his will, with­out raising any question whatever about it. "Praise the Lord, ye children; praise ye the name of the Lord." Let it be your principal study, all you who claim to be servants of God, to reflect with a pure mind on the greatness of your Lord, and with all the affections of your heart to praise his infinite name. A similar exhortation is to be found in Psalm 133, "Behold now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord;" and in Psalm 134, "Praise ye the name of the Lord: O you his ser­vants, praise the Lord."

Oratio

Teach us Lord to do your will.

To obey your commandments, and accept and do all that your holy Church teaches and instructs us to.

To take up the tasks you have given us at this moment and always to advance your kingdom.

Contemplatio

Cassiodorus' commentary reminds us of the fundamental dignity of the child that commends this childlike state to us:

"The label children is known to be applied to the simplest and purest, for the Lord himself is called a Child, as in the passage: Unto us a child is born. Clearly this period of life was chosen by the Lord for its innocence, for He says to His disciples: Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."



You can find the next part in this set of notes on Psalm 112 here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The psalms of Sunday Vespers; Psalm 112



Quite a while back I started a series on the psalms of Sunday Vespers, which I interrupted for Lent.

Today I want to resume that series, with a look at the final psalm for Sunday Vespers in the Benedictine Office, Psalm 112.

You can find the previous posts in this series as follows:
The text of the psalm

Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
A solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini.
Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus, et super cælos gloria ejus.
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat, et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra?
Suscitans a terra inopem, et de stercore erigens pauperem:
ut collocet eum cum principibus, cum principibus populi sui.
Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo, matrem filiorum lætantem.

And a translation:

Praise the Lord, you children: praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth now and for ever.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.
The Lord is high above all nations; and his glory above the heavens.
Who is as the Lord our God, who dwells on high: And looks down on the low things in heaven and in earth?
Raising up the needy from the earth, and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill:
That he may place him with princes, with the princes of his people.

Who makes a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.

Psalm 112 in the Benedictine Psalter

The Benedictine version of Sunday Vespers is one psalm shorter than the Roman, and that is I think a very deliberate decision on St Benedict's part, for their is an important symmetry at play.

At Lauds, the first of the variable psalms is Psalm 117, the last of the Hallel Psalms, the set of psalms used at the Paschal liturgy.  And now here at Vespers the Office ends on the first of the set, Psalm 112.

How fitting for the day when, above all, we celebrate once again the Paschal mystery and the sacrifice of Christ, our Paschal lamb!

There is more to it than that though, I think, for in Psalm 117, we are told that Christ, the stone that the builders rejected', has become the cornerstone of the New Testament, the founder of the Church.

Psalm 112 brings us back to that theme very clearly, particularly in its final verse which speaks of the barren woman bearing many children, an image interpreted as referring to the Church.

Each verse of the psalm takes on new light when interpreted Christologically, and I'll look at the verses in more detail in subsequent parts of this mini-series.

First though by way of an overview, here are some comments on the psalm by Pope Benedict XVI from a General Audience he gave on it in 2005.

Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 112

"We have just heard, in its simplicity and beauty, Psalm 113[112], a true introduction into a small group of Psalms that go from 113[112] to 118[117], commonly known as the "Egyptian Hallel". It is the Alleluia, or song of praise, that exalts the liberation from Pharaoh's slavery and the joy of Israel to serve the Lord freely in the Promised Land (cf. Ps 114[113]). 

The Jewish tradition intentionally connected this series of Psalms to the Paschal liturgy. The celebration of that event, according to its historical-social and, more especially, spiritual dimensions, was perceived as a sign of liberation from the multifaceted forms of evil. Psalm 113[112] is a brief hymn that in its original Hebrew consists of only 60 or so words, all imbued with sentiments of trust, praise and joy. 

The first strophe (cf. Ps 113[112]: 1-3) praises "the name of the Lord" who, as is known, indicates in Biblical language the person of God himself, his presence, living and working in human history. Three times, with impassioned insistence, the "name of the Lord" resounds at the centre of the prayer of adoration. All being and all time - "from the rising of the sun to its setting", as the Psalmist says (v. 3) - are involved in a single action of grace. It is as if a ceaseless breath were rising from earth to heaven to praise the Lord, Creator of the universe and King of history. 

Precisely by means of this ascending movement, the Psalm leads us to the divine mystery. Indeed, the second part (cf. vv. 4-6) celebrates the Lord's transcendence, described with vertical images that go beyond the mere human horizon. It is proclaimed: the Lord is "sublime", "enthroned on high", and no one is equal; also, to look at the heavens he must "stoop", since "above the heavens is his glory" (v. 4).
The divine gaze watches over all realities, over all beings, earthly and heavenly.  However, his eyes are not arrogant and distant, like that of a cold emperor. The Lord, the Psalmist says, "stoops... to look" (v. 6). 

In this way, we pass to the last part of the Psalm (cf. vv. 7-9), which moves the attention from the heights of the heavens to our earthly horizon. The Lord attentively stoops down towards our littleness and poverty, which drives us to withdraw in fear. He looks directly, with his loving gaze and his real concern, upon the world's lowly and poor: "From the dust he lifts up the lowly, from his misery he raises the poor" (v. 7). 

God bends down, therefore, to console the needy and those who suffer; this word finds its ultimate wealth, its ultimate meaning in the moment in which God bends over to the point of bending down, of becoming one of us, one of the world's poor. He bestows the greatest honour on the poor, that of sitting "in the company of princes, yes, with the princes of his people" (v. 8). 

To the abandoned and childless woman, humiliated by ancient society as if she were a worthless, dead branch, God gives the honour and the immense joy of many children (cf. v. 9). And so, the Psalmist praises a God who is very different from us in his grandeur, but at the same time very close to his suffering creatures. 

It is easy to draw from these final verses of Psalm 113[112] the prefiguration of the words of Mary in the Magnificat, the Canticle of God's chosen one, who "looked with favour on his lowly servant". More radically than our Psalm, Mary proclaims that God "casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly" (cf. Lk 1: 48, 52; Ps 113 [112]: 6-8). 

A very ancient "Hymn of Vespers", preserved in the so-called Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 48), takes up once more and develops the joyful introduction to our Psalm. We recall it here, at the end of our reflection, to highlight the customary "Christian" re-reading of the Psalms done by the early community: "Praise the Lord, O children, praise the name of the Lord. We worship you, we sing to you, we praise you for your immense glory. Lord King, Father of Christ, spotless Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. To you all praise, to you our song, to you the glory, to God the Father through the Son in the Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen" (S. Pricoco M. Simonetti, La preghiera dei cristiani, Milan, 2000, p. 97)." 




You can find lectio divina notes for each verse in a series starting here.