We come today to one of the 'psalms', or Office canticles, not actually from the book of psalms, but rather from Exodus 15:1-19.
Up until now the psalms of Tenebrae have largely focused on Our Lord's prayer in the Garden, and his arrest. This canticle, though, takes us back to the Last Supper as the ninth century commentator Hrabanus Maurus tells us in his commentary on the Office canticles:
“For on Thursday justly is sung the song of the Israelites, which they sung after the pasch celebrating being freed from Egypt and conveyed through the Red Sea dry foot. For on the same day our saviour figuratively celebrating the pasch with his disciples, he offered the paschal mystery continuing in the sacrament of his body and blood and in this immolation of the lamb, who takes away the sins of the world.”
A psalm of victory
The whole canticle is actually a rather joyously upbeat hymn of victory.
But why then a victory psalm for Maundy Thursday?
We have become accustomed, I think, to dwelling, perhaps unduly, on the sufferings of Christ in considering the Triduum.
By contrast, the Fathers often tended to see the events of Easter more as the triumphant fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption to his people, foreshadowed in these Old Testament events.
The Scriptural context around this Canticle is important.
Before the Canticle, in Exodus Chapter 12-13, we read of the people of Israel celebrating that first Pasch, marking the doors of their houses with the blood of the lamb to protect them against the avenging angels who slew the first-born of Israel. Moses then leads the people out of Egypt, but the Egyptians pursue. The people are terrified, wishing that they had not followed Moses (Exodus 14) – until he miraculously parts the Red Sea to let them cross, and then lets the waters flow back drowning the pursuing Egyptians.
The people rejoice, and this canticle (and the attribution formula suggests that it was actually Miriam, sister of Aaron rather than Moses) is then sung (Chapter 15).
Yet no sooner is this song sung than Exodus records that the people are once more murmuring against Moses, this time complaining at the lack of food and water, foreshadowing perhaps those dark and desolate days of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when the Mass is not celebrated. But then in Chapter 16, the miracle of the manna in the desert, that second foreshadowing of the Eucharist, of the Resurrection, is recorded.
The Lord is a man of war
This canticle perhaps points us to consider a slightly different emphasis to our meditations on the Cross for the moment. It should remind us that the sufferings of Christ are part of the eternal battle against sin and its effects; against those whose hearts have been so hardened that they plot against God and his people.
It should be a reminder that our own sins put Christ on the Cross, and that we must war against them, led by the God who is a man of war, yet paradoxically also the Prince of Peace; and strengthened by the Paschal sacrifice he offers for us.
Cantémus Dómino: glorióse enim magnificátus est, * equum et ascensórem dejécit in mare.
Fortitúdo mea, et laus mea Dóminus, * et factus est mihi in salútem.
Iste Deus meus, et glorificábo eum: * Deus patris mei, et exaltábo eum.
Dóminus quasi vir pugnátor, Omnípotens nomen ejus. * Currus Pharaónis et exércitum ejus projécit in mare.
Elécti príncipes ejus submérsi sunt in mari Rubro: * abyssi operuérunt eos, descendérunt in profúndum quasi lapis.
Déxtera tua, Dómine, magnificáta est in fortitúdine: déxtera tua, Dómine, percússit inimícum. * Et in multitúdine glóriæ tuæ deposuísti adversários meos.
Misísti iram tuam, quæ devorávit eos sicut stípulam. * Et in spíritu furóris tui congregátæ sunt aquæ:
Stetit unda fluens, * congregátæ sunt abyssi in médio mari.
Dixit inimícus: Pérsequar et comprehéndam, * dívidam spólia, implébitur ánima mea:
Evaginábo gládium meum, * interfíciet eos manus mea.
Flavit spíritus tuus, et opéruit eos mare: * submérsi sunt quasi plumbum in aquis veheméntibus.
Quis símilis tui in fórtibus, Dómine? * quis símilis tui, magníficus in sanctitáte, terríbilis atque laudábilis, fáciens mirabília?
Extendísti manum tuam, et devorávit eos terra. * Dux fuísti in misericórdia tua pópulo quem redemísti:
Et portásti eum in fortitúdine tua, * ad habitáculum sanctum tuum.
Ascendérunt pópuli, et iráti sunt: * dolóres obtinuérunt habitatóres Philísthiim.
Tunc conturbáti sunt príncipes Edom, robústos Moab obtínuit tremor: * obriguérunt omnes habitatóres Chánaan.
Irruat super eos formído et pavor, * in magnitúdine bráchii tui:
Fiant immóbiles quasi lapis, donec pertránseat pópulus tuus, Dómine, * donec pertránseat pópulus tuus iste, quem possedísti.
Introdúces eos, et plantábis in monte hereditátis tuæ, * firmíssimo habitáculo tuo quod operátus es, Dómine.
Sanctuárium tuum, Dómine, quod firmavérunt manus tuæ. * Dóminus regnábit in ætérnum et ultra.
Ingréssus est enim eques Phárao cum cúrribus et equítibus ejus in mare: * et redúxit super eos Dóminus aquas maris:
Fílii autem Israël ambulavérunt per siccum * in médio ejus.
And the translation:
Let us sing to the Lord: for he is gloriously magnified, the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my praise, and he has become salvation to me: he is my God, and I will glorify him: the God of my father, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is his name.
Pharao's chariots and his army he has cast into the sea: his chosen captains are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them, they are sunk to the bottom like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: your right hand, O Lord, has slain the enemy.
And in the multitude of your glory you have put down your adversaries: you have sent your wrath, which has devoured them like stubble.
And with the blast of your anger the waters were gathered together: the flowing water stood, the depths were gathered together in the midst of the sea.
The enemy said: I will pursue and overtake, I will divide the spoils, my soul shall have its fill: I will draw my sword, my hand shall slay them.
Your wind blew and the sea covered them: they sunk as lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like to you, among the strong, O Lord? Who is like to you, glorious in holiness, terrible and praise-worthy, doing wonders?
You stretched forth your hand, and the earth swallowed them. In your mercy you have been a leader to the people which you have redeemed: and in your strength you have carried them to your holy habitation.
Nations rose up, and were angry: sorrows took hold on the inhabitants of Philisthiim.
Then were the princes of Edom troubled, trembling seized on the stout men of Moab: all the inhabitants of Chanaan became stiff.
Let fear and dread fall upon them, in the greatness of your arm: let them become immoveable as a stone, until your people, O Lord, pass by: until this your people pass by, which you have possessed.
You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in your most firm habitation, which you have made, O Lord;
your sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.
For Pharao went in on horseback with his chariots and horsemen into the sea: and the Lord brought back upon them the waters of the sea:
but the children of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst thereof
Tenebrae of Holy Thursday
Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146