Thursday, 21 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/8 - Psalm 74: Fear judgment


Today's psalm, Psalm 74 (75), marks the start of the third Nocturn of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday, and though we are still dealing with the prayer in the Garden, the focus broadens somewhat.

In this Nocturn, rather than just focusing on Judas' betrayal, we are invited also to contemplate the plotting of the Jewish authorities, and the rejection of Christ by the people of Jerusalem.

And there is a clear message for those within God's Church who plot for its downfall: each of these three psalms points to the weight of God's anger that will fall upon the guilty: this is the God who causes rockfalls, earthquakes, lightening; the God who parted the waters of the Red Sea, and we should fear his wrath.  Above all though, these three psalms give us reasons for perseverance and endurance in times of difficulty.

The bitter cup

Psalm 74 is particularly appropriate as a prayer of the Garden, for in the central verses at least, it is clear that God is speaking; offering something of a dialogue with those who persecute and reject him, and pleading once more for repentance:

"I said to the wicked: Do not act wickedly: and to the sinners: Lift not up the horn.  Lift not up your horn on high: speak not iniquity against God."

And indeed we know from the Acts of the Apostles that many did indeed repent, did indeed realise that it was against God himself they were rebelling.

Soon in this Easter story, Christ will drink the bitter cup for our salvation, so that the just may be saved.  Yet the psalm also points us towards that final time of judgment, when, 'all the sinners of the earth shall drink'  from the cup of strong wine that he pours out.  It is a warning not to fall off the right path.

Seek God through Scripture

The psalm is a reminder too, as Cassiodorus comments, that we shouldn't need the great natural signs so often used in the Old Testament to keep us on track, for God has given us all the means we need to find him:

"We have heard the words of the Lord uttered not from the heights of heaven but from the sacred writings of the Psalter. We must obey Him all the more readily as He has deigned to offer advice to us all together. When the Lord spoke to Moses, the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed, the whole of Mount Sinai smoked, and fear of death penetrated all men; the command which brings life reached mankind in a manner which made them believe that they would perish through great hazard. So see how we must continually marvel at the kindnesses of the Lord Saviour if only we can understand them, for we carry His words every day in our hands. The Lord's wishes are revealed to us enclosed in the divine writings; He makes them available by His bodily appearance, so that the inner eye of the heart may be schooled for our welfare. He is never silent if we have recourse to Him in His writings. He is always ready to offer a vital response, and He is never at any time found to be absent if we seek Him with pure hearts. So let us, as the psalm urges us, renounce the pride which secludes the wicked from Him, and let us love the humility which joins the saints to Him in heavenly love."

All the same, don't altogether discount the possibility that those fires, earthquakes, floods or cyclones were indeed a sign!

Psalm 74

Confitébimur tibi, Deus: *  confitébimur, et invocábimus nomen tuum
Narrábimus mirabília tua: * cum accépero tempus, ego justítias judicábo.
Liquefácta est terra, et omnes qui hábitant in ea: * ego confirmávi colúmnas ejus.
Dixi iníquis: Nolíte iníque ágere: * et delinquéntibus : Nolíte exaltáre cornu : 
Nolíte extóllere in altum cornu vestrum: * nolíte loqui advérsus Deum iniquitátem.
Quia neque ab Oriénte, neque ab Occidénte, neque a desértis móntibus: * quóniam Deus judex est.
 Hunc humíliat, et hunc exáltat: * quia calix in manu Dómini vini meri plenus misto.
Et inclinávit ex hoc in hoc: verúmtamen fæx ejus non est exinaníta: * bibent omnes peccatóres terræ.
Ego autem annuntiábo in sæculum: * cantábo Deo Jacob.
Et ómnia córnua peccatórum confríngam: * et exaltabúntur córnua justi.

And I normally use a version of the Douay-Rheims as the translation, but today a small taster from the excellent Ronald Knox translation, in honour of the anniversary of his birth, and the new Baronius Press edition of it.  Note that I've rearranged the verses to line up with the liturgical divisions of the text.

We praise thee, O God, and, praising thee, call upon thy name, 
tell the story of thy wondrous deeds. When the time is ripe, I will judge strictly; 
earth rocks to its fall, and all that dwell on it; I alone support its fabric.
Rebel no more, I cry to the rebels, Abate your pride, to the transgressors; 
would they match themselves against the most High, hurl defiance at God?
Look east, look west, it will avail you nothing; no help comes from the desert, or the high hills; 
it is God who rules all, humbling one man and exalting another. In the Lord’s hand foams a full cup of spiced wine; 
he holds it to men’s lips, that must empty it to the dregs, sinners everywhere must drink them. 
Evermore will I triumph, singing praises to the God of Jacob; 
mine to crush the pride of every sinner, and raise high the courage of the just.



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

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