Friday, 22 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/9 - Psalm 75



Today's psalm, Psalm 75 (76), continues the of God's intervention in history, and the coming warfare of the Cross.

Psalm 75 actually gets two runs in Tenebrae: on Maundy Thursday, and again in the third Nocturn for Holy Saturday.

The Old Testament historical context it suggested its title is the victory over the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib described in 2 Kings 19: 35 and Isaiah 37:36. The language of fear and awe is an appropriate reaction to the scene described there:

“And it came to pass that night, that an angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead.”

Both Isaiah and this psalm imply that the attack of Sennacherib foreshadows the dawning of the Messianic era, reminding us of God’s stupendous power: Tu terríbilis es, et quis resístet tibi? ex tunc ira tua’, or You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath (verse 8).

The accompanying antiphon for Maundy Thursday encourages us to particularly think of the earthquake that at the moment of Our Lord’s death, rending the temple veil in two, with the verse 'De caelo auditum fecisti judicium: terra tremuit et quievit (From heaven you have pronounced your judgment: the earth trembled and was still).

Despite God's 'anger' as exprssed in the psalm, we are reminded that Christ died on the cross for a reason, namely ‘to save all the meek of the earth’ (v9).  No doubt for that reason, the antiphon for Holy Saturday picks up a contrasting verse: 'his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion'.

In the light of this, the opening references to God being known in Judaea, and in the Temple in (Jeru)salem, in verses 1-2, have a layer of irony attached to them: when the people denied God the Son, the veil of the Temple was pierced, the earth trembled, and the true Judaea, where God is really known, became the Church.  His abode became Hades for a time, until Jerusalem is transfigured into the heavenly Jerusalem, from which judgment comes, causing the earth to fear and stand still.

This psalm is a fierce reminder of God’s justice, power and might before which we should tremble.

No wonder then that it ends in a call to persevere in our vows and offerings.

Psalm 75

Notus in Judæa Deus; in Israël magnum nomen ejus.
Et factus est in pace locus ejus, et habitatio ejus in Sion.
Ibi confregit potentias arcuum, scutum, gladium, et bellum.
Illuminans tu mirabiliter a montibus æternis;  turbati sunt omnes insipientes corde.
Dormierunt somnum suum, et nihil invenerunt omnes viri divitiarum in manibus suis.
Ab increpatione tua, Deus Jacob, dormitaverunt qui ascenderunt equos.
Tu terribilis es; et quis resistet tibi? ex tunc ira tua.
De cælo auditum fecisti judicium : terra tremuit et quievit cum exsurgeret in judicium Deus, ut salvos faceret omnes mansuetos terræ.
Quoniam cogitatio hominis confitebitur tibi, et reliquiæ cogitationis diem festum agent tibi.
Vovete et reddite Domino Deo vestro, omnes qui in circuitu ejus affertis munera:
terribili, et ei qui aufert spiritum principum : terribili apud reges terræ.

In Judea God is known: his name is great in Israel.
And his place is in peace: and his abode in Sion:
There has he broken the powers of bows, the shield, the sword, and the battle.
You enlighten wonderfully from the everlasting hills. All the foolish of heart were troubled.
They have slept their sleep; and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered that mounted on horseback.
You are terrible, and who shall resist you? From that time your wrath.
You have caused judgment to be heard from heaven: the earth trembled and was still,
when God arose in judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.
For the thought of man shall give praise to you: and the remainders of the thought shall keep holiday to you.
Vow and pay to the Lord your God: all you that are round about him bring presents.
To him that is terrible, even to him who takes away the spirit of princes: to the terrible with the kings of the earth.



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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