Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday: The reviving power of God's law (Psalm 118/1)

Remember man, that thou art dust...

I mentioned yesterday that saying (praying) and meditating on some verses from Psalm 118 each day might make a good Lenten penance.

A post a day...

What I plan to do here then, is post each day (other than Sundays and Solemnities) at least a few verses of the psalm (generally one of the eight verse stanzas), and some brief commentary on them.  I'll try and arrange it so that the notes will continue up until Holy Week. 

For those who want more detailed notes, I'll generally put up a slightly extended version of the day's post over at my psalm blog. 

For this week, I'll start by providing an overview and introduction to the psalm, but also provide a couple of verses each day that you could use for prayer purposes that relate to the more general comments.

And by way of introduction, here is the first section of  a General Audience given on the psalm late last year by Pope Benedict XVI as part of his series on praying with the psalms.

Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 118

"In today’s Catechesis I would like to reflect on Psalm 119, according to the Hebrew tradition, Psalm 118 according to the Greco-Latin one.

It is a very special Psalm, unique of its kind. This is first of all because of its length. Indeed, it is composed of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Moreover, its special feature is that it is an “acrostic in alphabetical order”, in other words it is structured in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet that consists of 22 letters. Each stanza begins with a letter of this alphabet and the first letter of the first word of each of the eight verses in the stanza begins with this letter. This is both original and indeed a demanding literary genre in which the author of the Psalm must have had to summon up all his skill.

However, what is most important for us is this Psalm’s central theme. In fact, it is an impressive, solemn canticle on the Torah of the Lord, that is, on his Law, a term which in its broadest and most comprehensive meaning should be understood as a teaching, an instruction, a rule of life. The Torah is a revelation, it is a word of God that challenges the human being and elicits his response of trusting obedience and generous love.

This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”, the Psalmist declares (v. 16), and then: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (v. 35). And further: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).

The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (v. 69).

Verses for the day

And for today, I thought it might be useful just to pull out a few verses for you to read through, particularly appropriate to the themes of Ash Wednesday:

1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2. Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
25. My soul clung to the dust: revive me according to your word.
28. Put away from me the ways of iniquity: and from your law have mercy on me.
174. I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation
176. I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

And some music named for the last verse to meditate by:

For those who want to dig  a little deeper, this post, together with some additional material, can be found over at Psallam Domino blog.

1 comment:

Antonia Romanesca said...

I am sad that at Mass last Sunday, at the oldest church in our diocese, it was not even mentioned that Ash Wednesday was coming up this week and what time the ceremony was to be, at this particular church. That sort of thing really does leave you feeling a bit flat! Thanks for all these great materials, Kate.