Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Feast of St Benedict: Psalm 118 Samech Pt 1

Today being the Feast of St Benedict (only a memorial only in Roman EF calendar due to Lent, but a Solemnity in the Benedictine calendar), I want to focus in on just one verse of today's stanza of Psalm 118, namely verse 116, which is the centrepiece of the Benedictine profession ceremony:

Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea.

The Douay-Rheims translates the verse as ‘Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live, and let me not be confounded in my expectation’. Most Benedictine translations of the Rule, however, make it ‘Receive me O Lord and I shall live’, and that reflects a long exegetical tradition.

Benedictine monastic profession ceremony

In the context of the Benedictine monastic profession ceremony, the verse is generally interpreted as a plea for God to accept the monk or nuns sacrifice, in the form of the renunciation of the world, and to give them the grace to persevere.

But it is applicable to all of us, for, unless we are called to be martyrs, only religious offer themselves as a total holocaust to the Lord.  But we are all, as Christians, called to offer ourselves to him, and all need his grace to persevere, in our own proper vocation.

In the Rule of St Benedict, the profession ceremony involves the monk making his vows of ‘stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience’. He then places a document setting out this promise on the altar.

The Rule continues:

“…and when he has placed it there, let the novice at once intone this verse: "Receive me, O Lord, according to Your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope" (Ps. 118[119]:116). Let the whole community answer this verse three times and add the "Glory be to the Father." Then let the novice prostrate himself at each one's feet, that they may pray for him. And from that day forward let him be counted as one of the community.”

The Monastic Profession ceremony is often regarded as a kind of second baptism.  Regardless, one can perhaps see this verse as referring back to the reference to the oath sworn in the previous stanza, that firm commitment to do God’s will that we are all bound to by our baptism.

Doing anything under formal vow, however, elevates it to a more perfect offering (with consequent more serious consequences for breaking it), and thus makes it a referent point for us all in our daily struggles to stay on the path.

Accept and protect me

The Latin ‘Súscipe me’ is in fact rather ambiguous – it can mean either to receive/accept me or uphold/protect me.  So is this a prayer for divine support or for divine acceptance?  In fact it can be interpreted as both, and we should take both meanings to heart.

St Alphonsus Liguori paraphrases the verse as:

“O Lord, take me under Thy protection, as Thou hast promised, that I may live to Thee; do not, I beseech Thee, permit me to fall into the confusion of being deprived of the help that I expect from Thee”.

But it can also mean on one side, to voluntarily take up or accept an obligation as a favour; and, on the other, to receive or accept: to take up a newborn child was to acknowledge them; or to adopt them as one’s own. Dom Delatte’s classic Commentary on the Benedictine Rule captures this double meaning in the context of the monastic profession ceremony saying:

"Grant that I may be really 'given' and really 'received,' truly received because truly given, and that both of us may be able to keep our word.”

A prayer we can all make our own, and ask St Benedict to aid us with on this his feast day.


113 Iníquos ódio hábui: et legem tuam diléxi.
I have hated the unjust: and have loved your law.

114 Adjútor et suscéptor meus es tu: * et in verbum tuum supersperávi.
You are my helper and my protector: and in your word I have greatly hoped.

115 Declináte a me, malígni: * et scrutábor mandáta Dei mei.
Depart from me, you malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God.

116 Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: * et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea.

Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

117 Adjuva me, et salvus ero: * et meditábor in justificatiónibus tuis semper.
Help me, and I shall be saved: and I will meditate always on your justifications.

118 Sprevísti omnes discedéntes a judíciis tuis: * quia injústa cogitátio eórum.
You have despised all them that fall off from your judgments; for their thought is unjust.

119 Prævaricántes reputávi omnes peccatóres terræ: * ídeo diléxi testimónia tua.
I have accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators: therefore have I loved your testimonies.

120 Confíge timóre tuo carnes meas: * a judíciis enim tuis tímui.
Pierce my flesh with your fear: for I am afraid of your judgments.

1 comment:

Antonia Romanesca said...

I need to try to view this on a weekday I think,to see if I can get a clear viewing. Isn't the singing marvelous in quality, considering its what most would categorise as 'amateur'? Very Benedictine! I've not seen film of a Benedictine profession before - very reverent atmosphere. Grazzi for posting, Kate. A. [Benedictine Friend]