Tuesday, 20 March 2012

On being a light to the world: Psalm 118 (119) Nun

Today we resume this Lenten series on Psalm 118 with a look at the fourteenth stanza of Psalm 118, Nun, which in the traditional Benedictine Office marks the start of Monday Terce. In the Roman Office it is said at Sunday Sext, and in the Liturgy of the Hours at Vespers.

Christ our light

Today’s section of the psalm starts with an image that was a favourite of the Fathers, and can be seen both as a reference to the Decalogue and the Incarnation alike:

Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, et lumen semitis meis.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.

Pope John Paul II commented on this verse that:

"Man ventures on life's often dark journey, but all of a sudden the darkness is dispelled by the splendour of the Word of God. Psalm 19[18] compares the Law of God to the sun, when it says that "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (19[18]: 9). Then in the Book of Proverbs it is reasserted that "the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light" (6: 23). Christ was also to present himself as a definitive revelation with exactly the same image: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8: 12)."

On being a lamp to the world

The verse is one we can apply to ourselves too, as Caesarius of Arles pointed out:

If we notice carefully, we will realize that what our Lord said to the blessed apostles also refers to us:
"You are the light of the world," he says, "and no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel but on the lampstand, so as to give light to all in the house."

He goes on to suggest that we all, but most especially priests, have a duty to speak out:

Now, if the head's bodily eyes refuse to show the way to the rest of the members, the whole body walks in darkness. Similarly, if priests, who seem to have the function of eyes in the body of Christ the head, have been put on a lampstand in the church but are unwilling to shine in God's house and have ceased to show the light of doctrine to the whole church, it is to be feared that some of the people may become involved in the darkness of error and fall into some abyss of sin.

Through our baptism we are sworn

The second verse is also a crucial one to keep in mind:

Juravi et statui custodire judicia justitiæ tuæ.
I have sworn and am determined to keep the judgments of your justice.

The oath sworn here is often interpreted as our baptismal promises which, if made on our behalf as infants, we must take upon ourselves as adults and keep with the help of grace in order not to be foresworn.  To do so, Cassiodorus tells us is to walk the path of saints:

"Their sacred devotion had enjoined upon themselves the decision to keep the Lord's judgments in each and every danger. The very word denotes its purpose, for iurare (swear) is iure orare, in other words, to plead what is right, so that one may not go astray and seek to renege on one's promise. This is how the saints swear, in other words, make firm decisions, for they have already been strengthened by the Lord's gift."

In fact this whole stanza then becomes a summary of the Christian life.

Drawn by the light of Christ (v105) we are bound to him by the promises of our baptism (v106) and our free commitment to the heritage he has gained for us and offered to us (v111).

We fall into sin, but through confession of our fault are revived (v107).

We struggle constantly with ourselves (v109) and the traps set by the devil (v 110).

We offer our sacrifices of praise (v108), and carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (v110).

And in doing all this, we hope always for the joy of heaven at the end (v 112).


105 Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, et lumen semitis meis.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.

106 Juravi et statui custodire judicia justitiæ tuæ.
I have sworn and am determined to keep the judgments of your justice.

107 Humiliatus sum usquequaque, Domine; vivifica me secundum verbum tuum.
I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly: quicken me according to your word.

108 Voluntaria oris mei beneplacita fac, Domine, et judicia tua doce me.
The free offerings of my mouth make acceptable, O Lord: and teach me your judgments.

109 Anima mea in manibus meis semper, et legem tuam non sum oblitus.
My soul is continually in my hands: and I have not forgotten your law.

110 Posuerunt peccatores laqueum mihi, et de mandatis tuis non erravi.
Sinners have laid a snare for me: but I have not erred from your precepts.

111 Hæreditate acquisivi testimonia tua in æternum, quia exsultatio cordis mei sunt.
I have purchased your testimonies for an inheritance for ever: because they are the joy of my heart.

112 Inclinavi cor meum ad faciendas justificationes tuas in æternum, propter retributionem.
I have inclined my heart to do your justifications for ever, for the reward.

1 comment:

Antonia Romanesca said...

Loved that. Grazzi, Kate!