Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Caph: On feasting and fasting as we wait in hope

Today in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, the stanza caph, the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus we reach the halfway point in this exploration of the longest of the psalms. 

And that pretty much matches up with our progress through the penitential days of Lent (ie excluding Sundays), since we are now at day 19 of the notional forty days, foreshortened this year by a number of solemnities depending on where you live and what calendar you follow, viz St Patrick, St Joseph, St Benedict and the Annunciation.

In the traditional Benedictine Office, it is opens Sunday None; in the 1962 Roman it is said at Sunday Sext.

Longing for Easter

The theme of the stanza, Cassiodorus points out, is the longing of the pilgrim people for the Coming of the Messiah:

“The pilgrim people on this earth sing the eleventh letter, in which they happily confess their extreme longing for the Lord's coming. They further relate their great sufferings from the persecution of the proud. Finally they ask that by the Lord's gift they may persevere in His commandments.”

We can I think apply this to ourselves in the Lenten context as our longing for the end of Lent and the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, and our need for the aid of grace for the perseverance in our Lentan penances!

And yet most of us, I suspect, rather lack the degree of fervent longing this psalm suggests we should cultivate.  St Robert Bellamine comments on the first verse of the psalm that:

"My desire of eternal salvation has been so great, that I have nearly fainted in consequence. “And in thy word I have very much hoped;" still your promises held out great hopes to me. Thus, while the delay to one's salvation makes one faint, the hope built on promise strengthens and supports."

Fasting and feasting

Traditionally, of course, this longing would have been made more symbolically manifest during Lent by the exclusion from communion of the penitents as they undertook their penances prior to readmission to communion at Easter time. In these days when frequent communion is encouraged this older symbolism of spiritual fasting to sharpen the appetite has been lost, save perhaps for the growing number of us who practice less frequent communion for practical reasons such as allergies or intolerances!

Moreover the token nature of the Lenten fast practiced by most people these days when it comes to food and drink further dilutes the symbolism of our longing for good things being strengthened through fasting from them, that we might feast with God at the end.

We need, then,to find ways in our own spiritual practices of recovering this idea of fasting and feasting, ways of intensifying our longing for salvation to the point of the fainting for it as suggested by this stanza, intensify our pleas for God’s grace, that we might be given the strength to endure to the end.

81. Defécit in salutáre tuum ánima mea: et in verbum tuum supersperávi.
My soul has fainted after your salvation: and in your word I have very much hoped

82. Defecérunt óculi mei in elóquium tuum: * dicéntes: Quando consoláberis me?
My eyes have failed for your word, saying: When will you comfort me?

83. Quia factus sum sicut uter in pruína: * justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus.
For I have become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten your justifications.

84. Quot sunt dies servi tui? * quando fácies de persequéntibus me judícium?
How many are the days of your servant: when will you execute judgment on them that persecute me?

85 Narravérunt mihi iníqui fabulatiónes: * sed non ut lex tua
The wicked have told me fables: but not as your law.

86. Omnia mandáta tua véritas: * iníque persecúti sunt me, ádjuva me.
All your statutes are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly; help me.

87. Paulo minus consummavérunt me in terra: * ego autem non derelíqui mandáta tua.
They had almost made an end of me upon earth: but I have not forsaken your commandments.

88. Secúndum misericórdiam tuam vivífica me: * et custódiam testimónia oris tui.
Quicken me according to your mercy: and I shall keep the testimonies of your mouth.

And don't forget that as usual, you can find an extended version of this commentary, including verse by verse notes, over at my Psalm blog.

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