Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Zayin/2 - Sing to the Lord!

Yesterday I started talking about the stanza of Psalm 118 starting with the Hebrew letter zayin; today I want to focus in on a particular verse of that stanza, namely verse 54:

54 Cantabiles mihi erant justificationes tuæ in loco peregrinationis meæ.
Your justifications were the subject of my song, in the place of my pilgrimage.

Both phrases of this verse are important: the first because it reminds us of the importance of song as prayer; the second because it reminds us once again that this life is but fleeting.

Singing God’s praises

Many of the psalms contain references to them being sung; indeed many of the psalm titles contain what seem to be (now incomprehensible) instructions as to just how they should be sung.

The image of the pilgrimage put before us here reinforces the idea of the first phrase that the best way of internalizing God’s law, his will for us, is to sing!

The Church has long since developed its own approach to this, in the form of the Gregorian Chant proper to the Mass and Office. As Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium stated:

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” (116)

It is one of those instructions of Vatican II that is pretty much totally ignored these days!

Why sing

There are many reasons we should consider singing the psalms rather than just saying them.   Here are a few.

First they were composed as songs, and I think convey more if they are sung. So if you are using this psalm as a Lenten penance, can I urge you to consider chanting the day’s verses rather than just reading them. You can sing it on just one note if necessary, or use a simple psalm tone if you are familiar with them. Try it and see the impact!

Secondly, singing helps make us more joyful in our prayer. Cassiodorus comments that:

 “The phrase, fit for my song, suggests psalm-singing to be conducted with great delight. As Paul has it: Singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord. Singing always lightens labours, and does not allow weariness to creep into the mind consoled by the great sweetness of contemplation.”

Thirdly, the chant settings of the psalms found in the antiphons of the Office, the Mass propers and so forth provide us with an authentic interpretation of those verses, helping us to read them in the light of the tradition. Even if you aren’t familiar with the Latin, listening to the settings, will, I think, convey some of that context, helping us penetrate the meaning of the verses. So I would encourage you to listen to the recordings I’m providing along with each days notes!

Here is the full stanza again, with a setting of the first two verses used in the Communio for Passion Thursday as well as the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.


49 Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo, in quo mihi spem dedisti.
Be mindful of your word to your servant, in which you have given me hope.

50 Hæc me consolata est in humilitate mea, quia eloquium tuum vivificavit me.
This has comforted me in my humiliation: because your word has enlivened me.

51 Superbi inique agebant usquequaque; a lege autem tua non declinavi.
The proud did iniquitously altogether: but I declined not from your law.

52 Memor fui judiciorum tuorum a sæculo, Domine, et consolatus sum.
I remembered, O Lord, your judgments of old: and I was comforted.

53 Defectio tenuit me, pro peccatoribus derelinquentibus legem tuam.
A fainting has taken hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake your law.

54 Cantabiles mihi erant justificationes tuæ in loco peregrinationis meæ.
Your justifications were the subject of my song, in the place of my pilgrimage.

55 Memor fui nocte nominis tui, Domine, et custodivi legem tuam.
In the night I have remembered your name, O Lord: and have kept your law.

56 Hæc facta est mihi, quia justificationes tuas exquisivi.
This happened to me: because I sought after your justifications.

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