Friday, 15 February 2013

Psalms of Tenebrae/3 - Psalm 69 (70): O God come to my aid!

Duccio di Buoninsegna

Today's psalm, the second of the First Nocturn of Matins for Maundy Thursday, is very short, and the first verse at least will be very familiar, as the prayer 'O God come to my aid, O Lord make haste to help me' is frequently used in the liturgy.  In fact it is one of those verses that can be usefully said all through the day!

Psalm 69 is actually more or less a repeat of the second half of Psalm 39 (the main difference is in the Hebrew word used for God).

In the context of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday, it is first an intensification of that prayer for deliverance from what must come.  More importantly though, it is a prayer for what is to come: for in the Resurrection, Our Lord's enemies were indeed confounded, as the verse used for the antiphon (v 3) reminds us.

In the Septuagint and Vulgate, the psalm is given the title 'Unto the end, a psalm for David, to bring to remembrance that the Lord saved him'.  The sixth century commentator Cassiodorus suggests that this is to differentiate the context for the two versions of the psalm:

"So in Psalm 39 where these words occur there is fear of future judgment and recollection of sins; but in the present passage hope of liberation and the promised trust in our future reward are maintained. To demonstrate that he remembered this, he added: That the Lord saved me, so that it could be shown that this recollection was born not of fear but of the kindness which had been received. It was fitting that, since in the previous psalm the Lord Christ had recounted His passion, and had added the hope of resurrection, so here His members should speak in similar vein after their Head, so that they might proclaim their faithful sufferings, and entertain hope of the resurrection for which they prayed."

For us today, the plea for help in the face of our enemies should serve as a reminder that Lent is a period when the spiritual warfare waged against us will tend to intensify.  We should make our own, then, the plea 'But I am needy and poor; O God, help me'.

Psalm 69

Deus, in adjutórium meum inténde : * Dómine ad adjuvándum me festína.
2  Confundántur et revereántur, * qui quærunt ánimam meam.
3  Avertántur retrórsum, et erubéscant, * qui volunt mihi mala.
4  Avertántur statim erubescéntes, * qui dicunt mihi : Euge, euge.
5  Exsúltent et læténtur in te omnes qui quærunt te, * et dicant semper : Magnificétur Dóminus : qui díligunt salutáre tuum.
6  Ego vero egénus, et pauper sum : * Deus, ádjuva me.
7  Adjútor meus, et liberátor meus es tu : * Dómine, ne moreris.

O God come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.
Let them be confounded and ashamed that seek my soul:
Let them be turned backward, and blush for shame that desire evils to me:
Let them be presently turned away blushing for shame that say to me: 'Tis well, 'tis well.
Let all that seek you rejoice and be glad in you; and let such as love your salvation say always: The Lord be magnified.
But I am needy and poor; O God, help me.
You are my helper and my deliverer: O lord, make no delay.

And here is a lovely polyphonic setting of the psalm by the Mexican Jan de Padilla

Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

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