Thursday, 14 March 2013

Tenebrae Psalms/26 - Canticle of Habacuc

The fig tree will not blossom

Today a brief look at the Lauds canticle - a 'psalm' from the Book of Habacuc, or Habakkuk.

Declaring the mystery of Christ's Passion

Habakkuk is one of the twelve 'minor prophets', but almost nothing is known about him save what can be inferred from his book, which was probably composed around 597-625 BC, when the neo-Babylonian empire was expanding and was poised to attack Jerusalem.

In the first chapter of his book, the prophet complains to God about the unjustness of Israel’s oppression, but is told that the Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) are a weapon God has chosen to use to purify his people.  The second chapter is a vision of God’s judgment on the wicked, with the proclamation of five curses on the oppressors.  The final chapter, the canticle, culminates in the revelation of the glory and victory of God, who saves the just man.

Christian interpreters naturally read the prophecy and the canticle, though, in the light of Christ, as a proclamation of the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion.  Hrabanus Maurus (780-856), for example sees it as:

“…belonging to the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of which the heavens declare the mysteries, and are also sung in the Church, so it is made known to all, in which way the sixth day, in which the first man is established anew, the human race is restored to life everlasting through Christ.”

What the prophet is hearing of, in verse 1, in this interpretation, is Christ’s Passion on the Cross.  The horns in verse 6, then are the nails of the cross; the reference to ‘his hidden strength’ that follows points to our salvation; the comment that death goes before him to his conquest of sheol; and the earth standing still (v.8) is another reference to the earthquake at the moment of Our Lord’s death.  As St Augustine comments: “What is there stronger than that hand which conquered the world, not armed, but transfixed with iron.” St Augustine also suggests that the reference to God remembering his mercy in the midst of his anger is reflected in Christ’s plea to the Father that those who crucified him be forgiven, for they know not what they do.

The repeated references in the canticle to ‘in the midst of years’ point to the idea that God intervenes in history, as Pope John Paul II’s catechesis on this canticle pointed out:

“For the sacred author, the Lord's entry into the world has a precise meaning. He wills to enter into human history "in the course of the years" as repeated twice in verse 2, to judge and make its affairs better which we conduct in such a confused and at times perverse way… Then God shows his indignation (cf. v.2c) against evil. And the hymn mentions a series of inexorable divine interventions, but without specifying if these are direct or indirect actions.

Verses 9-18 recall God’s past interventions, recorded in the book of Exodus and Judges.  In verse 19, Christ’s incarnation is reiterated – and then we are presented at a series of images of God’s anger at the death of his son, and the consequences for the earth in the lands barren of crops and flocks, are a reminder that God is not indifferent to what we do, far from it!  The canticle ends though, on a high note, with the speaker rejoicing at the saving grace that enables us to reach heaven.

Canticle of Habacuc

Domine, audivi auditionem tuam, et timui.
Domine, opus tuum, in medio annorum vivifica illud;
in medio annorum notum facies : cum iratus fueris, misericordiæ recordaberis.
Deus ab austro veniet, et Sanctus de monte Pharan :
operuit cælos gloria ejus, et laudis ejus plena est terra.
Splendor ejus ut lux erit, cornua in manibus ejus :
ibi abscondita est fortitudo ejus. Ante faciem ejus ibit mors,
et egredietur diabolus ante pedes ejus. Stetit, et mensus est terram;
aspexit, et dissolvit gentes, et contriti sunt montes sæculi :
incurvati sunt colles mundi ab itineribus æternitatis ejus.
Pro iniquitate vidi tentoria Æthiopiæ; turbabuntur pelles terræ Madian.
Numquid in fluminibus iratus es, Domine? aut in fluminibus furor tuus? vel in mari indignatio tua?
Qui ascendes super equos tuos, et quadrigæ tuæ salvatio.
Suscitans suscitabis arcum tuum, juramenta tribubus quæ locutus es;
fluvios scindes terræ. Viderunt te, et doluerunt montes; gurges aquarum transiit :
dedit abyssus vocem suam; altitudo manus suas levavit.
Sol et luna steterunt in habitaculo suo: in luce sagittarum tuarum ibunt, in splendore fulgurantis hastæ tuæ.
In fremitu conculcabis terram; in furore obstupefacies gentes.
Egressus es in salutem populi tui, in salutem cum christo tuo : percussisti caput de domo impii, denudasti fundamentum ejus usque ad collum.
Maledixisti sceptris ejus, capiti bellatorum ejus, venientibus ut turbo ad dispergendum me :
exsultatio eorum, sicut ejus qui devorat pauperem in abscondito.
Viam fecisti in mari equis tuis, in luto aquarum multarum.
Audivi, et conturbatus est venter meus; a voce contremuerunt labia mea.
Ingrediatur putredo in ossibus meis, et subter me scateat :
ut requiescam in die tribulationis, ut ascendam ad populum accinctum nostrum.
Ficus enim non florebit, et non erit germen in vineis;
mentietur opus olivæ, et arva non afferent cibum :
abscindetur de ovili pecus, et non erit armentum in præsepibus.
Ego autem in Domino gaudebo; et exsultabo in Deo Jesu meo.
Deus Dominus fortitudo mea, et ponet pedes meos quasi cervorum :
et super excelsa mea deducet me victor in psalmis canentem.

And the English:

O Lord, I have heard your hearing, and was afraid. 
O Lord, your work, in the midst of the years bring it to life: 
In the midst of the years you shall make it known: when you are angry, you will remember mercy.
God will come from the south, and the holy one from mount Pharan: 
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth is full of his praise. 
His brightness shall be as the light: horns are in his hands: 
There is his strength hid: Death shall go before his face. 
And the devil shall go forth before his feet. He stood and measured the earth. 
He beheld, and melted the nations: and the ancient mountains were crushed to pieces. 
The hills of the world were bowed down by the journeys of his eternity. 
I saw the tents of Ethiopia for their iniquity, the curtains of the land of Madian shall be troubled.
Were you angry, O Lord, with the rivers? Or was your wrath upon the rivers? Or your indignation in the sea? 
Who will ride upon your horses: and your chariots are salvation. 
You will surely take up your bow: according to the oaths which you have spoken to the tribes. 
You will divide the rivers of the earth. The mountains saw you, and were grieved: the great body of waters passed away. 
The deep put forth its voice: the deep lifted up its hands. 
The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation, in the light of your arrows, they shall go in the brightness of your glittering spear. 
In your anger you will tread the earth under foot: in your wrath you will astonish the nations. 
You went forth for the salvation of your people: for salvation with your Christ. 
You struck the head of the house of the wicked: you have laid bare his foundation even to the neck. 
You have cursed his sceptres, the head of his warriors, them that came out as a whirlwind to scatter me. 
Their joy was like that of him that devours the poor man in secret. 
You made a way in the sea for your horses, in the mud of many waters. 
I have heard and my bowels were troubled: my lips trembled at the voice. 
Let rottenness enter into my bones, and swarm under me. 
That I may rest in the day of tribulation: that I may go up to our people that are girded. 
For the fig tree shall not blossom: and there shall be no spring in the vines. 
The labour of the olive tree shall fail: and the fields shall yield no food: 
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls. 
But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus. 
The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: 
and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.

Tenebrae of Good Friday

Nocturn I: Psalms 2, 21, 26
Nocturn II: Psalms 37, 39, 53*
Nocturn III: Psalms 58, 87*, 93
Lauds: 50*, 142, 84, [Hab], 147

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