27 January 2020

Getting Soaked on Bible

I remarked yesterday that we all need to become better Jews ... and as I wrote that, I thought of a common worry among clergy and devout laity seeking direction ... "I fall asleep while I'm saying the Office ... I get to the end of a psalm and I can't remember a word in it ..."

Perhaps I ought to waggle an admonitory finger and emphasise the importance of every word in every psalm. But perhaps, on the other hand, I ought not.

I think what really matters is letting those often-repeated words sink in; making them part of my being; giving them a vivid life in my subconscious as well as in my conscious.

S Augustine made the point that in the psalms we may address the Lord; he may pray in us and with us and for us. But as well as such profound things, there is the quintessential Jewish mind-set. I mean, the sometimes slightly querulous insistence on my own adherence to the Law combined with a nervous admission that I sometimes have not been terribly adherent. The essence of Covenant is God's faithfulness even when I am unfaithful, and the appropriation of this truth both by the community and by the individual. Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo (Ps 88/89) was a favourite phrase among late medieval clerics, coming as the psalmus in the Introit of the Mass of the Five Wounds. Perhaps alone among the clergy, I love all those 'long' psalms in which we make our way through Israelite History, enumerating the 'Mercies' of the LORD.

I do, however, think it unfortunate that English translations from Coverdale onwards begin with 'I' or 'My', pushing forward human agency, while the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin begin with the Mercies. "The Mercies of the LORD for ever shall be my song" ... would that really be so incomprehensible? Incidentally, the Bea psalter, that great symbol of all that is wrong in the concept of' 'reform' which started up under Pius XII, renders the Chesedim as 'Gratias'. Plura non dicam.

Misericordias Domini ... remember that DOMINUS in the psalms nearly always stands for the unutterable Tetragrammaton; the Name revealed to Moses; the Name which was accessed in the Temple. "Our help is in the Name of the LORD ..." ... this is no meaningless catchphrase. It lifts us up into that People as they travelled and repented and fled through the Sea and entered the Land flowing with milk and honey. It takes us back to Moses as he stood by a burning bush ... which was a typos of our Lady. And to the People as they made Hag to the Temple, a typos of our Redeemer Himself.

I sometimes think that we should have a custom of bowing the head at the Name LORD. I am glad that, at least when offering Sacrifice, I am directed to bow my head at Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro; "Let us make berakoth to YHWH our God"


Todd said...

You're on a roll. Excellent and very edifying.

John said...

Msgr Knox seems to have had something like your translation principle in mind:

"Here is a song to put the Lord’s mercies on record for ever; ages will pass, and still these words of mine shall proclaim thy faithfulness."

For me, at least, that would take some getting used to. I think I like your version better.