"For the LORD is a great God: and a great King above all gods."
I am going to assume that the learned readers of this humble blog are aware that the Name of the Hebrew God was not uttered aloud in the periods with which we are concerned; that when a reader came across the Four Letters YHWH, he actually uttered the word for "Lord" ... and that this convention continued in Latin and Greek. And that, brilliantly and helpfully, Bible translations in the Anglican tradition derived from the King James Bible signify this by rendering YHWH as LORD in upper-case letters. So, in verse three of the Venite, as Neale/Littledale point out, the literal rendering [I slightly adapt] is "For YHWH is a great El, and a great King over all Elohim."
It is depressingly easy, when saying the Divine Office in Latin or English, to forget the significance of LORD, Dominus; perhaps subconsciously to assume that it is simply a stylistic variant upon "God". I find I have to make an effort ... But if we do make this incorrect assumption, we miss innumerable nuances. Because when we say "He is the LORD our God", we are saying that our God is YHWH. Not one of the other options; not one of the other gods.
And YHWH is associated with His City and with His Temple. So we often find, as in this psalm, that a reference to Him may be textually close to a reference (explicit or implicit) to His Temple. And when, as so often, there is reference to His Name, this means the Name which is associated with His People, His City, and especially His Temple.
It is an exclusive, unecumenical, term. Our God is YHWH, not one of the gods of the nations. And I feel that it would Marcionite heresy to forget this at Mass. Gratias agamus Domino, Deo nostro emphasises precisely the point of the psalmist: "Let us give thanks to YHWH because He is our God ... we have no truck with any others". And we affirm our full place in the Hebraic heritage. It is possible that, in verse 4, when we say that "the strength of the hills is His also", we are claiming for our God YHWH the 'High Places' which the fertility deities of Canaan had taken over for their cult. Neale/Littledale refer to "the overthrow of heathen temples, and the rearing of Christian shrines on the eminences of Tabor, Sinai, Athos, and many another famous hill".
Perhaps for centuries, women and men of our culture have thought of Idolatry as a happily long defeated error; a primitive folly of earlier and 'less advanced' ages. Preachers have rescued and redeployed traditional polemic against idolatry by telling us that we should not be worshipping Money or Ambition or whatever. And that is perfectly fair, even necessary.
But how very singular that in our own 'advanced' and 'sophisticated' age, the ancient idolatries in their earthiest forms have crept back among us, looking curiously like the shapes they took in the time of our ancestors, in Canaan of old. A new fashion for "the indigenous", feeding upon a new (and proper) guilt about capitalist assaults upon the rain-forests, has bred a diabolical respect for the numina of 'Amazonian' and other cults. Who, if they exist, are demons.
'Pachamama' ... or whatever ... is not the Name above all other names; it is also not an equivalent for that Name.
The second half of the Venite warns us about the dangers of falling into idolatry. This is the same warning S Paul gave his gentile converts in Romans 11: 21 and I Corinthians 10. It is the warning of all the Prophets, bound up in The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
How fitting that every priest of the Latin Rite says the Venite every day at the start of his Office.
It is God's warning for today.