Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL - EXPOSITION OF THE PSALMS OF THE LITTLE OFFICE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
We continue our examination of the five vesperal psalms and antiphons in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (English texts are taken from the Douai-Rheims Challoner version).
The fifth psalm of Vespers in the Little Office is Psalm 147: Lauda Jerusalem Dominum, “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem.” This psalm shares a great deal in common with Psalm 121, which we examined two weeks ago. The psalmist’s celebration of Jerusalem’s prosperity, as well as the unique election of Israel as the recipient of divine revelation are two of its main themes.
Like the Israelites of old, we rightly rejoice in the temporal gifts God has given: “For He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates: He hath blessed thy children within thee” (v. 13). We also marvel at how God upholds creation by the word of his mouth: “He sendeth forth His commandment on the earth: His word runneth very swiftly” (v. 15). At the same time, as we have seen in our previous columns, we must interpret this psalm even further in light of Christ and the Church. Thus, we understand Jerusalem here as the image both of the heavenly Jerusalem, that is, the Church Triumphant, as well as the Church Militant on earth, according to the interpretation of St. Robert Bellarmine (among others). Both possess the fullness of God’s gifts for mankind, albeit in differing respects.
Bellarmine stresses the fullness of the heavenly Jerusalem in his interpretation of this psalm, rather than the fullness of the Church Militant in her means of grace. Thus, when we pray this psalm, we are making an act of hope, because we desire and expect the fullness of God’s glory and beauty in heaven. In heaven, we will no longer need the means of grace the Church provides for us here, for we shall possess the vision of God Himself forever.
I would suggest, however, (not as a means of disagreeing with Bellarmine, but simply as a means of expanding the focus of our exegesis) that when we praise God for His abundant blessings in this psalm, we must joyfully affirm the abundance of the means of grace in the Church, even if she does not yet experience the fullness of the heavenly Jerusalem (Bellarmine’s main point). I suggest this, because so many contemporary attacks against the Church ultimately serve to diminish peoples’ appreciation for the means of grace which She alone provides. When we pray this psalm, therefore, we may celebrate the great privilege of having access to everything Christ revealed and provided for our redemption and sanctification in this life. Thus, we give thanks for the “fatness of corn,” which is the abundant provision of the Eucharist (v. 14; cf. Jn. 6; Chrysostom, Bellarmine).
Since we recognize in this psalm how privileged we are as members of the Church, we also discern a call to evangelization: “He maketh known His word unto Jacob: His statutes and ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: neither hath He shewed them His judgments” (vv. 19-20). The psalmist offers a strong counter to the religious indifferentism that often threatened His peoples’ faith (we need to hear this message, too). Our Lord is the fullness of divine revelation (Heb. 1:1-2), and He commands us to make Him known (Mt. 28:19-20).
The final Marian antiphon in the Little Office which accompanies this psalm is not drawn from the Song of Songs, like the previous four antiphons: “Thou art become beautiful and sweet in thy delights, O holy Mother of God.” This expresses simply and beautifully a recurring truth: “Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 507, 796, 967). As we cultivate our prayer life, we do well to taste something of the sweetness of Mary, as many Marian authors teach us, such as St. Louis de Montfort. May we experience the grace of her motherly care in her Son’s beloved Church!(David Allen)
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.