Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL - EXPOSITION OF THE PSALMS OF THE LITTLE OFFICE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
As we are now offering the public celebration of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Thursday evenings prior to the 5:30 P.M. Mass, it is salutary for us to examine the content of each of its five psalms. The English texts of the psalms and their antiphons are taken from the Douai-Rheims Challoner version, as found in the Baronius Press edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The first psalm of Vespers in the Little Office is Psalm 109, famous for its memorable opening line, Dixit Dominus Domino meo, “The Lord said to my Lord.” This psalm has a prominent place in the New Testament, because it speaks boldly to Jesus’ identity as the messianic King.
In Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus interprets this psalm as a clear prophecy of Himself mysteriously surpassing David in authority and glory, while simultaneously being his genealogical descendant, his “son.” Thus, Jesus indicates the mystery of his hypostatic union, namely, that He is one divine Person who has assumed (i.e., taken and joined to Himself) a full human nature. Jesus thereby confounds His enemies who fail to acknowledge Him as their messianic Lord in the days immediately preceding His crucifixion and resurrection.
In Acts 2:29-36, in his great sermon on Pentecost morning, St. Peter argues that Jesus fulfills the meaning of Psalm 109 by His Ascension and Session at the right hand of the Father: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens;but he himself says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies a stool for your feet.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:33-36, RSV).
In Hebrews 7, St. Paul (likely the author, according to many of the Fathers) speaks eloquently about this psalm, as well, highlighting especially the importance of v. 5: “The Lord hath sworn and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.” As the commentators explain, the author argues that Jesus’ eternal priesthood surpasses the dignity and essence of the Levitical priesthood for two reasons: 1) because God established it with an unchangeable oath, and 2), because Christ is risen from the dead, and is therefore able to officiate as priest forever.
We can see, then, why it is to this psalm that we turn first in our evening prayer, because it summarizes two central mysteries of the faith: the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery.
Four of the five antiphons which sandwich each of the five psalms in Vespers are taken from the Song of Solomon. These marital images of a Bride and Bridegroom have a long history of mystical interpretation in the Synagogue and in the Church as referring to the mystical nuptial relationship between God and his Chosen People, between Christ and his Church. Since Mary is the archetype of the Church, i.e., its “symbol and [its] most perfect realization,” these texts apply to her in a singular way (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 507, 967).
For Psalm 109, we hear the following: “While the King was reposing, my spikenard yielded the odour of sweetness” (Song of Solomon 1:12). The literal sense of this text speaks to the lavish way in which the royal couple was courting and preparing for their wedding. We may argue that the spiritual sense speaks to the super-abundant merits and sweetness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus, we may see it as an oblique reference to her Immaculate Conception. The sleeping King is her Incarnate Lord, asleep in her womb or in her motherly arms.
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.