Commentaries on Psalm 129, for the Fourth Anniversary of Dignare Me
[Dignare Me Laudare Te, Virgo Sacrata began four years ago on 4 October 2004. This post is therefore 10 days late, but I still want to mark this occasion by posting a commentary on Psalm 129, my favorite psalm, from the 1948 reprint of a 1914 edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, printed by E.J. Dwyer, from which I found a commentary on the Ave Maris Stella.]
De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuae intendéntes: in vocem deprecationes meae.
Si iniquitátes observaveris, Dómine: Dómine, quis sustinébit.
Quia apud te propitiátio est, et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Dómine.
Sustinuit ánima mea in verbo ejus: sperávit ánima mea in Dómino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israel in Dómino.
Quia apud Dóminum misericordia: et copiósa apud eum redémptio.
Et ipse redimet Israel, ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.
"Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.
O let Thine ears consider well: the voice of my supplication.
If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord who shall abide it?
For with Thee there is merciful forgiveness: and because of Thy Law have I waited for Thee, O Lord.
My soul hath waited on His word: my soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even until night: let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy: and with Him there is plenteous redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel, from all his iniquities."
"Besides being the eleventh of the Gradual Psalms, this is also the best known of the Penitential Psalms."
"'This psalm is generally regarded as a prayer of the Israelite captives in Babylon, imploring of God deliverance from their bitter tribulations. It is par excellence the psalm for the dead, not that it contains more mournful or penitential ideas than some of the other psalms, but it describes more exactly the sad state of the suffering souls in whose behalf the Church recites it' (Fillon).'"
"The psalm is thus summarized by Cardinal Tomasi, the Theatine [died 1713]: 'That Christ may grant us forgiveness of our sins without marking our iniquities. The voice of Christ and of the Church. This psalm is to be read with the prophet Jonas. Wherefore this eleventh step denotes the voice of St. Peter weeping bitterly after his fall, hence it is that of repenting sinners."
"SUMMARY. -- The Psalmist calls upon God in great distress of mind (1, 2). He encourages himself in the belief in His mercy (3, 4). Determines to wait for it (5, 6). Desires all Israel to do the same (7, 8)."
1. De profundis (Out of the depths) of water or mire -- that is, of the deepest affliction. It is the cry of the Jews from the depths of their captivity, and seemingly without hope.
Domine (Lord), Adonai, Sovereign Owner.
clamavi (I have cried). "Note," says St. Gregory the Great, "it is not written 'I am calling,' but I have called, showing us thereby not to end our prayer until by perseverance it has been granted. God loves to be asked, to be constrained, to be overcome, as it were, by importunity, for the loving repetition of His name makes the affection and confidence of His client."
Remark the six conditions of this prayer:
(1) Humble, Out of the depths."If from the depths of our misery into which our sins have brought us, we cry for help through Mary's intercession, we are sure to be heard. Therefore in accordance with the wish of the Church, we place the words of the psalm in the mouth of Mary, and asker her to say it for us. As a Mother she is always ready to pray for her children" (Dr. Schäfer)."
(2) Fervent, I have cried.
(3) Direct to God, Unto Thee.
(4) Reverent, O Lord.
(5) Awed, Lord repeated.
(6) One's very own, hear my prayer.
2. Angriani, the Carmelite [the General of the Carmelites and author of a very complete and learned Commentary on the Psalms; died 1416.]: "God is said to bow down His ear, that is, His readiness and mercy, to us. But we, on the other hand, are to lift ours to Him."
"When Mary says: 'Let Thine ears consider well the voice of my supplication,' her Divine Son will remember the joy it was to Him to hear this sweet voice on earth; and therefore He will be unable to refuse to listen to it now in heaven. She reminds Him of His infinite mercy, which moved Him to die on the Cross" (Dr. Schäfer).
3. observaveris (mark) -- strictly watch, and keep in mind in order to punish.
sustinebit (abide), endure, or stand in judgment in Thy presence.
When the Lord opens the Book of Doom, wherein are set down all our sins, Who shall abide it? -- that is, endure the shame and guilt. Therefore we beseech Him not to act as a Judge, but as the King of Mercy, and to exert His blessed prerogatives on our behalf.
4. If punishment swiftly followed sin, we would be tempted to cast off all fear of God and to sin in despair. But because with Thee there is merciful forgiveness, the sinner resolves not to offend again.
apud te (with Thee) there is hope and forgiveness, not despair.
propter legem tuam (because of Thy Law). God's law is NOW mercy and love.
"The Psalmist says: I have waited patiently, bearing my chastisement because of Thy law, knowing that in Thee there is an exhuastless fountain of compassion and mercy. And what causes me to hope in Thee is, that Thou makest it a law to have pity on every sinner who in humility seeks Thy pardon" (St. Alphonsus [Liguori]).
5. Sustinuit (relied). "My soul awaits the mercy of God relying on His promise. Thus having hoped in the Lord, it will not be confounded" (St. Alphonsus).
in verbo ejus (in His Word). "God has promised mercy through the Incarnation and Sacrifice of the Word, His only-begotten Son; and the Psalmist declares that he is relying upon a promise which can never fail" (Taunton).
6. A custodia matutina (From the morning watch).
Imagine the tired watchman or sentinel, weary on his night vigil of the lofty tower, eagerly scanning the Eastern horizon to catch the first gleam of morning dawn.
Like this Eastern watchman, we have to wait and hope in the Lord through the long stretch of this earthly life and through the night-watches of death and purgatory, until that day (so long hoped for) dawn[s], and the Sun of Justice illuminates[s] us with the light of glory.
St. Hilary [of Poitiers]: "These words refer to the breaking of the light of faith upon the soul till the close of life, working through all the burden and heat of the day until we receive the reward we know is awaiting us."
7. St. Alphonsus thus translates this glorious verse: "Here the Psalmist points out the foundation of all our hopes -- the Blood of Jesus Christ, by which He was to redeem the human race. He says: Let Israel hope in the Lord, for His mercy is infinite; and He is well able to redeem us from all our evils."
Cassiodorus [Roman writer, statesman, and monk; spent several years on a Commentary on the Psalms; died 583]: "Here is the reason for Israel to hope in the Lord; because in His hand is mercy, which can make the sinner righteous, the weak strong, and give to the carnal the purity of the angels. There is also the plentiful redemption which is the Precious Blood stored up for us in the Church, and ready to do its healing work at every turn of our life. Daily and hourly, It is being offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass on our behalf to the Eternal Father; daily, It is washing away original sin and actual sin."
8. And HE. On this word the emphasis lies.
To a Hebrew no restoration to God's favour could be complete without deliverance also from temporal captivity.
Iniquities -- not from temporal captivity only, or from suffering, which our appointed lot here, but from the bondage of sin. Even the purgatorial fires begin already to redeem our time, ransoming us in our temporal captivity, ridding us of every hindrance that keeps us from The Presence.
Mary encourages us to wait patiently from the morning watch till night, trusting in the abundant Redemption and infinite mercy of her Son; and she assures us of a gracious pardon, for He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
St. John Fisher
[The following an excerpt is from another commentary on Psalm 129 written by St. John Fisher, "translated" into modern English by Anne Barbeau Gardiner in Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms, published by Ignatius Press.]
"It is therefore very necessary for every sinner to be diligent and take heed, calling to remembrance the perilous and private jeopardies he lies in, wisely and circumspectly looking on the dangers that can befall him, and that done, lifting up the eyes of his soul to our most merciful Lord God, saying de profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem mean, blessed Lord, I a sinful creature call to you for help: I beseech you, hear my voice. It is profitable for good and righteous people also to repeat this verse often so they can avoid the great perils of this wretched world. For no creature living is so steadfast sure not to fall into these deep dangers of sin; for this reason, Saint Paul admonishes us all, saying, qui state videat, ne cadat, he who stands, or he who is in the right way of good living, let him take care not to fall or go out of it (1 Cor. 10: 12). For this reason, let every righteous person say, de profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem mean, good Lord, I, being in trouble and in fear of my enemies -- the world, the flesh, and the devil -- cry to you for help; hear my voice, deliver me from their dangers. Thirdly, let us often repeat this verse for those who are in purgatory, for whom Christ's Church has especially ordained this psalm to be said. The souls who are in these great pains await, ever looking for the great mercy of God, for one drop of it to assuage their pains by the help of our prayers. Therefore, as heartily as we can, let us all say this for their comfort: de profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem mean...."
"O great merciful deed of our Lord shown upon his creatures! O inestimable meekness! O mercy so great, which no tongue can express! No matter how ungentle, merciless, and wicked creatures are, he is still sorry to see them perish. If, after their great offenses, they will look upon almighty God again by true and hearty penance, he will gladly admit them to forgiveness, will mercifully take them to him, and make them partakers of the noble redemption which was performed with the treasure of the precious blood of [H]is Son Jesus Christ. Accordingly, our prophet says thus et ipse redimet Israel ex omnibus iniquitatibus eius, [H]e shall make every penitent person partaker of [H]is redemption once done whenever the sinner will direct penitent eyes to [H]im. For then the sinner can well be called Israel, a man seeing God, whereas before, by sin, he had turned himself away from that most merciful Lord."
"Now let us conclude this sermon with a short summary of it. All you who have heard what we have spoken, I pray you, remember yourselves by how many degrees and how perilously every sinner descends, slips down suddenly, unless he takes heed, toward the deep pit of hell. Therefore, do penance in this life as soon as you can, and beseech almighty God to accept your penance. Trust indeed (if you do so) that neither your sins, nor the righteousness of God, nor the ordinance of his holy law can prevent your being assured ever to have forgiveness: first, by [H]is promise; secondly, by [H]is great power whereby [H]e can observe it; and lastly, because [H]e is so ready to forgive at every hour and every moment. Without doubt every sinner, no matter how wicked, by these great benefits of almighty God can trust indeed to have forgiveness if he does penance and holds himself up by the grace of God from falling into the deep dungeon of despair, which our Lord Jesus Christ grant us, Amen."