Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 148

Psalm 148 has been described as Genesis 1 in poetic form, because it invites all creation to give God in an order that mirrors the days of creation.  But it goes further than this, containing a call to our own conversion and intensification of efforts in seeking holiness. 

The content and structure of Psalm 148 is echoed in a number of other Old Testament canticles, including the Benedicite (Daniel 3) said at Lauds on Sunday, Job 28, and Sirach 43.  Read in the light of the New Testament however, the call to praise is not just for creation, but more particularly for our redemption through the Resurrection of Christ.  St Augustine explains the context:

"This is the Halleluia which we sing, which, as you know, means (in Latin), Praise ye the Lord...this, after His Resurrection: by which time is signified the future hope which as yet we have not: for what we represent after the Lord's Resurrection, we shall have after our own. For in our Head both are figured, both are set forth. The Baptism of the Lord sets forth to us this present life of trial, for in it we must toil, be harassed, and, at last, die; but the Resurrection and Glorification of the Lord sets forth to us the life which we are to have hereafter, when He shall come to recompense due rewards, evil to the evil, good to the good."

Similarly, St Alphonsus Liguori notes that:

In this psalm, as well as in the two following, all creatures are called upon to praise and thank the Lord for the victory gained over the enemies of his holy name.

The praises of creation

Psalm 148 can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically.

At the literal level, the psalm calls on all creation to praise God, for all are equal before God, praising in their own way either with our hearts, minds and voices, or by our very being.  The psalm is in essence a call to redouble our efforts, to intensify our praise of God, and to join others to our work of praise, as St John Chrysostom's explains:

"The practice of the saints in their deep gratitude was like this, when on the point of giving thanks to God, to invite many to share in the praise and exhort them to be associated with them in this lovely ritual...."

There is, moreover, a particularly monastic dimension to the psalm, for the work of heaven, and of the angels, as the opening verses attest, is the constant praise of God, and on earth, the monastery is the pre-eminent place where this is imitated.  Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI made this very point:

"In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are worshippers. Their very life is worship. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! – Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1). Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously renewed it." Visit To Heiligenkreuz Abbey, 9 September 2007

The celestial hierarchy

Verses 5 and 6 explain why we should praise him, namely because is the creator - and recreator - of all, effecting the work of creation out of nothing with ease, and continuing to govern it.

Though all are part of creation and therefore called to respond to the creator with praise, the psalm sets out  a hierarchy in creation. 

Verses 1-4 start with the heavens and all therein, including the angels, to praise God more intensively.

Verses 7-10 extend the call to the things of earth, including the good and the bad; the beautiful and the scary, for everything created plays a role in God's providential plan for the world.  These verses also perhaps service to put humanity in its place, for we are but one part of this divine creation, a part of it, not something above it.

Verses 11-12 set out the hierarchy amongst men: rulers and judges and ruled; young and old; men and women.  They illustrate perhaps that all are equally called to God's praise yet the hierarchical construction of society is also part of God's creation, a protection against chaos.

The final verses attest to the special place of the Church in this hierarchy: through it God grants his people grace, and thus allows us to share in his glory.

The spiritual interpretation

The Fathers though, also constructed allegorical interpretations of each of the elements mentioned in the psalm.  Dragons, for example, dragons, can be seen as representing the more abrasive and strong-minded amongst us, while the stormy winds that fulfil his word are those who have turned from evil and been converted.

St Alphonsus Liguori summarises the meaning at this level as follows:

In an allegorical sense all Christians are invited to bless God for the victory that he helped them to gain over the devil, the world, and the flesh; a victory so great that for it they will be honored by being appointed judges at the day of judgment.

Psalm 148: Laudate Dominum de caelis
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Alleluia

1 Laudáte Dóminum de cælis: * laudáte eum in excélsis.
Praise the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the high places.
2  Laudáte eum, omnes Angeli ejus: * laudáte eum, omnes virtútes ejus.
2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his hosts.
3  Laudáte eum, sol et luna: * laudáte eum, omnes stellæ et lumen.
3 Praise him, O sun and moon: praise him, all you stars and light
4  Laudáte eum, cæli cælórum: * et aquæ omnes, quæ super cælos sunt, laudent nomen Dómini.
4 Praise him, you heavens of heavens: and let all the waters that are above the heavens 5 praise the name of the Lord.
5 Quia ipse dixit, et facta sunt: * ipse mandávit, et creáta sunt.
For he spoke, and they were made: he commanded, and they were created
6  Státuit ea in ætérnum, et in sæculum sæculi: * præcéptum pósuit, et non præteríbit.
6 He has established them for ever, and for ages of ages: he has made a decree, and it shall not pass away.
7  Laudáte Dóminum de terra, * dracónes, et omnes abyssi.
7 Praise the Lord from the earth, you dragons, and all you deeps:
8  Ignis, grando, nix, glácies, spíritus procellárum: * quæ fáciunt verbum ejus:
8 Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfil his word:
9  Montes, et omnes colles: * ligna fructífera, et omnes cedri.
9 Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars:
10  Béstiæ, et univérsa pécora: * serpéntes, et vólucres pennátæ:
10 Beasts and all cattle: serpents and feathered fowls:
11  Reges terræ, et omnes pópuli: * príncipes, et omnes júdices terræ.
11 Kings of the earth and all people: princes and all judges of the earth:
12  Júvenes, et vírgines : senes cum junióribus laudent nomen Dómini: * quia exaltátum est nomen ejus solíus.
12 Young men and maidens: let the old with the younger, praise the name of the Lord: 13 For his name alone is exalted.
13  Conféssio ejus super cælum et terram: * et exaltávit cornu pópuli sui.
14 The praise of him is above heaven and earth: and he has exalted the horn of his people.
14  Hymnus ómnibus sanctis ejus: * fíliis Israël, pópulo appropinquánti sibi.
A hymn to all his saints to the children of Israel, a people approaching to him. Alleluia

You can find the first set of verse by verse notes on this psalm here.

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