PSALM SIXTEEN (15)
The Assumption of the Spouse
W E chant Psalm 16, Conserva me, at Tuesday Compline and at Matins on Holy Saturday, Corpus Christi, and the feast of the Precious Blood. With enthusiasm truly worthy of David, to whom the psalm was dedicated, it powerfully expresses the faithful Yahwist’s confidence in the promise with which Psalm 15 concludes : he will « never be shaken » (Ps 15.5).
- Of gold, to David.
- Protect me, my God, for I take shelter in You.
- You have said to Yahweh : « My Lord, it is You; my happiness cannot exist against You. »
- To the saints who are on the Land, to them and their princes : « On them I have placed all my kindness. »
- They have multiplied their idols, they have run after them. I shall never pour out their libations of blood, and shall never bear their names on my lips !
- Yahweh is the portion of my share and my cup. You hold my lot.
- The strings fall for me onto delights; yes, the inheritance for me is magnificent !
- I shall bless Yahweh, who counsels me. Even in the night, my reins instruct me.
- I have placed Yahweh before myself without respite, for with His right hand, I am unshakable.
- This is why my heart has taken delight and my glory has rejoiced. Yes, my flesh will repose in safety.
- For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, You will not let Your Holy One see corruption.
- You will make me know the path of life, the fullness of joy before Your Face, eternal delights by Your right hand.
VERSE 1. The words of this psalm are « of gold », since they issue from the Beloved whose « head is a pure gold » (Sg 5.11).
The psalm begins with an interior dialogue that is full of confidence and that expresses the Messianic hope in the return from Exile that resides in the poor of Israel. They have nothing other than God as their refuge in whom they can « take shelter », as was already said at the beginning of Psalm 11 : « I take shelter in Yahweh. » (Ps 11.1)
VERSE 2. « You have said », in the feminine in Hebrew, which French [and English] cannot translate. Thus, it is a woman who addresses Yahweh, the unfaithful spouse of the allegories of Hosea (Ho 1-3), Jeremiah (Jr 2-6), and Ezekiel (Ez 16) finally come to repentance : « It will happen on that day, oracle of Yahweh, that you will call me “ My husband ”. » (Ho 2.18)
VERSE 3. She also addresses « the saints who are on the [holy] Land ». God alone is Holy, but He imparts His holiness to His people, a « kingdom of priests, a holy nation » (Ex 9.6).
This is the voice of the Bridegroom, who forms only a singularity with His Spouse. This verse, against which Canon Osty decreed that it is a « corrupted text that defies any attempt at translation », is found in a text from Qumran (4Q177); the latter translates : « The saints who are on the land, the noble hearts, in them is my whole joy. » At Qumran the saints were the faithful who removed themselves from Jerusalem in order to fight against the invasive, pagan influence.
VERSE 4. The bitter fact of the matter is that in answer to Yahweh’s « kindness », His people of « saints » ran after idols. This is the whole history of Israel and its infidelities : « Israel was a luxuriant vine that produced fruit indeed. The more its fruit multiplied, the more it multiplied its altars. The richer its country became, the richer it made its steles. » (Ho 10.1)
Reciting this psalm enlists us to say “ no ” to idols. Someone will ask : “ Where do you see idols in modern-day France ? ” Where ? Why, it is teeming with them ! How many times have we heard our Father denounce them in tones like Jeremiah and Ezekiel : « Not only sex and drugs are idols. Democracy, “ Man ”, and freedom are idols. »
In the time of Jeremiah the idols were the baalîm, Astarte, to whom people sacrificed children, and blood poured at the feet of the steles of these idols before the eyes of the people who came to enjoy the spectacle and the erotic frolicking that accompanied it and to draw from it a power that granted riches, prosperity, and earthly success. So it is with abortion today and will be even more so in our Socialist society of tomorrow.
Are we, too, going to renounce our convictions one after the other in order to take up the ideas of the day, to be pleasing to the inspectors, commissioners, all the government spies, and to get perquisites, good fortune, honors, etc. ? Well, no ! Just like the faithful Yahwists in the past who returned from exile in a new Exodus to Jerusalem, which was prey to the idolatry of pagans and Samaritans, we protest our fidelity to Yahweh along with the Psalmist, who, for his part, was accomplishing the prophecy of Hosea : « I shall take from their mouths the names of the Baals, and no one will pronounce their names any more. » (Ho 2.19)
VERSE 5. « Dominus pars hæreditatis meæ et calicis mei, tu es qui restitues hæreditatem meam mihi. » This anthem, which was chanted in a Gallican melody by the diocesan priests on retreat at the seminary of Troyes to renew their clerical promises, had a capacity to take hold of our Father’s notice – he was at that time the parish priest of Villemaur :
« I was extremely struck when I heard these priests chant this anthem, which I had never heard in my life. I said to myself : what courage there is, what power, what sacrifices there are in the solidity of the diocesan clergy, of the monks and nuns throughout their lives, amidst the trials, temptations, and occasional moments of discouragement, disappointment, and, yes, temptation. I still recall one of my confreres, to whom, moreover, I used to make my confession for years; there he was alongside me chanting this anthem wholeheartedly. I admired them very much.
« Here is why I had the anthem “ Dominus pars ” chanted for the brothers on the day of their taking the habit. We are in the valley of tears, we must not forget. This refrain is paradoxical. It is filled with nostalgia for Heaven, nostalgia for our time as young clergy when everything was fair, when we were full of enthusiasm; well, this refrains is taken from a psalm of tremendous joy. »
The « portion of my share » evokes the apportionment of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. Here, the « share » of land is what the tribe of Levi did not receive, since Yahweh is its share : « Yahweh said to Aaron : “ You shall have no share in their country; there is no portion for you in their midst. I shall be your portion and your share amidst the Israelites. ” » (Nb 18.20)
The Levites lived on offerings brought to the sanctuary. The « portion » of the Levite, of the priest, was restored by Nehemiah at the return from the Exile : « In those days, one appointed to the halls provided for provisions, levies, first fruits, and tithes men who would gather there from the territory of the towns the portions that the Law granted to the priests and Levites. For Judah placed all his joy in the priests and Levites as they performed their duties. » (Ne 12.44)
But in Jerusalem during its occupation by idolaters, the faithful Yahwist’s « share » was Yahweh, even as a « blast of wrath » will be « the portion of the cup » of the impious (Ps 11.6) ! To say that Yahweh is the share of his portion consists, then for the Psalmist, whether he be a Levite or not, in opposing his profession of faith to the apostasy of those who call on idols.
« You hold my lot. » In the original, « lot » (gôral) means the dice that used to be thrown for the allocation of lots : « Lots will determine the apportionment of the country. » (Nb 26.55) At Qumran one designated by « lot » the bearers of certain functions or “ services ”, in conformity with ancient traditions. According to the first book of Chronicles, chapters 24 to 26, the classes of priests, Levites, and doorkeepers were chosen by lot, a practice attested by St. Luke in connection with Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist (Lk 1.9). This was the way that the Apostles would elect Matthias to replace Judas in the college of Apostles (Ac 1.15-26). Here, « lot » signifies the vocation that God assigns to His faithful.
VERSE 6. In his exclusive worship of Yahweh, the Psalmist receives as his share the delights about which the spouse of the Canticle of Canticles sings : « How fair you are, my Beloved, how delightful ! » (Sg 1.16) His « inheritance » is nothing other than that of the Messiah promised in Psalm 2 : « Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. » (Ps 2.8)
VERSE 7. The « night » is the nights of trial, a good councillor (Sg 5.2) that prepares for the coming of the Messiah by whom Yahweh becomes the councillor and teacher of His spouse in accord with the prophecy of Isaiah : « The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of shadow a light has shone […] For a Child has been born to us, a Son has been given to us. He has received power upon His shoulders, and He has been given this name : Wondrous councillor, mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of peace. » (Is 9.1, 5)
The spouse then intones a song of victory that is full of hope.
VERSE 8. « With His right hand » the Bridegroom embraces her even as His left hand is beneath her head (Sg 2.6; 8.3). She is thus the opposite of the impious person who believed that he was « unshakeable, from age to age, sheltered from harm » (Ps 10.6).
VERSE 9. God said at the time of her infidelities : « This is why I am going to allure her and conduct her to the desert, where I shall speak to her heart. » (Hs 2.16)
See now how He consoles her after the trial of Exile : « Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her servitude is finished, her fault has been atoned, she has received from the hand of Yahweh double punishment for her sins. » (Is 40.2)
The spouse enters, then, upon a share of the glory of the Bridegroom (Ps 7.6). Her « glory » is mingled with her Bridegroom’s as promised : « Yahweh rises above you and His glory appears over you. » (Is 60.2) This occurs in such a manner that she sings : « Carry me along Your footsteps, let’s run ! The king has brought me into His rooms; You will be our joy and our happiness. » (Sg 1.4)
« My flesh will repose in safety. » The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary will fulfill this prophecy, a prophecy that associates the Assumption with the promised resurrection of the Messiah.
VERSE 10. In his first discourse on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2), St. Peter cited this psalm to the Jews of the Essene quarter of Jerusalem. The strength of the prophetic argument was enough to convert three thousand of them. « Brethren, one can say to you with full confidence : the patriarch David is dead and buried, and his tomb is still among us today. » (Ac 2.29) St. Peter then cited the Greek version of the psalm. Today, after the discovery of the Qumran manuscripts, we conjecture that the rabbis of Yabné who established the “ canonical ” Hebrew version of Scripture after the death of St. Peter and the destruction of Jerusalem intentionally substituted the words « grave » or « tomb » in place of « corruption », for, once Jesus was placed in the tomb, St. Peter’s argument thereby loses all its force.
The « Holy One » (hasîd) is the one who has chosen : « Know that Yahweh has set apart a holy one for Himself. » (Ps 4.4) This term evokes the integral piety that in the time of the Maccabees animated the Assideans (hasîdîm), « valiant men of Israel and every one who was devoted to the Law » (1 M 2.42). They fought for their faith to the point of death; their piety made them brave and confident in the resurrection (2 M 12.43-45). This unshakable confidence will be found in the Messiah, the Servant of Yahweh who, « if He offers His life as an expiatory sacrifice, He will see a posterity and will lengthen His days » (Is 53.10).
VERSE 11. Here is the end of all our labors that turn us from the “ foreign woman ”, since « of those who go to her, not one returns, they no longer return to the paths of life » (Pr 2.19). Yet, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the way the leads us to God.
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary
He is risen ! n° 61, October 2007