Summary: The psalms are particularly important as Christian songs because they subsume every human experience and emotion and thought into a song of gratitude and praise.
Monday of 5th Week in Lent
April 11, 2011
The stories we have read today are rescue stories. Individuals–humans with infinite dignity–were saved from death by divine intervention. It is interesting to note that both of these passages are controversial. The first–Daniel and Susannah– is known in the Greek only, and is rejected as Scripture by Protestants. Yet it has been in the canon of Scriptures ever since there was a canon of Scripture. The second, the Gospel story of the forgiven adulteress and her Pharisee accusers, is not found in the earliest manuscripts of John, but it, too, has been in the canon from the beginning. It is speculated that it is actually a story collected by Luke that fell out of the Luke scroll and got gathered into the John scroll, so to speak.
But both stories are stories of rescue by God. Two women were drowning, either because of their sin or that of another, and God extended His hand to save them. Remember that the first great liturgical song, the song of Moses, was sung by the exhausted Israelites on the shores of the Red sea, as they saw their enemies swept away by God’s saving hand. “For Israel, the event of salvation in the Red Sea will always be the main reason for praising God. . .For Christians, the Resurrection of Christ is the true Exodus. He has stridden through the Red Sea of death itself, descended into the world of shadows, and smashed open the prison door. . .To be baptized is to be made a partaker. . .of Christ’s descent into hell and of his rising up.” (138) Of course, the people of the Old Testament, Moses, Miriam, Susannah, Daniel, and the woman caught in adultery, while praising God for deliverance “realized [their song] was only provisional, and so they longed for the definitive new song, for the salvation that would no longer be followed by a moment of anguish [for they all eventually died].” They longed for an eternal song of praise. That is occasioned by our participation in Christ’s sacrifice, right here, right now. We do sing “an altogether new song, which is truly and definitively new in view of the wholly new thing that has taken place in the Resurrection of Christ.”
What does the Church give us as our participation in this unending song, which we raise up with our voices in union with Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit? The Church gives us the psalms. They enable us to wrap up all of the human experience in the Resurrection. “In their prayed poetry, the Psalms display the whole range of human experiences, which become prayer and song in the presence of God. Lamentation, complaint. . .accusation, fear, hope, trust, gratitude, joy–the whole of human life is reflected here, as it is unfolded in dialogue with God. . .Even complaints made in desperate affliction almost always end with words of trust, with an anticipation, as it were, of God’s saving act.” All of the psalms are kinds of elaborations on the song of Moses. Either I can look back on my rescue, or I can look forward to my rescue. That is why, in the Divine Office we sing, the last verse of every psalm is “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” As Paul taught us, in everything we give God glory, thanks and praise.
The Holy Father encourages us to remember that, in the Hebrew mythology, David was called the author of most of the psalms. “For Christians, it is clear that Christ is the true David, that David in the Holy Spirit prays through and with the One who is to be his Son and who is the only begotten Son of God. . .The Holy Spirit, who had inspired David to sing and to pray, moves him to speak of Christ, indeed causes him to become the very mouth of Christ, thus enabling us in the Psalms to speak through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.”
Thus all of Church music, which properly takes its text from the psalms without elaboration or elision, “comes into being as a ‘charism,’ a gift of the Spirit.” Benedict, writing before his papal election, calls this a “sober intoxication.” It is, as I said a couple of weeks ago, the very rational but very emotional love song of the Bride to the Bridegroom, given to the Church as a wedding gift by Christ, the Divine Spouse.