Saturday, March 21, 2009

Audite cæli

"Hear, O ye heavens, the things I speak..."

The imprecatory canticle of Moses from Deuteronomy xxxii, which was his prophetic warning, at the close of his life, to the people of Israel whom he foresaw would stray from the commandments and do wickedly (cf. Deut. xxxi, 28-30), is used on Saturdays at Lauds II - that is, during Lent and on vigils.  (Prior to the psalter reform of St Pius X in 1912, it was appointed for all Saturday ferias - which were of uncommon occurrence then.)  

Its immemorial usage consisted of the chanting or recitation of all 52 verses of Deut. xxxii, redivided into no less than 65 verses for liturgical use - making it so long that St Benedict had it divided into two portions for use in his monasteries, thus resulting in Monastic Lauds on Saturdays having one less psalm than normal.  (The Byzantine Office also counts this as its Second Ode at Matins, but - owing to its severe character - it is never actually chanted save on the Tuesdays in Great Lent.) In 1960, during one of the last preconciliar reforms of the Breviary, it was reduced in length to Deut. xxxii, 1-18, or to 27 liturgical verses.  (As for the modern Divine Office, it restricts the canticle to Deut. xxxii, 1-12, thus leaving off nearly all of the imprecatory parts, save only verses 5-6, which speak clearly of Israel as sinning, as a generation wicked and perverse, as heedless of God their Father.)

Why this sudden interest?  Well, directly before going to the confessional this morning, I had just reached Deut. xxxii, 14 - and recalled the very next line (Deut. xxxii, 15a) as I went into the box to appear before the tribunal of justice: that, after all God had done for Israel, rescuing him and guiding him to a land of milk and honey, Incrassatus est dilectus et recalcitravit, incrassatus, impinguatus, dilatatus (which I construed somewhat as "The beloved grew crass and recalcitrant [lit. kicked back], crassened, fattened, puffed up" - this I applied to sinful me, base and full of ingratitude and pride).  Having made my admission of guilt, heard the comforting words of the priest - never despair, always be ready to get up again - and been absolved, I returned to my place at the back pew and read on, first praying with more attention the following last part of the canticle:
Incrassátus est diléctus, et recalcitrávit: * incrassátus, impinguátus, dilatátus,
Derelíquit Deum, factórem suum, * et recéssit a Deo, salutári suo.
Provocavérunt eum in diis aliénis, * et in abominatiónibus ad iracúndiam concitavérunt.
Immolavérunt dæmóniis, et non Deo, * diis, quos ignorábant:
Novi recentésque venérunt, * quos non coluérunt patres eórum.
Deum qui te génuit dereliquísti, * et oblítus es Dómini, creatóris tui.

(The beloved did wax fat and kick; * yea, he waxed fat, and thick, and gross.
(He forsook the God that made him, * and departed from the God of his salvation.
(They provoked him with strange gods, * and with abominations stirred they him up to anger.
(They sacrificed to devils, and not to God, * to gods whom they knew not.
(That came newly up, * whom their fathers worshipped not.
(Thou hast forsaken the God that begat thee, * and hast forgotten the God that created thee.)
So much truth! Sin is to wallow in self-indulgence, heedless of God yet running after strange gods, which are idols and demons to whom unholy worship is paid. The Scripture is quite correct in portraying all sin as idolatry and fornication, a spurning of the Lord and a whoring after all else.

I trust it can therefore be imagined with what relief I gave thanks to Christ and God when I prayed the last psalm of Lauds, Psalm 150, that pæan of praise and final doxology of the Psalter:
Laudáte Dóminum in sanctis ejus: * laudáte eum in firmaménto virtútis ejus.
Laudáte eum in virtútibus ejus: * laudáte eum secúndum multitúdinem magnitúdinis ejus.
Laudáte eum in sono tubæ: * laudáte eum in psaltério, et cíthara.
Laudáte eum in tympano, et choro: * laudáte eum in chordis, et órgano.
Laudáte eum in cymbalis benesonántibus: laudáte eum in cymbalis jubilatiónis: * omnis spíritus laudet Dóminum.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, * et Spirítui Sancto. 
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

(O praise the Lord in his sanctuary : * praise him in the firmament of his power.
(Praise him in his mighty acts: * praise him according to the multitude of his greatness.
(Praise him in the sound of the trumpet : * praise him upon the lute and harp.
(Praise him in the timbrels and choir : * praise him upon the strings and organs.
(Praise him upon the high-sounding cymbals: praise him upon the cymbals of joy : * let every spirit praise the Lord.
(Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
(As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.)
After Lauds, I said the Our Father and Hail Mary I'd been assigned for penance, and as always went forth at peace.

What a consoling doctrine purgatory is.

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