Friday, September 24, 2010

Morning Prayer: Judith

Thinking to pray with and for those Anglicans and Catholics (in both senses) who, God willing, will decide to enter the Ordinariates soon to be set up, I read Morning Prayer from my copy of the Book of Divine Worship, which is the already-existing first draft of the Anglican Use.  In its lectionary, I noted that there are alternative readings for this, the week of the Sunday closest to the 21st of September: either from Esther, or Judith.  Going on a hunch, remembering that to-day the 24th is kept in memory of Our Lady of Ransom, I chose Judith as an apt type of Our Lady: for in hewing off Holofernes' head, she foreshadowed Holy Mary treading Satan underfoot, as the Protoëvangelium long ago first predicted.

How to deal with unwelcome brutes

Herewith, the first lesson: Judith 13:1-20 (the whole chapter), which is the climax of the book, as herein shrewd Judith, having rendered Holofernes dead drunk, now strikes him dead with his own sword, and returns in triumph to her people, the Israelites beseiged at Bethulia, whereupon she wins their highest praise for saving them all (I quote from the R.S.V., which is what I use with the B.D.W., as closest to the K.J.V. and also being approved for Catholic use):
When evening came, his [Holofernes'] slaves quickly withdrew, and Bagoas closed the tent from outside and shut out the attendants from his master's presence; and they went to bed, for they all were weary because the banquet had lasted long. So Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was overcome with wine. 
Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber and to wait for her to come out, as she did every day; for she said she would be going out for her prayers. And she had said the same thing to Bagoas. So every one went out, and no one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber. Then Judith, standing beside his bed, said in her heart, "O Lord God of all might, look in this hour upon the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. For now is the time to help thy inheritance, and to carry out my undertaking for the destruction of the enemies who have risen up against us." 
She went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, "Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!" And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed it from his body. Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.
Then the two of them went out together, as they were accustomed to go for prayer; and they passed through the camp and circled around the valley and went up the mountain to Bethulia and came to its gates. Judith called out from afar to the watchmen at the gates, "Open, open the gate! God, our God, is still with us, to show his power in Israel, and his strength against our enemies, even as he has done this day!"
When the men of her city heard her voice, they hurried down to the city gate and called together the elders of the city. They all ran together, both small and great, for it was unbelievable that she had returned; they opened the gate and admitted them, and they kindled a fire for light, and gathered around them. Then she said to them with a loud voice, "Praise God, O praise him! Praise God, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the house of Israel, but has destroyed our enemies by my hand this very night!"
Then she took the head out of the bag and showed it to them, and said, "See, here is the head of Holofernes, the commander of the Assyrian army, and here is the canopy beneath which he lay in his drunken stupor. The Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman. As the Lord lives, who has protected me in the way I went, it was my face that tricked him to his destruction, and yet he committed no act of sin with me, to defile and shame me."
All the people were greatly astonished, and bowed down and worshiped God, and said with one accord, "Blessed art thou, our God, who hast brought into contempt this day the enemies of thy people."
And Uzziah said to her, "O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to strike the head of the leader of our enemies. Your hope will never depart from the hearts of men, as they remember the power of God. May God grant this to be a perpetual honor to you, and may he visit you with blessings, because you did not spare your own life when our nation was brought low, but have avenged our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God." And all the people said, "So be it, so be it!"
(Comparing the K.J.V. rendering, I find the R.S.V. to be just that, a revision; the only interesting textual difference is in verse 11, where the K.J.V. has "Jerusalem", not "Israel".  Two other differences are merely interesting: instead of the common word "sword", "fauchion" - more commonly, "falchion" - which is a curved broadsword, similar to a scimitar; and Uzziah is instead called Ozias.

(By comparison, the Douay has more phrasal differences, albeit none of any great consequence, encompassing the same tale in 26 verses.)

May the Anglicans coming into full communion with the Church, the new Jerusalem, likewise prove not to have been shamed by their dallying with Holofernes (or Henry VIII) - but rather to have taken up the sword of the spirit, the word of God, and with it confounded the enemy who entrapped them, before hieing themselves back to the camp of the true Israel.  Amen, amen.

No comments: