The set psalm this week is 149, although due to singers’ commitments, the programme has been slightly rearranged. Psalm 105 supports the themes of the day so we rejoice in another appearance of the beautiful Confitemini Domino by Lassus. Spread the word.
For those interested, for the record or perhaps future reference, a comment on that set psalm. It’s the penultimate psalm in the book, short and bitter-sweet. Four verses of praise, singing and dancing; four verses of wreaking vengeance on enemies; and in the middle, it appears, a good lie down!
Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; let them be joyful on their beds. (v. 5)
An odd little verse, and indeed it struck Isaac Everett to the point that he chose this for his responsive refrain. He muses:
Does it imply that the people routinely slept in the Temple, … ritual prostration, praise at home as well as in the Temple, or… just joyful being in bed?
I like it too but I do not consider this verse, despite its central location, the key to the meaning of the psalm and would not have chosen it for the refrain.
Since we spend a lot of time thinking of meaningful and respectful ways to praise our maker in song, I’d have to go for verse 1:
Sing to God a new song; sing praise in the congregation of the faithful.
A little further on there’s a nice statement of why we psalm tragics do this:
… sing praise making melody with timbrel and lyre; for God takes pleasure in people and adorns the poor with victory. (vv. 3, 4)
So far, it has been an easy call. The second half of the psalm is less comfortable. ‘Wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the people … inflicting judgment?’ (v. 7) Is not this just the sort of cry we, well, decry when it leads to the extremist religious violence that seems increasingly to dominate the news? As a cautionary note on this passage in PFAS says: ‘handle with care.’
Here is an excellent example of the danger of taking a narrow view of one statement, expanding it to the point that it obscures the horizon. The literal reference is to the Exodus and the early opposed establishment of Israel, of course, which was a fight for survival.
Today, in the light of the New Testament modifier to love your enemies, we must regard it metaphorically. Most commentators see it now as a fight against evil. Any enthusiasm for holy war against other people sounds bizarre. For as we just saw, God takes pleasure in people. (And by the way, what a marvellous difference it makes taking the ‘his’ out of that phrase from the RSV.)
The psalm therefore urges us to fight for justice and equity, a theme which will again ring out of the psalm mid-October;
It was you who created equity. (Ps. 99:4)
The Everett refrain has already been mentioned. PFAS has a nice responsive setting (149B) with a contemporary sound even though the music was written back in the 18th century.
Staying closer to home, our own song book at TiS 95 has a good setting by Sydney-born composer Christopher Willcock SJ, whose work we often enjoy in the singing of the psalms. The response is simple, and the stacked triads of the tone (the simple tune for the verses) is enticing. It only presents half the lectionary, however, and ducks that confronting second section discussed above.
Enjoy the Lassus!