Psalm 76: Peace in our time

‘God broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war’ (3)

Asaph here makes a strong plea for a peaceable world where divine power and justice are the forces to be revered. In the city where divine love is the rule, ‘ … none of the warriors can lift a hand.’ (5)

This reflects a declaration, a peace prayer, found elsewhere such as in Psalms 50 and 120; and in Psalm 44:

A Gregorian chant introit for Psalm 76, from Corpus Christi Watershed

I do not rely on my bow, and my sword does not give me the victory; surely you gave us victory.

The illustration shows a Gregorian introit Da pacem Domine, here used as an antiphon to this psalm. The text is an old prayer, widely used, and appearing in the English usage as a chanted call and response:

Give peace in our time, O Lord; Because there is none other that fighteth for us but only thou, O God.

Book of Common Prayer, 1549 onwards

It is regularly included in the Evening Prayer. The psalms indicate that in a regime where divine love dominates, weapons are to be discarded as useless. They will win no lasting peaceful victory. The opening quote points out that the shield is broken too; so the same rule applies to attacker and defender alike; giving people more guns in defence is no answer. Unfortunately, until society values justice, equity and love as key values, we must keep locking our doors and controlling guns.

Diverging briefly from the psalter, some marvellous settings of this Da pacem Domine are worth inclusion in a suitable peace service, although many of them such as those by Gesualdo, Josquin and Lassus demand five and six voices. More accessible is a nice short piece by Charles Gounod, a trio ‘à trois voix égales’.