Skip to comments.On the Prayer of Psalm 22
Posted on 09/14/2011 9:22:25 PM PDT by ELS
On the Prayer of Psalm 22
"Death and Life Have Met in an Inseparable Mystery, and Life Has Triumphed"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued his series of catecheses on prayer, with a reflection of Psalm 22.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In today's catechesis I would like to talk about a psalm with strong Christological implications, which continually emerges in the accounts of the Passion of Jesus with its twofold dimension of humiliation and of glory, of death and of life. It is Psalm 22 according to the Hebrew tradition; [Psalm] 21 according to the Greek–Latin tradition. [It is] a heartfelt and touching prayer, of a human depth and theological richness that make it one of the most prayed and studied psalms in the Psalter. It is a lengthy poetic composition, and we will reflect in particular on its first part, which is focused on lament, in order to deepen our understanding of some of the significant dimensions of the prayer of supplication to God.
This psalm presents the figure of an innocent man who is persecuted and surrounded by enemies who want his death; and he turns to God in a painful lamentation, which in the certainty of faith opens mysteriously to praise. In his prayer, the distressing reality of the present and the consoling memory of the past alternate in an anguished awareness of his own desperate situation, yet this does not cause him to give up hope. His initial cry is an appeal addressed to an apparently distant God who does not respond and who seems to have abandoned him:
"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Why art Thou so far from helping me,
From the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest" (Verses 1-2).
God remains silent, and this silence pierces the heart of the man who prays, who incessantly calls out, but who finds no response. The days and nights pass in an unwearied search for a word, for help that does not come. God seems so distant, so unmindful, so absent. Prayer asks for listening and for a response; it invites contact; it seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God does not respond, the cry for help vanishes into the void, and the solitude becomes unbearable. And yet, the man praying our psalm three times cries out, calling the Lord "my" God in an extraordinary act of trust and of faith. Despite all appearances, the psalmist cannot believe that his bond with the Lord has been completely broken; and while he asks the reason for his present incomprehensible abandonment, he affirms that "his" God cannot abandon him.
It is well known that the psalm's initial cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?" is reported in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as the cry Jesus uttered as He was dying on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This [cry] expresses all the desolation of the Messiah, the Son of God, as He faces the drama of death -- a reality utterly opposed to the Lord of life. Abandoned by nearly all those who were His own, betrayed and denied by His disciples, surrounded by those who insult Him, Jesus is placed under the crushing weight of a mission that must pass through humiliation and abnegation. He therefore cries out to the Father, and His suffering takes on the painful words of the psalm.
But His is not a desperate cry, nor was that of the psalmist, who in his supplication journeys along a path of torment that nonetheless opens to a vista of praise and trust in the divine victory. And since according to Jewish use, to cite the beginning of a psalm implied a reference to the whole poem, Jesus' heartrending prayer -- while full of unspeakable suffering -- opens to the certainty of glory. "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26) the Risen One will say to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. During His passion, in obedience to the Father, the Lord Jesus passes through abandonment and death in order to attain life and to grant it to those who believe.
In painful contrast, Psalm 22's initial cry of supplication is followed by the memory of the past:
"In thee our fathers trusted;
They trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried, and were saved;
In thee they trusted, and were not disappointed" (Verses 4-5).
The God who today appears so distant to the psalmist, is nevertheless the merciful Lord who Israel knew and experienced throughout her history. The one who prays belongs to a people that was the object of God's love and that can witness to His fidelity to that love. Beginning with the patriarchs, then in Egypt and in their long sojourn in the desert, in their stay in the promised land in contact with aggressive and hostile peoples, to the darkness of exile, the whole of biblical history was a story of the people crying out for help, and of God's saving responses. And the psalmist here makes reference to the unwavering faith of his fathers, who "trusted" -- this word is repeated three times -- without ever being disappointed. Now however, it appears that this chain of trustful invocation and divine response has been broken; the psalmist's situation appears to contradict the whole history of salvation, making the present reality all the more painful.
But God cannot contradict Himself, and so we find the prayer begin to describe the painful situation of the one praying, in order to persuade God to have mercy and to intervene, as He had always done in times past. The psalmist calls himself "a worm and not a man; scorned by men, and despised by the people" (Verse 6); he is mocked and scoffed at (Verse 7) and wounded precisely for his faith: "He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (Verse 8), they say. Under the mocking blows of irony and contempt, it seems as though the persecuted one has lost all human semblance, like the suffering servant described in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 52:14; 53:2b-3). And like the just one oppressed in the Book of Wisdom (cf. 2:12-20), like Jesus on Calvary (cf. Matthew 27:39-43), the psalmist sees his relationship with the Lord called into question, in the cruel and sarcastic emphasis on what is making him suffer: the silence of God, His apparent absence.
And yet, God was present in the life of the one praying with an undeniable closeness and tenderness. The psalmist reminds God of this: "Yet thou art He who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God" (Verses 9-10). The Lord is the God of life who brings to birth and welcomes the newborn, caring for him with a father's love. And if he previously remembered God's fidelity throughout the course of his people's history, now the man praying calls to mind his own personal history and relationship with the Lord, tracing it back to the particularly significant moment of the beginning of his life. And there, despite his current desolation, the psalmist recognizes a closeness and a divine love so radical that he can now exclaim, in a confession full of faith and hope: "Since my mother bore me, thou hast been my God" (Verse 10b).
The prayer of lament now becomes an anguished plea: "Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help" (Verse 11). The only closeness the psalmist perceives -- and which frightens him -- is that of his enemies. It is necessary, then, that God draw near and help, because the enemies of the man praying surround him, they encompass him like strong bulls that open wide their mouths to roar and tear him to pieces (cf. Verses 12-13). Anguish changes the perception of the danger, magnifying it. His adversaries seem invincible; they have become ferocious and dangerous animals, while the psalmist is like a little worm, powerless and utterly without defense.
But these images used by the psalmist also serve to illustrate [the truth] that when man becomes brutal and attacks his brother, something animal-like takes over in him, and he seems to lose every human semblance; violence always carries within itself something beastly, and only God's saving intervention can restore man to his humanity. For the psalmist, who has become the object of such fierce aggression, there now seems to be no escape, and death begins to take hold of him: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint […] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws […] they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots" (Verses 14-15; 18). With dramatic images that we find again in the accounts of Christ's passion, the breaking of the body of the condemned is described, along with the unbearable burning thirst that torments the dying, and which is echoed in Jesus' request "I thirst" (cf. John 19:28), culminating finally in the definitive gesture of the torturers who, like the soldiers beneath the cross, divide the garments of the victim, who is looked upon as already dead (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24).
Then once again, we hear an urgent cry for help: "But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid […] Save me" (Verses 19, 21a). This is a cry that opens the heavens, because it proclaims a faith and a certainty that surpasses every doubt, every darkness and every experience of desolation. And the lamentation is transformed; it gives way to praise in the welcoming of salvation: "You have answered me. I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Verses 21c-22). Thus, the psalm breaks forth into thanksgiving, into the great final hymn that involves the whole people, the Lord's faithful, the liturgical assembly, the future generations (cf. Verses 23-21). The Lord has come to his help. He has saved the poor one and has shown him His merciful Face. Death and life have met in an inseparable mystery, and life has triumphed. The God of salvation has shown Himself to be the uncontested Lord, whom all the ends of the earth will celebrate, and before whom all the families of peoples will bow down in worship. It is the victory of faith, which is able to transform death into a gift of life -- the abyss of suffering into a source of hope.
Beloved brothers and sisters, this psalm has taken us to Golgotha, to the foot of Jesus' cross, in order to relive His passion and to share the fruitful joy of the resurrection. Let us allow ourselves to be flooded by the light of the paschal mystery, even in [times] of God's seeming absence, even in God's silence, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, let us learn to discern the true reality that surpasses all appearances, by recognizing the path of exaltation precisely in humiliation and the full revelation of life in death, in the cross. By thus placing all of our trust and hope in God the Father, in every anxiety we too will be able to pray to Him in faith, and our cry for help will be transformed into a hymn of praise. Thank you.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we reflect on Psalm Twenty-two, a heartfelt prayer of lamentation from one who feels abandoned by God. Surrounded by enemies who are persecuting him, the psalmist cries out by day and by night for help, and yet God seems to remain silent. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the opening line of this psalm is placed on the lips of Jesus as he calls upon the Father from the Cross. He too seems to have been abandoned to a cruel fate, while His enemies mock Him, attacking Him like ravenous and roaring lions, dividing His clothing among them as if He were already dead. The psalmist recalls how, in the past, the people of Israel called trustingly upon the Lord in times of trial, and He answered their prayer. He remembers the tenderness with which the Lord cared for him personally in his earlier life, as a child in his mother's womb, as an infant in his mother's arms, and yet now God seems strangely distant. Despite such adverse circumstances, though, the psalmist's faith and trust in the Lord remains. The psalm ends on a note of confidence, as God's name is praised before all the nations. The shadow of the Cross gives way to the bright hope of the Resurrection. We too, when we call upon Him in times of trial, must place our trust in the God who brings salvation, who conquers death with the gift of eternal life.
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I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's audience, including the groups from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Asia and North America. I extend a special greeting to the delegates of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services and to the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
Lastly, my thoughts go to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Today, the liturgy allows us to meditate on the mystery of the Lord's cross, and tomorrow on the sorrows of His Mother. May the cross of Christ and the example of Mary the Sorrowful Virgin illumine your lives, dear young people; may they sustain you in daily trials, dear sick; and may they urge you on, dear newlyweds, to live a courageous family life consistent with the principles of the Gospel.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
|Douay Rheims Bible|
|Dominus regit me. God's spiritual benefits to faithful souls.
 A psalm for David. The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.  He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:  He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name's sake.  For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.  Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!
 "Ruleth me"... In Hebrew, Is my shepherd, viz., to feed, guide, and govern me.
 And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this ping list.
This involves one of the most enigmatic aspects of Christ’s passion. The article is the best I’ve read on the subject.
Thanks for posting.
|Douay Rheims Bible|
|Deus Deus meus. Christ's passion: and the conversion of the Gentiles.
 Unto the end, for the morning protection, a psalm for David.
 O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins*.
 O my God, I shall cry by day, and thou wilt not hear: and by night, and it shall not be reputed as folly in me.
 But thou dwellest in the holy place, the praise of Israel.
 In thee have our fathers hoped: they have hoped, and thou hast delivered them.
 They cried to thee, and they were saved: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
 But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people.
 All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head.
 He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delighteth in him.
 For thou art he that hast drawn me out of the womb: my hope from the breasts of my mother.
 I was cast upon thee from the womb. From my mother's womb thou art my God,
 Depart not from me. For tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me.
 Many calves have surrounded me: fat bulls have besieged me.
 They have opened their mouths against me, as a lion ravening and roaring.
 I am poured out like water; and all my bones are scattered. My heart is become like wax melting in the midst of my bowels.
 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue hath cleaved to my jaws: and thou hast brought me down into the dust of death.
 For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me. They have dug my hands and feet.
 They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me.
 They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.
 But thou, O Lord, remove not thy help to a distance from me; look towards my defence.
 Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword: my only one from the hand of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns.  I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee.  Ye that fear the Lord, praise him: all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him.  Let all the seed of Israel fear him: because he hath not slighted nor despised the supplication of the poor man. Neither hath he turned away his face from me: and when I cried to him he heard me.
 With thee is my praise in a great church: I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him.  The poor shall eat and shall be filled: and they shall praise the Lord that seek him: their hearts shall live for ever and ever.  All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord: And all the kindreds of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight.  For the kingdom is the Lord's; and he shall have dominion over the nations.  All the fat ones of the earth have eaten and have adored: all they that go down to the earth shall fall before him.
 And to him my soul shall live: and my seed shall serve him.  There shall be declared to the Lord a generation to come: and the heavens shall shew forth his justice to a people that shall be born, which the Lord hath made.
 "The words of my sins"... That is, the sins of the world, which I have taken upon myself, cry out against me, and are the cause of all my sufferings.
Lo and behold, the Italian version gives different verse numbers for the quoted sections (emphasis mine):
«Dio mio, Dio mio, perché mi hai abbandonato?...
Lontane dalla mia salvezza le parole del mio grido.
Mio Dio, grido di giorno e non rispondi;
di notte, e non cè tregua per me» (vv. 2-3).
«In te confidarono i nostri padri,Does Zenit not translate the Italian text? Were they given a draft copy that had changed? Were they referencing a different Bible translation? ???
confidarono e tu li liberasti;
a te gridarono e furono salvati,
in te confidarono e non rimasero delusi» (vv. 5-6)..
Just for fun, here is the Latin Vulgate:
|  in finem pro adsumptione matutina psalmus David
 Deus Deus meus respice me; quare me dereliquisti longe a salute mea verba delictorum meorum
 Deus meus clamabo per diem et non exaudies et nocte et non ad insipientiam mihi
 tu autem in sancto habitas Laus Israhel
 in te speraverunt patres nostri speraverunt et liberasti eos
 ad te clamaverunt et salvi facti sunt in te speraverunt et non sunt confusi
 ego autem sum vermis et non homo obprobrium hominum et abiectio plebis
 omnes videntes me deriserunt me locuti sunt labiis moverunt caput
 speravit in Domino eripiat eum salvum faciat eum quoniam vult eum
 quoniam tu es qui extraxisti me de ventre spes mea ab uberibus matris meae
 in te proiectus sum ex utero de ventre matris meae Deus meus es tu
 ne discesseris a me quoniam tribulatio proxima est quoniam non est qui adiuvet
 circumdederunt me vituli multi tauri pingues obsederunt me
 aperuerunt super me os suum sicut leo rapiens et rugiens
 sicut aqua effusus sum et dispersa sunt universa ossa mea factum est cor meum tamquam cera liquescens in medio ventris mei
 aruit tamquam testa virtus mea et lingua mea adhesit faucibus meis et in limum mortis deduxisti me
 quoniam circumdederunt me canes multi concilium malignantium obsedit me foderunt manus meas et pedes meos
 dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea ipsi vero consideraverunt et inspexerunt me
 diviserunt sibi vestimenta mea et super vestem meam miserunt sortem
 tu autem Domine ne elongaveris auxilium tuum ad defensionem meam conspice
 erue a framea animam meam et de manu canis unicam meam
 salva me ex ore leonis et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam
 narrabo nomen tuum fratribus meis in media ecclesia laudabo te
 qui timetis Dominum laudate eum universum semen Iacob magnificate eum
 timeat eum omne semen Israhel quoniam non sprevit neque dispexit deprecationem pauperis nec avertit faciem suam a me et cum clamarem ad eum exaudivit me;
 apud te laus mea in ecclesia magna vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium eum
 edent pauperes et saturabuntur et laudabunt Dominum qui requirunt eum vivent corda eorum in saeculum saeculi
 reminiscentur et convertentur ad Dominum universi fines terrae et adorabunt in conspectu eius universae familiae gentium
 quoniam Dei est regnum et ipse; dominabitur gentium
 manducaverunt et adoraverunt omnes pingues terrae in conspectu eius cadent omnes qui descendunt in terram
 et anima mea illi vivet et semen meum serviet ipsi
 adnuntiabitur Domino generatio ventura et adnuntiabunt iustitiam eius populo qui nascetur quem fecit Dominus;
Lutherans don’t usually observe the Seven Sorrows or Our Mother of Sorrows; but the commemoration has grown on me, as I see this octave of the Nativity of Mary as an extension of Holy Cross Day.
So what to do at Matins, after the fixed Venite? Treat this as I would a Friday in Lent, meaning Psalm 22.
This posting was very well timed. Thank you.