The Lord said to my Lord
Psalm 109 figures prominently in today’s Holy Mass and Divine Office. At Mass, we receive Psalm 109 from the very lips of Our Lord Himself:
And the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying: What think you of Christ? whose son is he? They say to him: David’ s. He saith to them: How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41–46)
This evening’s Magnificat Antiphon, graced with an exquisite 4th mode melody, repeats the words of Jesus:
Quid vobis videtur de Christo? * cujus filius est? Dicunt ei omnes: David. Dicit eis Jesus: Quomodo David in spiritu vocat eum Dominum, dicens: Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis?
What think ye of Christ Whose Son is He * They say all unto Him The Son of David. Jesus saith unto them How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand?
An allusion to the very same Psalm 109 recurs at the very end of Saint Mark’s gospel: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19). Again, on the morning of Pentecost, Saint Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preaches the mystery of the risen and ascended Christ saying:
David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Ac 2:34-36)
In the New Testament
Psalm 109 is the ground of some of the important Christological doctrines of the New Testament. Saint Paul alludes to it in Romans (8:34), Ephesians (1:20), and Colossians (3:1). We discover Psalm 109 four times in the Letter to the Hebrews.
In the Liturgy
From the time of the Apostles, Psalm 109 has been a mirror wherein the Church contemplates the mystery of Christ. The Church, by her use of Psalm 109 in the sacred liturgy, continues Jesus’ own understanding of it passed on to the Apostles. Deep in her collective memory the Church cherishes the incomparable seventh mode antiphon that, for centuries, has opened the evening sacrifice of praise on Sunday: Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Dede a dextris meis (Ps 109:1). The Church hears the voice of Christ repeating for her what the Father said to him on the day of resurrection: “Sit at my right” (Ps 109:1).
Christ’s Divinity, Humanity, Kingship, and Priesthood
The medieval monastic psalters place a Christological title at the beginning of each psalm. These old titles of the psalms — there are many series of them — say, in some way, “Here is the mystery of Christ in this psalm. Contemplate his face as in a mirror, and hear in this psalm the sound of his voice.” The old Cistercian series of psalm titles has this for Psalm 109: “Of the divinity, the humanity, the kingship, and the priesthood of Christ.”
Bitter Sufferings and Resurrection
Going through the psalm, verse by verse, we see in verse 1 Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Father, an image that recurs in the Gloria of the Mass and in the Te Deum. In verse 3 we hear the voice of the Father saying, “From the womb before the daystar I begot thee” (Ps 109:3). Verse 4 is the declaration of Christ’s eternal priesthood: “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech” (Ps 109:4). Verses 5 and 6 describe the triumph of Christ over the powers of death. In the last verse of the psalm the whole mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection is summed up: “He shall drink of the torrent in the way — the torrent of his bitter sufferings — therefore he shall lift up his head — in the glory of the resurrection and ascension” (Ps 109:7).
How does all of this relate to life? When we begin to see the face of Christ in the psalms as in a mirror, we can begin to relate them to our own journey as well. We are all of us called, in some way, to “drink of the torrent in the way” (Ps 109:7). At the same time, our indefectible hope is that like Christ and with him, we too shall “lift up our heads.” All that is said to Christ by the Father is spoken to us. All that was accomplished in Christ our Head must fulfilled in his Body and in each of his members. And so we live from one Holy Mass to the next, and from one Hour of the Divine Office to the next, singing the psalms of David, the psalms of Christ, as we advance.