After this let the fiftieth Psalm be said (XII)

CHAPTER XII. How the Solemn Office of Lauds is to be said
14 Feb. 15 June. 15 Oct.

At Lauds on Sunday let the sixty-sixth Psalm first be said straight on without an antiphon. After this let the fiftieth Psalm be said, with an Alleluia, and then the hundred and seventeenth and the sixty-second. Then the Benedicite and Psalms of praise, a lesson from the Apocalypse, said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a versicle, a canticle out of the Gospel, and the Litany, and so end.

In Chapter XII, Saint Benedict sets forth the order of what he calls the Solemnity of Matins. Today we more commonly call this Office Lauds, with reference to the psalms of praise 148–149–150 that are said at this Hour every day under a single Gloria Patri. At Lauds, just as at the Night Office, there is, a psalm of preparation. At the Night Office, it is Psalm 3 with reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. At Lauds, it is Psalm 66 with reference to “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6) and to the mission of the Church, which is to carry the praise of God to every nation on earth.

Psalm 50, the Miserere—the psalm most often prayed in both East and West, and this in every manner of circumstances—is the foundational prayer of Lauds. Psalm 50 is omitted only on high festivals; in Paschaltide, it is omitted on Sundays also. Psalm 50 remains, all the same, the perfect morning prayer. Although Psalm 50 is the most famous of the Seven Penitential Psalms, it is also a psalm of spiritual resurrection that opens onto the praise of God and points, through the sacrifices of the Temple in Jerusalem, to the sacrifice of the Lamb, immolated upon the altar of the Cross in a bloody manner and on the altars of the Church in an unbloody manner, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachias:

For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts. Malachias 1:11)

The first five verses of the psalm give evidence that no man can come into the presence of God without becoming convicted of his sins. This is the grace of compunction. Psalm 50 spells out what Psalm 89 says in a single verse:

Posuisti iniquitates nostras in conspectu tuo; sæculum nostrum in illuminatione vultus tui.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thy eyes: our life in the light of thy countenance. (Psalm 89:8)

In the same first five verses, however, God is invoked as rich in mercy, as having compassion in abundance, as the One who washes clean from guilt, and who sets right all that is wrong in a man’s life, and this from his mother’s womb. One hears already in the Miserere what Saint Paul will say in Ephesians 2:4.

How rich God is in mercy, with what an excess of love he loved us!

This is, of course, the passage that gave Saint John Paul II the title of his second encyclical, promulgated in 1980, Dives in Misericordia. My own reading of Dives in Misericordia was an immense grace, casting its light both on the daily recitation of Psalm 50 and on the last of the 72 Instruments of Good Works, “And never to despair of God’s mercy.”

The next nine verses of the Miserere are a prayer for purity of heart and for spiritual resurrection. For me, at least, the key verses of this portion of the psalm are,

My God, bring a clean heart to birth within me; breathe new life, true life, into my being.Do not banish me from before thy face, do not take thy Holy Spirit away from me. (Psalm 50:12–13)

The final portion of the psalm is properly liturgical with its references to the praise of God in Sion, and to sacrifices and holocausts. The psalmist discovers that the sacrifice for which God waits is “a broken spirit; a heart that is humbled and contrite” (Psalm 50:19). This is the sacrifice that God will never refuse.

In the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we say, Cor Iesu, attritum propter scelera nostra, “Heart of Jesus crushed for our sins.” In His Sacred Heart broken by sin, Our Lord holds every humble and contrite heart, and together with His own Heart, He offers them to the Father. When from the altar, the priest intones Sursum corda (Hearts on high!), and when the faithful respond, Habemus ad Dominum (We hold them towards the Lord), our broken hearts are united to His in the one perfect sacrifice that fulfills the oblations and holocausts of the Temple. Psalm 50, sung at the beginning of the day, announces the Sacrifice that builds up the Church and that rebuilds her wherever she is weakened by sin and falling into ruin. Nothing so effectively repairs the Church as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I cannot say this emphatically enough: the Mass repairs the Church.

Lord, in thy great love send prosperity to Sion, so that the walls of Jerusalem may rise again. Then indeed thou wilt take pleasure in solemn sacrifice, in gift and burnt-offering; then indeed bullocks will be laid upon thy altar. (Psalm 50:20–21)

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