27 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
27 March 2022 (Psalms 47)

A mid-18th century Shofar or ram’s horn in the Jewish Museum in Vienna … Psalm 47 is associated with blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This morning is the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent IV), and today is also Mothering Sunday. The Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday and, traditionally, this Sunday has been a day of celebration, within Lent. Laetare Sunday gets its name from the first few words or incipit of the traditional Latin liturgical entrance (Introit) on this Sunday: Laetare Jerusalem, ‘Rejoice, O Jerusalem’ (see Isaiah 66: 10).

I am still in Milton Keynes University Hospital since I had a stroke on 18 March, and this is probably the first time in about half a century that I have not been to Church on two successive Sundays, one after another. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (27 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

We are at the halfway point in Lent. During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 47:

Psalm 47 is known by its opening words in Latin, Omnes gentes plaudite minibus, and in the translation in the Authorised or King James Version, opens with the words: ‘O clap your hands.’ In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 46.

Psalm 47 is one of 12 psalms attributed to the sons of Korah, and one of 55 psalms addressed to the ‘Chief Musician’ or ‘Conductor.’

This psalm is part of the ‘Elohistic Psalter’ (Psalms 42-83), which includes psalms referring to God as Elohim rather than YHWH. Psalm 47 is also grouped with other psalms that declare God’s kingship (see verse 7).

Psalm 47 is one of seven ‘enthronement psalms’ that refer to the crowning of God as king at a festive occasion. It has also been suggested that the theme of Psalm 47 is ‘universal rejoicing for God's universal reign.’

The phrase ‘God has gone up with a shout’ (verse 5) indicates that the psalm was written when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Zion. Alternatively, some Christian scholars understand this as an allusion to the Ascension of Christ.

This psalm is an expansion of the underlying thought in the previous psalm: ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth’ (Psalm 46: 10).

Jewish tradition sees in Psalm 47 allusions to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment in Judaism, and references to the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah: ‘God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet,’ or ‘Elohim ascends amidst shouting, YHWH to the blast of the shofar’ (Psalm 47: 5). This is seen as further hints at God ascending his thrones of judgment and mercy, themes that resonate with the day of judgment.

The Midrash says that God ascends to sit on the throne of judgment to render strict justice, and when God sits on the throne of mercy, God is filled with mercy and transforms justice into mercy for their sake (Leviticus Rabbah 29: 3).

Psalm 47 is recited seven times before the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah. These seven repetitions correspond to the seven mentions of Elohim (God) in this psalm, and also allude to the seven heavens God has created.

Verse 5 is one of the 10 verses included in the grouping known as Shofrot (verses related to shofar-blowing), recited during the Mussaf prayer on both days of Rosh Hashanah, and Psalm 47 is recited as the Song of the Day on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

There are settings of Psalm 47 by Orlando Gibbons, Heinrich Schütz, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and by Johann Sebastian Bach, who began a cantata for the Ascension with three verses from the psalm, Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen BWV 43, first performed in 1726.

Ralph Vaughan Williams set the psalm in English in 1920 as ‘O clap your hands’, a motet for chorus and orchestra. John Rutter set verses 1 to 7, ‘O clap your hands’, for choir and organ or orchestra in 1973.

A small Shofar on the bimah or reading desk in the Beth El synagogue near Bunclody, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 47 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1 Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

5 God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.

8 God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week, under the heading ‘Let my people go,’ focuses on the approximately 230 million Dalits living in India. Considered outcasts, these communities suffer systematic exclusion and discrimination under the caste system, a system of social stratification. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (27 March 2022, Lent IV) invites us to pray:

‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven’.
Merciful God,
may we forgive those who have wronged us
and ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged.

Laetare Jerusalem et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam; gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis, ut exsultetis et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.

Psalm: Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne’ (Psalm 47: 8) … a carved throne in the shape of a hand in Cashel, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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