This past Sunday in the Roman Liturgy we celebrated the 2nd Sunday of Lent. The psalm for this past Sunday was Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19. When I walked into Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary here in Austin for the Noon Liturgy, I was very excited to see that this was the psalm for Sunday since only one month ago I explained this psalm to my students when talking about the Passover Meal celebrated by the Jews.
Psalm 116 finds itself right in the middle of what’s known as the Hallel Psalms (113-118 and is part of the Great Hallel (115-118). The Hallel Psalms were the psalms that were sung during the Passover Meal as the four mandatory cups were drunk (Cup of Sanctification, Cup of Proclamation, Cup of Blessing, and Cup of Praise). Psalm 116 is also known as a Todah psalm (Psalm 22 is the quintessential Todah). The term – Todah - means praise or thanksgiving. It was a subset of offerings as described in Leviticus 7:11ff. The first seven chapters of Leviticus have to with sacrifice. In Leviticus 7:11, the Todah refers to an animal sacrifice (goat, lamb or bull), three or four kinds of bread offered and leavened bread (verse 13). You would consume the entire animal that you brought on that day. There would be eating all day and all night – essentially it’s a party.
The peace offerings were unique from other kinds of sacrifice because they were non-obligatory; they celebrated a healthy (shalom) relationship between God and the worshipper and other offerings were made as atonement for sin. The peace offerings were made because you were grateful for God and you wanted to celebrate your experience with God. There are many more elements to the Todah, but this is not the post to explain them. If you are interested and want me to explain more of the Todah Sacrifice, make a comment at the bottom of the page.
I will say that the Todah is fulfilled in the Eucharistic Celebration. Psalm 116 is the staple of the Christian liturgy. This psalm is the Todah Sacrifice. The Passover Meal is a Todah Sacrifice. When the Messiah comes, the only sacrifice that will remain is the Todah. The term Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Allegorically, we can also see the words of this psalm on Jesus’ lips as he celebrates the Last Supper with the Apostles and during his Passion and Death on the cross. Brant Pitre says in his book, Jesus and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, “this is exactly was Jesus is doing at the Last Supper: he is offering to God the “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” the new “thank offering” (zebah torah), what Greek-speaking Christians would call the “thanksgiving” (eucharistia).” Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist. It is not merely a symbol!
Now that we have a “basic” understanding of Psalm 116 and the Todah Sacrifice, I would like to turn my attention to the specific verses we either recited or sang on Sunday. Verse 10 is stating that the psalmist is lamenting over something that is happening to him, a suffering of sorts, but he is not losing faith. Actually, he has great hope even in his misfortunes. Victor Frankl understood the importance of hope when dealt with misfortunes since he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp. He says in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Man can endure almost any how if only he has a why.”
In verses 15-16, the psalmist is stating that God is concerned with those who fear him and have died in his presence since it’s God that keeps watch over the lives of “saints.” The psalmist views himself as one of these saints. The psalmist realizes he is God’s servant for God has loosened the bonds. This could refer to the bonds of sin or the bonds of slavery in Egypt. The words, “I am your servant…the son of your handmaid…” and “I will lift up the chalice of salvation” (verse 13) can clearly be heard on the lips of Jesus during the Last Supper. It is Jesus Christ on the cross that would die for our sins and as Christians we see sin as slavery.
In verses 17-19, the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” which reflects the lifting up of the “chalice of salvation” would have occurred in the Temple. The Temple was the place where God dwelled. The payment of vows is a step in the Todah Sacrifice. This payment in the old liturgy of the Roman Rite means that we join in the sacrifice of the liturgy since this is the ideal way that we repay the debt of Our Lord. In the new translation of the Roman Liturgy, during the Presentation and Preparation of the Gifts, the priest says, “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” (underline is mine). Although the priest is reciting these words, we the lay faithful also enter into this sacrifice and offer up the sacrifice. The sacrifice is offered by the priest (who is In Persona Christ – In the Person of Christ) but we take part in offering the sacrifice as well.
The Church suggests Psalm 116 as we prepare to enter into the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and receive Jesus Christ’s precious body and blood. The Church recites this psalm during the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and during the Holy Thursday liturgy.
The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Lent will add to our understanding of sacrifice and the Temple as Jesus will fulfill the Temple and become the New Temple of the New Covenant. Check back on Friday for my post on all the readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent.