Paschal Liturgy and Psalmody in Jerusalem 380-384 CE

Some observations and implications

Author: Niek Schuman


In the present contribution I like to bring together the two theological disciplines in which I personally have taken interest already some forty years: Old Testament exegesis and Liturgics. More specifically I am interessed in place and function of the psalms in the liturgy of sunday and festival celebrations. What psalms are chosen in a fixed arrangement oftheday of Scripture-readings, prayers and preaching, and what are the theological implications of that choice?

Now, I feel quite unable to find an answer to this question in a comprehensible way. By way of a random test I will focus on the liturgy of the Holy Week in Jerusalem about 380-384 pC., with some special stress on the liturgy in the Pascal or Easter Vigil.

We are rather well informed about that liturgy thanks to the Diary of a Pelgrimage of Egeria (sometimes: Aetheria). First therefore I will pay some attention to fragments of the diary in question. We will get an short impression of the liturgical ceremonies in general, in and about Jerusalem, on every Sunday, at Epiphany, on the occasion of the bisshop’s instruction of the catechumens in the week after Easter, and finally of the meetings in the Holy Week before Easter in Jerusalem (I).

Then we have at our disposal the socalled Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem. Indeed this liturgical document is supposed to originate in the twenties or thirties of the 5th century pC., in its written form anyway. Actually the data of the Armenian Lectionary will be older, as is generally assumed. So we may use them as liturgical data on the one hand, alongside with the corresponding notices of Egeria’s diary on the other hand (II).

Next we can take a closer look at these arrangements as regards their content. What exactly is the nature of the ‘appropriateness’ Egeria is speaking about? To find a (part of an) answer we will pay attention to fragments of those psalms which are mentioned in the Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem. Some stress will be laid on the Paschal Vigil, more specifically on the psalms of the opening ceremony, the Lucernarium (III).

Finally I will try to make some provisional remarks about the theological implications of our findings (IV).

I. Egeria’s Diary of a Pilgrimage (EDP)

1a. There yet exist a continuing discussion about the precise date of Egeria’s travels in the Ancient Near East (esp. to Edessa, Syria, and to Egypt, including Mount Sinai), respectively the three years of her proper stay in Jerusalem and surroundings. The arguments for dating those years from 381 up to 384 seem rather convincing to me, although a dating in the early fifth century remains possible too (see Maraval 1982, 29ff., resp. Gingras 1970, 12ff.). So probably she will have been a witness of the public appearance of bishop Cyrill of Jerusalem (circa 313386/387 pC.), the author of the ‘Mystagogical Catecheses’, which offers us a deeper understanding of the theological insights within the christian community of those days in Jerusalem. Cyrill was succeeded by bisshop John of Jerusalem (387417 pC.).

In her notices Egeria mentions a lot of churches and holy places in and around Jerusalem. The most important are respectively those on Golgotha (‘Martyrium or Major church’ and ‘Anastasis’) and those on the Mount of Olives (‘Eleona’ and ‘Imbonon’). Here and elsewhere she has participated in a lot of ceremonies she gives an account of in her diary.

It may be very usefull to get a first impression of the liturgy of those animated ceremonies in general by reading some of the very reports of it. (The mentioned animation is clearly brought out by Egeria in her description of the daily services in Jerusalem, see § 24:1-7). A number of four examples will be sufficient to show a common caracteristic trait: the way Egeria describes the liturgy in amazement at the appropiateness of Scripture-readings, psalms and hymns alongside with the special occasion and place of the celebration. The quotations are taken from Gingras 1970.

With regard to the Sunday service Egeria writes:

Among all these matters this takes first place, that proper psalms and antiphons are always sung. Those sung at night or towards the morning, those sung by day at the sixth and ninth hours or at the vespers, continually they are proper and have a meaning pertinent to what is being celebrated (§ 25:5).

1b. Shortly after in the textual edition of her diary (but see below!) Egeria gives an impression of the great celebration of Epiphany in the Major church on Golgotha. There she notes down:

On the first day, then, the service takes place in the major church on Golgotha. Whatever sermons are preached, whatever hymns are sung, everything is appropriate to the day (§ 25:10).

This fragment forms part of a more comprehensive description of a procession to Jerusalem after the Epiphany vigil in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. During that procession all participants were singing the ‘Benedictus’ of Psalm 118:26 and Matthew 21:9: ‘Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord’. It may be presumed that the vigil itself was described by Egeria in a missing sheet of the text of her diary. Possibly she also may have presented an introduction to the liturgical year as such, in the same way she did in the preceding chapter about the Sunday celebrations in general.

Anyway, again Egeria underlines the appropriateness of the liturgical components of the ceremony. The same recurs in her description of the solemn meetings in the Anastasis of the ‘neophytes’ (newly baptized at Easter) and those faithful who wish to hear the mysteries, led by the bisshop himself. ‘For he explains all these mysteries in such a manner that there is no one who would not be drawn to them, when he heard them thus explained’ (§ 47:2)! Then, some lines further down:

But this above all is very pleasing and very admirable here, that whatever hymns and antiphons are sung, whatever readings and prayers are recited by the bishop, they are said in such a manner as to be proper and fitting to the feast which is being observed and to the place where the service is being held (§ 47:5).

With this fragment we were moved to Jerusalem in the days immediately after Easter. With the last example we find outselves in the days before, ‘which are called here the Great Week’ (§ 30:1). Egeria gives a description of the liturgical ceremonies on every day of that week, more specifically of Good Friday and the Paschal Vigil (see below). On monday, she writes, at first the same things are done as usually in the fourty days before Easter. But on the ninth hour there is a very prolonged meeting in the Martyrium:

At the ninth hour everyone comes together in the Major church. And until the first hour of the night they continually sing hymns and antiphons, and read passages from the Scripures, fitting to the day and the place, interrupting them with prayers (§ 32:1).

2a. Now we turn to some more extensive fragments of Egeria’s diary with regard to the celebrations in the Holy Week (’the Great Week’). We may start on the saturday before:

When a prayer has been said and a blessing given to all, everyone continues on to the Lazarium (in Bethany), chanting hymns. And by the time they have come the Lazarium, such a multitude has gathered that not only the place itself, but all the surrounding fields are filled with people. Hymns are sung as well as antiphons appropiate to the day and the place [cf. above!]. Various scriptural readings, also fitting to the day, are read. Just before the dismissal is given, the Pasch [Passover/ Easter] is proclaimed, that is to say, a priest mounts to an elevated spot and reads the passage from Scripture where it is written: ‘When Jesus came into Bethany six days before the Pasch’. When this has been read and the Pasch has been proclaimed, the dismissal is given (§ 29:5).

2b. Then on sunday there is the beginning of the ‘Great Week’. In that time the sunday itself is not yet called ‘Palm Sunday’. It is not untill the evening that the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem is celebrated:

 As the eleventh hour draws near, that particular passage from Scripture is read in which the children bearing palms and branches came forth to meet the Lord, saying:’Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’. The bishop and all the people rise immediately, and then everyone walks down from the top of the Mount of Olives, with the people preceding the bishop and responding continually with ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ to the hymns and antiphons (§ 31:2).

2c. In the next paragraphs Egeria describes shortly several ceremonies on the following days of that special week. After having mentioned in passing the celebration of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, she continues with an elaborate account of what happens on Good Friday. I quote a fragment of it:

When the sixth hour is at hand, everyone goes before the Cross, regardless of whether it is raining or whether is it hot. This place has no roof, for it is a sort of very large and beautiful courtyard between the Cross and the Anastasis. The people are so clustered together there that it is impossible for anything to be opened. A chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hours nothing else is done except the reading of passages from Scripture.

First, whichever psalms speak of the Passion are read. Next, there are readings from the apostles, either from the Epistles or the Acts of the apostles, wherever they speak of the Passion of the Lord. Next, the texts of the Passion from the Gospels are read. Then there are readings from the prophets, where they said that the Lord would suffer; and then they read from the Gospels, where He foretells the Passion. (…) And so, during those three hours, all the people are taught that nothing happened which was not first prophesied; and that nothing was prophesied which was not completely fulfilled (§ 37:4-6).

2d. Proportionately Egeria pays little attention to the Paschal or Easter Vigil itself. See her explanation:

The Easter Vigil is observed here exactly as we observe it at home. Only one thing is done more elaborately here. After the children [the neophytes!] have been baptized and dressed as soon as they came forth from the baptismal font, they are led first of all to the Anastasis with the bishop. The bishop goes within the railings of the Anastasis, a hymn is sung, and he prays for them. Then he returns with them to the major church [the Martyrium], where all the people are holding the vigil as is customary.

Everything is done which is customarily done at home with us, and after the sacrifice has been offered, the dismissal is given. After the vigil service has been celebrated in the major church, everyone comes to the Anastasis singing hymns. There, once again, the text of the Gospel of the Resurrection is read, a prayer is daid, and once again the bishop offers the sacrifice. However, for the sake of the people, everything is done rapidly, lest they be delayed too long [!]. And so the people are dismissed. On this day the dismissal from the vigil takes place at the same hour as at home with us (38:1-2).

II. The Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem (ALJ)

1a. Actually, how fascinating the lecture of Egeria’s diary may be, it leaves us in ignorance of the very data of the liturgical arrangements. We remain wondering what psalms and hymns, readings and sermons Egeria ment in her repeated notices about their ‘appropiateness to the day’. Fortunallly we can try to insert those gaps by consulting the so-called Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem. The Greek original of this oldest proper lectionary has been lost. It is transmitted in three Armenian versions, now accessible to us in the magnificent edition of Athanase Renoux.

1b. It is not my intention to go further in detail on the Armenian Lectionary as such. I restrict myself to the data we find in this lectionary relating the same special days as reported bij Egeria in her EDP (i.e. the quotations above, resp. 1b and 2a-d). So we can start by the feast of Epiphany, that is to say: the beginning of the liturgical year at the time (cf. Renoux 182f.). The information of the ALJ is the more interesting because of the missing part of Egeria’s diary exactly applying to this very christian feast (see above I 1b).

Now then, thanks to the ALJ we get more information about the place and the liturgical order of a great and solemn celebration of Epiphany. The community came together at a place called ‘Poimnion’ or ‘Poimenion’ near Bethlehem (‘Field of the shepherds’, Renoux 202f.). The service included a lot of Scripture-readings taken from Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 7:10-17; 11:1-9; 40:10-17; Micah 5:1-6) as well as some significant couples of psalms and New Testament readings. Regarding the psalms mentioned by ALJ, we note that it regularly indicates the first psalm by means of an antiphon taken from that psalm. That antiphon is supposed to be the refrain, while the entire psalm or at least a greater part of it was sung.

Now, the service started with the well-known Psalm 23, obviously chosen in direct relation with the following reading of the narrative passage (we would say ’the Christmas narrative’) of Luke 2:8-20. Next, directly linked up with the narrative of the shepherds, the passage of the wise men of the East is read, immediately followed by (parts of) Psalm 2.
Then in a similar way we find the combination of another ‘messianic’ psalm and a Scripture-reading about the birth of Jesus Christ: Psalm 110 and (in that order) Matthew 1:18-25.

2a. Later on (in III and IV below) I will point out some striking elements and theological implications of these liturgical arrangements at the feast of Epiphany. First we take a look at the data of the ALJ with regard to the ceremonies in the Holy Week as noted down by Egeria (see I 2a-d above).

Indeed, the service on the saturday before took place at ’the Lazarium’. Two psalms are mentioned, alongside with two Scripture-readings: Psalm 30 with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Psalm 40 with John 11:55 – 12:11, the last one being the proper narrative of Lazarus’ resurrection by Jesus.

2b. On sunday at the beginning of the ‘Great Week’, before the procession to the Mount of Olives mentioned by EPD, there was a great celebration which is shortly reported by Egeria. ALJ gives us further particular information. Again we find two arrangements of psalms and Scripture-readings: respectively Psalm 98 with Ephesians 1:3-10 and Psalm 97 with Matthew 21:1-10.

2c. The lectionary continues with a lot of data for liturgical meetings on monday, tuesday, wednesday and thursday of the Holy Week. Especially the last one offers a lot of celebrations with their respective arrangements, all concentrated around the institution of the Last Supper and the beginning of the Passion narratives. Many psalms are recited in that context, among which once more Psalm 23 (vs 5: ‘Thou spreadest a table for me in the sight of my enemies’!) and no less than five groups of three psalms each during the Vigil on the Mount of Olives. Again we find Psalm 2, along with, among others, Psalm 41, 59 or 109. To anticipate for a moment of that which will be illustrated more elaborately in section III: These psalms are good examples of what Egeria ment by her mention, once more, of ‘hymns, antiphons and readings which are appropriate to this day and this place’, § 31:1):

The kings of the earth stand ready,
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and his anointed king (Ps. 2:2).

Even the friend whom I trusted,
who ate at my table,
exults over my misfortune (Psalm 41:9).

Savage men lie in wait for me,
they lie in ambush ready to attack me,
for no fault or guilt of mine, o Lord (Psalm 59:4).

They have attacked me without a cause
and accused me though I have done nothing unseemly (Psalm 109:2).

Likewise for the service at Good Friday the ALJ prescribes a great number of psalms and readings. Among the last ones are famous prophetic passages like Isaiah 50:4-9 and 53:1-12, speaking of the destiny of the Servant of the Lord. They are accompanied by psalms as Psalm 35 or 88 and obviously Psalm 22. In section III we will take a look at some parts of those psalms.

2d. Finally there is the abundant liturgical arrangement of the Paschal (Easter) Vigil, taking place in turn in the Anastasis, the Martyrium and again Anastasis. The series of Scripture-readings, Old en New Testament, is already for a great deal similar to that which we yet practise in our days. Among the psalms we notice (after the entrance of the neophytes!) Psalm 65 and 30, before the reading of respectively 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Matthew 28:1-20 together with John 19:38 -20:18. But most interesting, I think, are the two psalms which are figuring in the first part of the Paschal Vigil: Psalm 113 (antiphon vers 2) and Psalm 118 (antiphon vers 24). The two psalms function as respectively opening and closing of the light ceremony (the lucernarium).

III. The liturgical appropiateness in question

1a. To get a deeper understanding of the liturgical ‘appropiateness’ Egeria is talking about so repeatedly, we have to ‘zoom in’ on the very themes and texts of the arrangements mentioned above (2a and 2b). Once more I mainly restrict myself to the psalms which form part of those arrangements. When there are striking correspondences between words or themes in the psalms at the one hand, the Scripture-readings on the other hand, I will indicate them in italics.

1b. The arrangement at the feast of Epiphany of the indicated psalms and the New Testament passages about the birth of Christ (see II 1b) speak for itself:

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall want nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside the waters of peace (Ps. 23:1, 2).

Now in this same district there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock, when suddenly… (Lk. 2:8).

Jesus was born at Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of king Herod. After his birth, see, wise men of the East arrived in Jerusalem, asking: ‘Where is the child who is born to be king of the Jews?’ (…) King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this… (Mat. 2:1-3).

The kings of the earth stand ready,
and the rulers conspire together
against the Lord and his anointed king (Ps. 2:2).

When the Lord from Zion hands you the sceptre,
the symbol of your power,
march forth through the ranks of your enemies (Ps. 2:2).

She (Mary) will bear a son. And you will give him the name Jesus (Saviour), for he will save his people from their sins (Mat. 1:21).

So this liturgical arrangement underlines the kingship of the annunciated and new born child Jezus. At the same time it evokes in a particular way the tension bewteen this kingship and that of ’the kings of the earth’ (of whom Herod figures here as the representative).

2a. The reading of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, about the resurrection of all who have died ‘in Christ’, results in that of Jesus’ stay at Bethany after the resurrection of Lazarus.

Six days before the Passover festival Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived whom he had raised from the dead. There a supper was given in his honour, at which Martha served, and Lazarus sat among the guests with Jesus (John 12:1f.).

The two readings are flanked by two significant psalms:

O Lord my God, I cried to thee
and thou didst heal me.
O Lord, thou hast brought me up from Sheol
and saved my life as I was sinking into the abyss.
Thou hast turned my laments into dancing,
thou hast stripped off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy (Ps. 30:3f., 12).

I waited, waited for the Lord,
He bent down to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the muddle pit,
out of the mire and the clay;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm footing (Ps. 40:2f.).

Who is the ‘I’ of Psalm 30 and 40 in this very context? Apparently it applies to Lazarus. However, the coincidence with the ‘I’ of Jesus himself, immediately before the Holy Week, seems obvius to me. The more so as this connection recurs, albeit in a different way, in Luke 16: the Lazarus there more and more get the features of Jesus, risen from the dead; compare for instance Luke 16:31 and Luke 24:27 and 44. I shall shortly return to the subject below (see IV).

2b. In the service of ‘Palm Sunday’, the reading of Ephesians 1:3-19 and Matthew 21:1-10 are accompanied by the two psalms we know as ‘Jhwh is King’-psalms:

Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the hills sing aloud together
before the Lord; for He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples in justice (Ps. 98:8f.).

The Lord is king! Let the earth be glad,
let coasts and islands all rejoice (Ps. 97:1).

It is quite obvious that with the choice of these psalms intends to stress Paul’s accent on the cosmological impact of the reign of Christ (Eph. 1:10!), who is welcomed in Jerusalem by crowd as the great king (Mat. 21:1-10).

2c. Above in II 2c we already had a look at some fragments of psalms figuring during the night right before Good Friday. A great number of psalms is sung, and what they have in common is the theme of conspiring, treason and accusation of the innoccent. Again the ‘I’ of those psalms evidently is taken as the ‘I’ of Christ himself.

If possibly even more this seems to be the case with regard to the Psalms recited on Good Friday:

Malicious witnesses step forward,
they question me on matters of which I know nothing.
They return me evil for good,
lying in wait to take my life (Ps. 35:11f.).

I have had my fill of woes,
they have brought me to the treshold of Sheol.
I am numbered with those who go down to the abyss,
I have become like a man beyond help.
Will thy wonders be known in the dark,
thy victories in the land of oblivion? (Ps. 88:4f., 13).

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me
and art so far form saving me,
from heeding my groans?
They share out my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothes (Ps. 22:2, 19).

Besides these psalms of suffering once more also Psalm 109 is sung. It needs no argument that continually the ‘I’ is identified with the ‘I’ of Christ in his agony. [Apart from that, I am of the opinion that the verses 9-19 of Psalm 109 must be understood as a long quotation out of the mouth of the enemies, and that vers 20 can be read as: ‘This the acting of those who are prosecuting me by the Lord’ (corresponding the version of the Septuagint: ‘touto to ergon toon endiaballontoon me para kuriou‘).]

2d. Before turning to the psalms which figure in the opening of the Pascal Vigil, we take a little look at two other psalms sung later on. It applies to Psalm 65 and 30:

We owe thee praise, o God in Zion,
thou hearest prayer,
vows shall be paid to thee (Ps.65: 1f.).

I called unto thee, o Lord [or: ‘Lord!’]
and I pleaded with thee, Lord, for mercy:
‘What profit in my death if I go down into the pit?
Can the dust confess thee or proclaim thy truth?’ (Ps. 30:9f.).

Psalm 30 also appeared in the ‘Lazarus-service’ a week before (see above, II 2a). So the psalm functions as an inclusion of the octave of the Holy (Great) Week. Again we may see how the ‘I’ of the crying Lazarus becomes the ‘I’ of Christ, who is finally ‘brought up from Sheol’ by God – to whom is directed the praise of Psalm 65.

Now I like to lay some stress on the two psalms of the lucernarium-rite as opening of the Pascal Vigil. In fact the light ceremony is flanked by respectively Psalm 113 and 118, with Psalm 113:2 and 118:24 as antiphons. The psalms are reproduced here in whole, with numbered verses and a main division as proposed by me:

1 Halleluiah! Praise, youthat are his servants,
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
now and evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
may the Lord’s name be praised.

4 High [Elevate] is the Lord above all nations,
his glory above the heavens
5 Who is like the Lord our God
who sets his throne so high,
6 who deigns to look down so low
in heaven and on earth?

7 Who lifts up the weak out of the dust
and raises [elevates] the poor from the dunghill,
8 giving him a place [throne] among princes,
among the princes of his people;
9 who makes [let throne] the woman in a childless house
a happy mother of children. Halleluiah! (Ps. 113)

A (1-4)

1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures for ever.
2 Declare it, house of Israel:
his love endures for ever!
3 Declare it, house of Aaron:
his love endures for ever!
4 Declare it, you that fear the Lord:
his love endures for ever!

B (5-21)

5 When in my distress I called to the Lord,
his answer was to set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side, I have no fear;
what can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side, He is my helper,
and I shall gloat over my enemies.
8 It is better to find refuge in the Lord
than to trust in men.
9 It is better to find refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
10 All nations surround,
but in the Lord’s name I will drive them away.
11 They surround me on this side and on that,
but in the Lord’s name I will drive them away.
12 They surround me like bees at the honey,
they attack me, as fire attacks brushwood,
but in the Lord’s name I will drive them away.
13 They thrust hard against me so that I nearly fall,
but the Lord has helped me.
14 The Lord is my refuge and defence,
He has become my deliverer.
15 Hark! Shouts of deliverance
in the camp of the righteous!
16 With his right hand the Lord does mighty deeds,
the right hand of the Lord raises up.
17 I shall not die, but live,
to proclaim the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord did indeed chasten me,
but He did not surrender me to Death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter by them and praise the Lord.
20′ This is the gate of the Lord:
the righteous shall make their entry through it!’
21 I will praise thee, for thou hast answered me
and hast become my deliverer.

C (22-27)

22 The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief corner-stone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing,
it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the lord has made,
let us exult and rejoice in it.
25 We pray thee, o Lord, deliver us (Hosannah),
we pray thee, o Lord, send us prosperity.
26 Blessed in the name of the Lord are all who come;
we bless you from the house of the lord.
27 The Lord is God, He has given light to us,
the ordered line of pilgrims by the horns of the altar.

D (28-29)

28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee,
my God, I will exalt thee.
29 It is good to give thanks to the Lord:
yes, his love endures for ever!

As I may take for granted, we have to do here with the two psalms which open and close the so-called ‘Hallel’ (Ps. 113-118). In Matthew 26:30/ Mark 14:26 we read: ‘And having sung the Hallel  they leaved unto the Mount of Olives’. We know that in Jewish tradition the same group of psalms has been linked with Pesach as well as with the feast of Leaves. In the light of all that it seems to be a very interesting datum that the Armenian Lectonary of Jerusalem just relaties these ‘corner-psalms’ of the ‘Hallel’ with de celebration in the Paschal Vigil.

Let us take a further look at these two psalms. Psalm 113 can be seen as the basic Creed of the entire Old Testament. The most characteristic quality of Jhwh is that he, the Elevate, with his throne so immensely high settling, elevates the poor from the dunghill, giving him a throne among princes, while letting throne the unfruitful among her children! Indeed we meet here the very message of the Old Testament in a nutshell: the highness of Jhwh is demonstrated in the lifes of the most humbly men. The songs of Miriam and Hannah, alongside with that of Maria in the New Testament, are hymnic affirmation of that very faith. In Psalm 113 it finds expression once more in another way: he who sets his throne so high, he the same look down so low (vss 5f.). And when Jhwh looks down, he looks after the oppressed ones, we learn of Exodus 2:23-25.

Psalm 118 can be divided in four main parts (A-D). In A we find an appeal to the liturgical community for praise. Also at the end, in D, there is a similar appeal, now from the mouth of a single person, whose ‘I’ is expressed in vers 28. This person appears in part B, telling to the assembly his story of deliverance. The essence of his story is summarized at the beginning of this part B, in vers 5: ‘I called (for help), he answered (by setting me free). They, the many, already had reacted to this particular story of deliverance, in vers 20: ‘This (properly: here) is the gate of the Lord: the righteous shall make their entry through it!’. Indeed just that happens in part C, where the astonished assembly sings about the rejected stone that had become the chief corner-stone. And the many reacts in vers 24 like they did in vers 20: ‘This (properly: here) is the day which the Lord has made, les us exult and rejoice in it!’. There too we find the famous text of the ‘Benedictus’, quotated in Matthew 21:9 (vers 26, compare above I 2b and II 2b).

All in all both psalms give evidence of great amazement about what we could characterize as ’the impossible possibility’ which has been reality. That is to say: a reality in confession, or rather the type of reality celebrated in a liturgical way at Passover. And it is the ‘I’, respectively the ‘He’ of all psalms which have passed the revue, who stays in the centre of this reality.

IV. Some theological implications

With that we have arrived at a central, theologically really relevant question. Thanks to the data of Armenian Lectionary we now know what exactly could be ment by Egeria speaking of the appropiateness of Scripture-readings, psalms and hymns in the fourth century christian community of Jerusalem. Anyway, we have seen in section II and III above which psalms are figuring in the ALJ. The appropiateness in question of those psalms is found in their direct application to Christ, his deepest humiliation and his most high glorification. Bisshop Cyrill and John of Jerusalem, their catechumens and their entire community, they heard in the ‘I’ of so many psalms the voice of Christ (vox Christi ad Patrem). Like they heard in some other psalms the voice of prophecy about Christ (vox prophetae de Christo) – or like they cried with their own voice to Christ in another type of psalms again (vox ecclesiae ad Christum; cp. Fisher 1982, 31). With that they essentially were in line with a similar approach of the psalms in former times (a) as well as later on (b).

a. Concerning the first I would like to point out the way Luke describes how ‘Law and Prophets’ have spoken of the Messiah. We already found an allusion to that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31, cp. above III 2a). We can find the same yet more explicitly in the last chapter of the third gospel. On their way to Emmaus there suddenly appears the untill then unknwon companion of Cleopas and the other one, astonished at their lack of insight:

‘How dull you are!’, he answered. ‘How slow to believe all that the prophets said! Was the Messiah not bound to suffer thus before entering upon his glory?’ The he began with Moses and all the prophets, and explained to them the passages which referred to himself in every part of the scriptures (Luke 24:25-27).

Some verses further on the risen Christ appears amidst his disciples:

And he said to them: ‘This is what I meant by saying, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms was bound to be fulfilled’. The he opened their minds to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:43b-45, italics mine).

b. Some decades after Egeria’s travels and more or less in the same time the ALJ appeared in its written form, it is Augustine who fully continues the messianic reading and interpretation of the psalms. To give just a very small impression of it, I show a few sayings of Augustine taken from his Enarrationes in Psalmos.. The following quotations concern the pronouncements of Psalm 42:1 and 43:1 (in a free rendering of the original Latin text):

Who is speaking here? If we want to, we ourselves are speaking here. Not as one single human person, but as one single body, the body of Christ, the church (…)

That is to say: that one omnipresent human person, with the head in heaven, the limbs here below. That voice, now rejoicing, now lamenting (…) that voice appear to be well-known: it is our own voice [sit unusquisque in Christi corpore, et loquetur hic].

Finally I like to remember at an particular utterance in the same line of interpretation, but now set in and grown out the context of our very days. What I am driving at are some words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, writing about the great sufferings, the expressions of innocence, but no less the curses and impassioned cries for justice in the psalms, ultimately says:

We are going to suppose as obviously that it is here someone else who is praying. That whe who is expressing his innocence, who is evoking the divine judgement, or has descended into such a massive suffering, that he is nobody else than Jesus Christ himself. He himself is praying here. And not only here, but in the whole Psalter. The human Jesus Christ, to whom distress, illness or sorrow are not strange, who yet was the Righteous one, he is praying in the Psalter by the mouth of his community. The Psalter is the prayerbook of Jesus Christ in its most proper sense (Bonhoeffer  1987, 39; italics mine).

This line of thinking, really profound as it is, offers a very fruitfull broadening of something like the multi-perspectivity of the psalms. I personally think it really significant to continue reflecting this way of approaching the psalms, in line with the Jerusalem community of the Pascal Vigil 380-384 pC.


– Bonhoeffer, D., Gemeinsames Leben. Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (= DBW 5, eds. G.L. Müller/A. Schönherr, München 1987)
– Gingras, G.E. (ed.), Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage, New York 1970 (ACW 38)
– Fischer, B., Die Psalmen als Stimme der Kirche. Gesammelte Studien zur christlichen Psalmenfrömmigkeit, Trier 1982
– Maraval, P. (ed.), Égérie: Journal de voyage (Itinéraire), Paris 1971 (SC 296)
– Renoux, A. (ed.), Le Codex Arménien Jérusalem 121, Turnhout I 1969, II 1971 (PO 165/168)

Lezing Pretoria, augustus 2003

Scriptural quotations are mostly taken from the New English Bible.