Invocabit me. Psalm 91
He shall call on me, and I will hearken unto him: I will deliver him and bring him to honour: with length of days will I satisfy him. Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High: shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen. He shall call on me . . .
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, on God, world without end. Amen.
II Corinthians 6:1–10
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain; (for he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation;) giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
[Psalm 91] He shall give his Angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
[Psalm 91] Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High: shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope and my stronghold: my God, in him will I trust. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noisome pestilence. He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers. His faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler: thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night. Nor for the arrow that flieth by day; for the pestilence that walketh in darkness: nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee. For he shall give his Angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands; that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him up, because he hath known my Name. He shall call upon me, and I will hear him: yea, I am with him in trouble. I will deliver him, and bring him to honour: with long life will I satisfy him: and show him my salvation.
St. Matthew 4:1–11
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
[Psalm 91] He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers: his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
[Psalm 91] The Lord shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers: his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Below are plainsong renditions of the Psalms as published in the Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.
The Propers for the First Sunday in Lent are taken from Psalm 91, a Psalm that rings the changes on the certainty of God’s defense of those who trust in him. Derek Kidner writes that “This is a psalm for danger: for times of exposure and encirclement or of challenging the power of evil.”
In today’s Gospel we read that Satan — with wicked irony — misquotes this Psalm to tempt our Lord into a posture of arrogant presumption. Despite that infamous misuse of this text, the confidence that the Psalm conveys — especially in the face of evil assaults — is re-iterated time and again throughout today’s liturgy.
Perhaps the most distinctive image used in Psalm 91 to describe this promised security is that of a protective mother bird, guarding her young under her wing, beneath her feathers. The delicacy of feathers are transformed by her love into the invulnerability of a shield. That imagery is first introduced in the long Tract for today, then repeated in the Offertory and Communion proper.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s setting of this Offertory — Scapulis suis — is one of the most frequently performed of all his works (our choir sings it on average every other year as Lent commences). Below is a performance by the Lacock Scholars, singing at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, London. The Latin text for the motet along with an English translation is presented below the embedded video.
Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi Dominus
et sub pennis ejus sperabis,
scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus.
The Lord shall cover you with his wings
and you shall be safe under his feathers;
his faithfulness shall be your shield and buckler.