Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Something About Psalm 43

Lewis and Latin!

When we first meet Lewis Barnavelt, he’s riding a bus from Wisconsin to his new home in Michigan. When we first hear Lewis speak it is in Latin, specifically a series of prayers:
Quia tu es Deus fortitudo mea; quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?
Quare tristis es anima mea, et quare conturbas me?
Judica me Deus...
Bellairs thankfully provides the Latin translations:
For Thou O God art my strength; why have you cast me off, and why do I go sorrowful, while the enemy afflicts me?
Why art thou sorrowful O my soul, and why do you trouble me?
Judge me O God...
Lewis is naturally reciting these prayers in Latin, the language of the Mass in 1948. In the years following the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the Mass would have been said in the vernacular – or, in the case for Lewis, English.

The text itself is from the 43rd psalm of the Book of Psalms and known in the English King James Version as "Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation". In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible and in the Latin Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 42 in a slightly different numbering system. In Roman Catholic churches it was the psalm the priest recited before ascending the altar to celebrate Mass. In the traditional Roman Rite (also known as the Tridentine Mass), the psalm is recited by the priest and altar servers during the prayers at the foot of the altar.

This then is the first sign of Catholicism – not in Bellairs’s writings, since Saint Fidgeta predates House by a mere seven years - in Bellairs’s young-adult mysteries. While readers will eventually learn more of Lewis’s religious beliefs, it’s Johnny Dixon and his adventures where the church comes front and center.

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