Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Youth of Eagles + Q&A

Reading Psalm 103 during Office of Readings today, I remembered this 2011 post wherein I satisfied my curiosity about the eagle verse. Have you ever wondered why it's an eagle's youth that is renewed, as opposed to that of, say, a chickadee?   I finally looked it up and here's the result:

Psalm 103 comprises the psalter for today's (Wednesday, week IV) Office of Readings.In verse 5, after listing some of God's blessings--forgives guilt, heals your ills, redeems you, crowns you with love and compassion, fills your life with good things--the psalmist adds, renewing your youth like an eagle's.

Every time I read this line, I first give the little happy sigh with which I respond to beautiful  biblical nature imagery, a mini Hallmark poster of the image flashing in my brain.

Then I stop and say, Wait!...  what?

 Because I can't figure out what's so special about an eagle's youth.
Not his strength, power, beauty, far sight, but his youth.

My first guess--could it be there was a phoenix-type myth going on about eagles that the psalmist had picked up on?

I did a search and found that many people share my question. An interesting "biblical birdwatching" site gave a lengthy description of how many times a bald eagle molts until he acheives the mature, white-head-and-tail plumage at 5 years of age. The evangelical writer considered this molting a kind of renewal. Not bad, but 1. this would teach a lesson about the desirability of Maturity, the wisdom of old age, not about youth. and 2. the bald eagle is a North American bird.

Luckily, I remembered that the Fathers of the Church have commented at length on just about every verse of scripture. Good old New Advent has St. Augustine's comments. Augustine claims that an eagle's beak tip never stops growing, and that after many years have gone by, it curves down and around the lower mandible such that the eagle would be unable to eat.  He grows weak from hunger, and then, in desperation, bashes the end of his beak off against a rock. Once again able to eat, his strength, vigor, and plumage are renewed, and he is once more like a young eagle. Augustine concludes:

 ...the eagle is not restored unto immortality, but we are unto eternal life; but the similitude is derived from hence, that the rock takes away from us what hinders us. Presume not therefore on your strength: the firmness of the rock rubs off your old age: for that Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:4 In Christ our youth shall be restored like that of the eagle....

My own knowledge of birds tell me that eagles don't really need to break off their beaks. I have seen crows and pet parrots rub their beaks against hard material.  And I've known pet parakeets to need a beak trim when they haven't had something hard to chew on. Probably eagles wear their beaks down by tearing at the bones of their prey.   But as St. Thomas points out, an analogy does not have to be true to be a good analogy.

So it looks like Christ, our rock, rubs off or breaks off our weary, aged sinfulness, and restores to us the youth of our baptismal purity. Enabling us to soar to heaven. On eagles wings  the wings of eagles.

Now it's time for weekly Q&A, which I"m afraid  missed last week. Just too much family stuff going on. So fire away if you have any questions about the Liturgy of the Hours. Or comments about the youth of eagles.


  1. I am praying evening prayer with 2 different small groups within my parish, and there are some inconsistencies in how it is said between the two. I am wondering if there is an official correct way on the following points:

    1. When the Psalms and canticles begin, is the first line supposed to be recited by the leader alone?

    2. At the end of the Psalms, does Side 1 always begin the Glory be, or is it the next group in order?

    3. The person who does the reading and responsory is either determined beforehand or on the spot by the Leader. Either way seems appropriate to me, but is the reader supposed to announce the Scripture reference, or simply begin reading?

    4. For the Morning, Evening, and Night Gospel Canticles: Does the Leader begin the first line solo, and is the rest read in unison, including the Glory be?

    I think that is all of my questions for now. Thank you!

    1. The only official instruction I know of is the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours. If you click the General Instruction tab above, that will take you to this document, hosted on the EWTN library.i(Or I guess you have it in volume 1 of your breviary) If you scroll down to the very last section on Celebration in Common (#253 to #266) you will find everything "official" that I can tell you about this. You will see that this will answer some but now all of your questions. Many of the customs people bring to LOTH prayer groups come from whatever practices they observed in the seminary, a monastery, or a third order group. Also, the customs of how much of the first line of a psalm or canticle a leader says alone come from monastic rules for singing the psalms. In this situation the leader "intones" the first few words of a psalm or canticle so that the others may join in on the correct musical pitch. There is no need for this when the psalm is merely recited, but the custom of it remains. As to your second question: I've prayed with many groups, and the Glory Be is always begun by whichever group's "turn" is next. As to question 3, the practice for the short readings in MP and EP is to NOT read the reference ("a reading from the letter to the Ephesians"), but just to do the reading by itself. And for questions 4, groups generally recite the whole gospel canticle in unison after the leader does the antiphon. But these are just my experience, I haven't seen it spelled out anywhere that it must be done that way, so unless you are put in charge, it is probably best to go along with whatever custom is in place. Or, you could share what the General Instruction says in a non-confrontational manner if you think the people in charge would be interested in conforming to what it says.

  2. Hi! So on Saturday here in England, it's the Optional Memoria of Ss. Chad and Cedd, Bishops. If I was to use the use their office instead of the ferial one, would I do Common of Holy Men or Common of Pastors?