Meditation on Psalm 99(100)
Prayer Means to Abandon Oneself to God, Says John Paul II
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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's meditation on Psalm 99(100) delivered at today's general audience.
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1. In the atmosphere of joy and celebration, which is prolonged in this last week of Christmastide, we wish to take up again our meditation on the liturgy of lauds. Today we reflect on Psalm 99, just proclaimed, which is a joyful invitation to praise the Lord, shepherd of his people.
Seven imperatives are scattered throughout the composition and lead the faithful community to celebrate in worship the God of love and of the covenant: extol, serve, present yourselves, acknowledge, enter the gates, praise him, bless. One thinks of a liturgical procession, which is about to enter the temple of Zion to carry out a rite in honor of the Lord (see Psalms 14; 23; 94).
In the Psalm some words are intertwined that are characteristic for exalting the bond of the covenant that exists between God and Israel. Above all, the affirmation emerges of a complete belonging to God: "to whom we belong, whose people we are" (Psalm 99:3), an affirmation full of pride and at the same time of humility, given that Israel presents itself as "God's well-tended flock" (Ibid.). In other texts we find the expression of this relation: "For this is our God" (see Psalm 94:7). We then find the expression of the relation of love, that "mercy" and "faithfulness" joined to "goodness" (see Psalm 99:5), which in the Hebrew original are formulated precisely with typical terms of the pact that binds Israel to its God.
2. The coordinates of space and time are also reviewed. On one side, in fact, the whole earth appears before us involved with its inhabitants in the praise of God (see verse 2); then the horizon is reduced to the sacred area of the Temple of Jerusalem, with its courts and gates, where the community is gathered in prayer. On the other side, reference is made to time, in its three fundamental dimensions: the past of creation ("the Lord our God, our maker," verse 3), the present of the covenant and of worship ("whose people we are, God's well-tended flock," ibid.) and, finally, the future in which the merciful faithfulness of the Lord is extended "forever," revealing itself as lasting "through every age" (verse 5).
3. We will now reflect briefly on the seven imperatives that constitute the long invitation to praise God and that take up almost the whole of the Psalm (see verses 2-4), before finding, in the last verse, their motivation in the exaltation of God, contemplated in his intimate and profound identity.
The first appeal consists in the festive acclamation that involves the whole earth in the song of praise to the Creator. When we pray, we should feel in tune with all those who pray, exalting the one Lord in different languages and ways. "For," as the Prophet Malachi says, "from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (1:11).
4. Then come some appeals of a liturgical and ritual nature: "to serve," "to present themselves," and to "enter the gates" of the Temple. They are verbs that, also alluding to royal audiences, describe the various gestures that the faithful express when they enter in the sanctuary of Zion to participate in communal prayer. After the cosmic song, the liturgy is celebrated by the people of God, the "sheep of his pasture," his "property among all the peoples" (Exodus 19:5).
The invitation to "enter the gates with thanksgiving" and "with songs of praise" reminds us of a passage of "The Mysteries" of St. Ambrose, where the baptized are described who come up to the altar: "The purified people come up to the altars of Christ saying: 'I will go to the altar of God, to God the joy of my youth' (Psalm 42:4). Indeed, abandoning the spoils of inveterate error, the people renewed in their youth as an eagle, hasten to participate in this heavenly banquet. They come, then, and seeing the sacrosanct altar appropriately prepared, exclaim: 'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul' (Psalm 22:1-2)" ("Opere Dogmatiche III," [Dogmatic Works III], SAEMO 17, pp. 158-159).
5. The other imperatives, which stud the Psalm, re-propose fundamental religious attitudes of the man of prayer: acknowledge, praise, bless. The verb acknowledge, expresses the content of the profession of faith in the one God. In fact, we must proclaim that only "the Lord is God" (Psalm 99:3), combating every idolatry and every human pride and power opposed to him.
The object of other verbs, namely praise and bless, is also "the name" of the Lord (see verse 4), that is, his person, his effective and saving presence.
In this light the Psalm leads in the end to a solemn exaltation of God, which is a kind of profession of faith: The Lord is good and his faithfulness never abandons us, because he is always ready to sustain us with his merciful love. With this confidence the man of prayer abandons himself to the embrace of his God: "Learn to savor how good the Lord is," the Psalmist says elsewhere; "happy are those who take refuge in him." (Psalm 33:9; see 1 Peter 2:3).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the general audience, the Pope gave this summary in English]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the joy of this Christmas Season, we contemplate Psalm 99. This Psalm calls the faithful to go within the Lord's gates blessing his name and acclaiming him through service and praise. It is a celebration of God's covenant understood as a sign of a loving relationship in which "mercy" and "fidelity" are joined to "goodness" (see Psalm 99:5). It affirms our membership in the family of God: "we belong to him, we are his people" (Psalm 99:3). The Psalm thus becomes a kind of profession of faith in which we proclaim that the Lord is good and will never abandon us. He will always be there to sustain us with his merciful love. In this faith we entrust ourselves fully to his loving mercy.
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the groups from Denmark, New Zealand, and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy New Year!
[English-language text distributed by Vatican Press Office]