Psalm 99: A Hymn of Thanksgiving
Audience Address Continues Meditations
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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 7, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of today´s general audience address by John Paul II. The address focused on Psalm 99.
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1. The Jewish tradition has entitled the hymn of praise just proclaimed "Psalm for the Todah," that is, thanksgiving in liturgical chant. This is why it is appropriately intoned in the morning lauds. Three significant elements can be identified in the few verses of this joyful hymn, which render it spiritually fruitful to the Christian community at prayer.
2. First of all, there is an urgent call to prayer, clearly described in a liturgical dimension. Suffice it to list the imperative verbs, coupled with indications of a cultural order, which are articulated in the Psalm: "Shout joyfully ..., worship the Lord with cries of gladness; come before him with joyful song. Know that the Lord is God. ... Enter the temple gates with praise, its courts with thanksgiving. Give thanks to God, bless his name" (verses 2-4). A series of invitations not only to enter the sacred area of the temple through the gates and courts (see Psalm 14:1; 23:3,7-10), but also to praise God joyfully.
It is like a constant thread of praise that is never broken, expressing itself in a continuous profession of faith and love. Praise that rises from the earth to God and, at the same time, nourishes the spirit of the believer.
3. I would like to make another small observation at the very beginning of the hymn, where the Psalmist calls all the earth to acclaim the Lord (see verse 1). Of course, the Psalm then focuses attention on the chosen people, but the horizon involved in praise is universal, as is usual in the Psalter, in particular in the so-called hymns to the Lord King (see Psalms 95-98[96-99]). The world and history are not at the mercy of chance, chaos or blind necessity. Instead, they are governed by a mysterious God, who desires that humanity live in stability, through just and authentic relations. He "is king. The world will surely stand fast, never to be moved. God rules the peoples with fairness. ... [He] comes ... to govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness" (Psalm 95:10,13).
4. Hence, as Creator and Father, Lord and King, we are all in God´s hands, and we all rejoice with him, confident that he will not let us fall from his hands. In this light, one can appreciate better the third significant element of the Psalm. At the center of the praise that the Psalmist puts on our lips, there is, in fact, a sort of profession of faith, expressed through a series of attributes that define the profound reality of God. This essential creed contains the following affirmations: "[T]he Lord is God, our maker to whom we belong, whose people we are. ... Good indeed is the Lord, whose love endures forever, whose faithfulness lasts through every age" (see verses 3-5).
5. In the first place, there is a renewed confession of faith in the one God, as required by the first commandment of the Decalogue: "I, the Lord, am your God. ... You shall not have other gods besides me" (Exodus 20:2,3). And, as often repeated in the Bible: "you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other" (Deuteronomy 4:39). Then faith in God the Creator is proclaimed, the source of being and life. Expressed through the so-called formula of the pact, the affirmation follows of Israel´s certainty of divine election: "whose people we are, God´s well-tended flock" (verse 3). It is a certainty that the faithful of the new People of God make their own, in the awareness of being the flock that the supreme Shepherd of souls leads to the eternal pastures of heaven (see 1 Peter 2:25).
6. After the proclamation of the one God, Creator and source of the covenant, the portrait of the Lord sung by our Psalmist continues with the meditation of three divine qualities often exalted in the Psalter: goodness, merciful love (hésed), faithfulness. They are the three virtues that characterize the covenant of God with his people; they express a bond that will never be broken through generations, despite the muddy river of human sins, rebellions and infidelity. With serene confidence in divine love that will never diminish, the people of God journey in history with their daily temptations and weaknesses.
And this confidence becomes a hymn, for which words at times are inadequate, as St. Augustine observes: "The more charity increases, the more aware you will become of what you said and did not say. In fact, before savoring certain things you thought you could use words to speak about God; however, when you have begun to enjoy the taste you realize that you are not capable of explaining adequately what you tasted. But if you realize that you did not know how to express in words what you tasted, should you, then, because of this, be silent and not praise? Absolutely not. You will not be so ungrateful. To him is owed honor, respect, the greatest praise. Listen to the Psalm: ´All the earth, praise the Lord!´ You will understand the joy of all the earth, if you yourself rejoice in the Lord" ("Esposizioni sui Salmi III/1," Rome 1993, p. 459).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[at the end of the audience the Holy Father directed these words to the English-speaking pilgrims]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The joyful verses of Psalm 99 invite us to praise the Lord always, to recognize that he is our Creator and we his people, to trust fully in his endless mercy and love. We are called to serve him in gladness and to sing his praises in the midst of the peoples. We are reminded that God is one -- for there is no God other than the Lord -- and that he has made an everlasting covenant with his people, a covenant to which he will remain always faithful, despite our human weaknesses and failings. Therefore, we can place our hope confidently in God, the One who saves us and who is steadfast in his love for us. "Let all the earth cry out with joy to the Lord!"
I am pleased to offer special greetings to the Marist Brothers participating in a spirituality program, and the Capuchin Friars from India and Indonesia taking part in a course of continuing formation: may your days in Rome be a grace-filled time of encounter with the Lord, "who is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). For all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Scotland, Denmark and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
[original in English; text distributed by Vatican Press Office]