Reflection on Psalm 134(135):1-12

John Paul II Meditates on Hymn of Thanksgiving to God

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave during today's general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 134(135):1-12.



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1. The liturgy of lauds, whose development we have been following through our catecheses, proposes to us the first part of Psalm 134(135), which was just heard in the choristers' singing. The text presents a series of allusions to other biblical passages and the atmosphere that envelops it seems to be that of Easter. In fact, the Jewish tradition joined our [Psalm] to the subsequent one, 135(136), considering them together as "the great Hallel," namely, the solemn and festive praise that is raised to the Lord on the occasion of Easter.

Indeed, the Psalm highlights the Exodus, with the mention of the "plagues" of Egypt and the recollection of the entrance into the Promised Land. But let us now follow the subsequent stages, which Psalm 134(135) reveals in the development of the first 12 verses: It is a reflection that we wish to transform into a prayer.

2. At the beginning we find the characteristic invitation to praise, typical element of the hymns in the Psalter addressed to the Lord. The call to sing the alleluia is directed to the "servants of the Lord" (see verse 1), who in the Hebrew original are presented as those "standing" in the sacred space of the temple (see verse 2), namely, in the ritual attitude of prayer (see Psalm 133[134]:1-2).

Involved in praise are, first of all, the ministers of worship, priests and Levites, who live and work "in the courts of the house of our God" (see Psalm 134[135]:2). However, to these "servants of the Lord" are ideally associated all the faithful. In fact, immediately after, mention is made of the election of the whole of Israel to be the ally and witness of the love of the Lord: "For the Lord has chosen Jacob, Israel as a treasured possession" (verse 4). In this perspective, two fundamental qualities of God are celebrated: he is "good," he is "gracious" (see verse 3). The bond that exists between us and the Lord is marked by love, intimacy and joyful adherence.

3. Following the invitation to praise, the Psalmist continues with a solemn profession of faith, beginning with the typical expression "I know," that is, I acknowledge, I believe (see verse 5). There are two articles of faith, which are proclaimed by a soloist on behalf of all the people gathered in liturgical assembly. First of all, the work of God in the whole universe is exalted: He is, par excellence, the Lord of the cosmos: "Whatever the Lord wishes he does in heaven and on earth" (verse 6). He also dominates the seas and abysses, which are the emblem of chaos, of negative energies, of the limit, and of nothingness.

Again, it is the Lord who forms the clouds, the lightnings, the rain and the winds, taking recourse to his "storehouse" (see verse 7). In fact, the ancient man of the Near East imagined that the climatic agents were kept in special reservoirs, similar to heavenly coffers from which God could draw to disseminate them on earth.

4. The other component of the profession of faith refers to the history of salvation. The creator God is now recognized as the Lord redeemer, evoking the fundamental events of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The Psalmist mentions first of all the "plague" of the firstborn (see Exodus 12:29-30), which summarizes all the "signs and portents" worked by the liberating God during the epic of the Exodus (see Psalm 134[135]:8-9). Immediately after, the clamorous victories are recalled, which enabled Israel to overcome the difficulties and obstacles found in its way (see verses 10-11). Lastly, the Promised Land appears on the horizon, which Israel receives as "a heritage" from the Lord (see verse 12).

Well then, all these signs of a covenant that will be more amply professed in the subsequent Psalm, 135(136), attest to the fundamental truth, proclaimed in the first commandment of the Decalogue. God is one and is a person who acts and speaks, loves and saves: "I know that the Lord is great, our Lord is greater than all gods" (verse 5; see Exodus 20:2-3; Psalm 94[95]:3).

5. In the wake of this profession of faith, we too raise our praise to God. Pope St. Clement I, in his Letter to the Corinthians, addresses this invitation to us: "Let us look at the Father and Creator of the whole universe. Let us attach ourselves to the gifts and benefits of peace, magnificent and sublime. Let us contemplate him in thought and look with the eyes of the soul at the greatness of his will! Let us consider how impartial he is toward every creature of his. The skies that move according to his order obey him in harmony. The day and the night complete their course as established by him and do not hamper one another. The sun and the moon and the chorus of stars revolve in harmony and without deviations on the orbits assigned to them by his direction. The earth, fruitful by his will, produces abundant nourishment for men, for beasts and for all the animals that live on it, without resistance and without changing his dispositions" (19:2-20:4: "I Padri Apostolici" [The Apostolic Fathers], Rome, 1984, pp. 62-63). Clement I concludes by observing: "The Creator and Lord of the universe disposed that all these things be beneficent toward all in peace and concord, and particularly toward us who appeal to his mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory and majesty for ever. Amen" (20:11-12: Ibid., p. 63).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 134 starts off with a joyful invitation to sing the praises of God. God's faithful people are called "servants of the Lord," and the Almighty is recognized as "good" and "loving." This initial invitation to praise is followed by a kind of profession of faith, recalling God's saving action in freeing his people from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land.

We make our own profession of faith as we, too, raise our voices in praise of God: through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, we have been saved from sin and death, and we have received the promise of eternal life. As the Lord's faithful servants, we shall contemplate the glory and majesty of our God for ever and ever.

I am pleased to extend special greetings to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.