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Psalm 135 [134]

Catechesis by Benedict XVI
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer), Friday Week 3

Praise the Lord who works wonders - 1-12

1. We now have before us the first part of Psalm 135, a hymn of a liturgical nature, interlaced with allusions, memories and references to other biblical texts. Indeed, the liturgy often constructs its text by drawing from the Bible's great patrimony with its rich repertory of subjects and prayers that sustain the journey of the faithful.

We follow the prayerful line of this first section, which opens with a broad and impassioned invitation to praise the Lord. The appeal is made to the "servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God" (v1-2).

Therefore, we find ourselves in the living atmosphere of worship that unfolds in the temple, the preferred and communal place of prayer. Here, the presence of "our God", a "good" and "loving" God, the God of the chosen and of the covenant, is experienced.

After the invitation to praise, a soloist voice proclaims the profession of faith that begins with the formula "I know" (v5). This Creed makes up the essence of the entire hymn, revealed in a proclamation of the Lord's greatness, manifested in his marvellous works.

2. Divine omnipotence is continually manifested throughout the world, "in heaven, on earth, in the seas". It is he who produces clouds, lightning, rain and wind, imaginarily contained in "treasuries" or storehouses.

Primarily, however, another aspect of divine activity is celebrated in this profession of faith; it is the marvellous intervention in history, where the Creator reveals his face as redeemer of his people and king of the world. Before the eyes of Israel, gathered in prayer, the great events of the Exodus unfold.

Here, in the first place, is the concise and essential commemoration of the "plagues" of Egypt, the scourges inflicted by the Lord to break down the oppressor.

It is followed afterward with the evocation of the victories of Israel after the long march in the desert. They are attributed to the powerful intervention of God, who struck many "nations in their greatness" and slew many "kings in their splendour".

Finally, there is the long-awaited and hoped-for destination, the promised land: "He let Israel inherit their land; on his people their land he bestowed" (v12).

Divine love becomes concrete and can almost be experienced in history with all of its bitter and glorious vicissitudes. The liturgy has the duty to make present and efficacious the divine gifts, especially in the great paschal celebration that is the root of every other solemnity and is the supreme symbol of freedom and salvation.

3. Let us experience the spirit of the Psalm and its praise to God through the voice of St Clement of Rome, as it resounds in the long closing prayer of his Letter to the Corinthians. He notes that, as in Psalm 135, the face of God the Redeemer appears; in this way, his protection, already granted to the ancient fathers, is now presented to us in Christ:

"O Lord, make your face shine upon us, for goodness in peace, to protect us with your mighty hand and to deliver us from all sin with your most high arm, saving us from those that hate us unjustly. Grant concord and peace to us and to all the inhabitants of the earth, as you gave it to our fathers when they devoutly called upon your name in faith and truth... To you, who are the only one capable of doing these and other greater goods for us, we give you thanks through the great priest and protector of our souls, Jesus Christ, by whom you are glorified from generation to generation, for ever and ever."

Yes, in our times we too can recite this prayer of a 1st century Pope as our prayer for today: "O Lord, make your face shine upon us, for goodness in peace. In these times, grant concord and peace to us and to all the inhabitants of the earth, through Jesus Christ who reigns from generation to generation and for ever and ever". Amen.

BXVI - General Audience, Wednesday 28 September 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

"Sons of Israel, bless the Lord!" - 13-21

(Evening Prayer, Friday, Week 3) - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 5 October 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. The liturgy of Vespers offers us two separate passages of Psalm 135. The one we have just heard includes the second part, sealed by the "Alleluia", the exclamation of praise to the Lord that opened the Psalm.

After commemorating in the first part of the hymn the event of the Exodus, the core of Israel's Passover celebration, the Psalmist now deals incisively with two different visions of religion.

On the one hand rises the figure of the living, personal God who is the centre of authentic faith. His is an effective and saving presence; the Lord is not an immobile, absent reality but a living person who "guides" his faithful, "takes pity" on them and sustains them with his power and love.

2. At this point, on the other hand, idolatry emerges, an expression of a distorted and misleading religiosity. In fact, the idol is merely "a work of human hands", a product of human desires, hence, powerless to overcome the limitations of creatures.

Indeed, it has a human form with a mouth, eyes, ears and throat, but it is inert, lifeless, like an inanimate statue.

Those who worship these dead realities are destined to resemble them, impotent, fragile and inert. This description of idolatry as false religion clearly conveys man's eternal temptation to seek salvation in the "work of his hands", placing hope in riches, power, in success and material things.

Unfortunately, what the Prophet Isaiah had already effectively described happens to the person who moves along these lines, who worships riches: "He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?'" (Is 44: 20).

3. After this meditation on true and false religion, on genuine faith in the Lord of the universe and history and on idolatry, Psalm 135 concludes with a liturgical blessing that introduces a series of figures who feature in the cult practised in the temple of Zion.

From the whole community gathered in the temple, a blessing rises in unison to God, Creator of the universe and Saviour of his people in history, expressed in their different voices and in the humility of faith.

The liturgy is the privileged place in which to hear the divine Word which makes present the Lord's saving acts; but it is also the context in which the community raises its prayer celebrating divine love.

God and man meet each other in an embrace of salvation that finds fulfilment precisely in the liturgical celebration. We might say that this is almost a definition of the liturgy: it brings about an embrace of salvation between God and man.

4. Commenting on the verses of this Psalm regarding idols and the resemblance with them that will be acquired by those who put their trust in them, St Augustine observes:

"In fact - believe it, brothers and sisters - a certain likeness with their idols is brought about within them: of course, not in their bodies but in their interior being. They have ears but do not hear when God cries to them: "Those who have ears to listen, let them hear!'. They have eyes but do not see: in other words, they have the eyes of the body but not the eye of faith". They do not perceive God's presence. They have eyes but they do not see.

And likewise, "they have nostrils but cannot smell. They are unable to detect the fragrance of which the Apostle says: "Everywhere... we are the aroma of Christ.' What good does it do them to have nostrils if they cannot manage to breathe the sweet fragrance of Christ?"

It is true, Augustine recognizes, that some people are still bound to idolatry; and this is also true in our time, with its materialism that is a form of idolatry. Augustine adds: even if there are still such people, even if this idolatry continues, "Every day, nonetheless, there are people convinced by the miracles of Christ the Lord who embrace the faith", and thanks be to God this is still true today. "Every day, the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, blocked nostrils begin to breathe and the tongues of the mute are loosened, the limbs of the paralyzed grow strong and the legs of the lame are straightened. From all these stones emerge sons and daughters of Abraham.

"It should therefore be said to all of them: "House of Israel, bless the Lord'.... Bless the Lord, you peoples in general! This means "House of Israel'. Bless it, O you Prelates of the Church! This means "House of Aaron'. Bless it, Ministers! This means "House of Levi'. And what should be said of the other nations? "You who fear him, bless the Lord!'"

Let us make this invitation our own and let us bless, praise and adore the Lord, the true, living God.