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Psalm 41 (42)

The exile's nostalgia for the Lord's temple
"Let all who are thirsty come; all who want it may have the water of life" (Apos 22, 17)

Like the deer that yearns
  for running streams,
so my soul is yearning
  for you, my God.

My soul is thirsting for God,
  the God of my life;
when can I enter and see
  the face of God?

My tears have become my bread,
  by night, by day,
as I hear it said all the day long:
  'Where is your God?'

These things will I remember
  as I pour out my soul:
how I would lead the rejoicing crowd
  into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving,
  the throng wild with joy.

Why are you cast down, my soul,
  why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
  my saviour and my God.

My soul is cast down within me
  as I think of you,
from the country of Jordan and Mount Hermon,
  from the Hill of Mizar.

Deep is calling on deep,
  in the roar of waters:
your torrents and all your waves
  swept over me.

By day the Lord will send
  his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him,
  praise the God of my life.

I will say to God, my rock:
  'Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
  oppressed by the foe?'

With cries that peirce me to teh heart,
  my enemies revile me,
saying to me all the day long:
  'Where is your God?'

Why are you cast down, my soul,
  why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
  my saviour and my God.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 41 (42)
General Audience, Wednesday 16 January 2002 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Monday Week 2 - Desire for the Lord and his temple

"1. A deer with a parched throat cries out its lament in an arid desert longing for the fresh waters of a flowing stream. Psalm 41[42] that has just been sung opens with this famous image. We can see in it the symbol of the deep spirituality of this composition, a real pearl of faith and poetry. Indeed, according to experts in the psalter, our psalm is closely linked with the one following, Psalm 42[43], from which it was separated when the psalms were put in order to form the prayer book of the People of God. In fact, in addition to being united by their topic and development, both psalms are dramatically interrupted by the same antiphon:  "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Ps 41[42],6,12; 42[43],5). This appeal, repeated twice in our psalm and a third time in the one that follows, is an invitation the person praying addresses to himself, with a view to banishing melancholy by trusting in God who will certainly manifest himself again as Saviour.

2. But let us return to the image at the beginning of the Psalm; it would be pleasant to meditate upon it with the musical background of Gregorian chant or with the polyphonic masterpiece of Palestrina, Sicut cervus. In fact, the thirsting deer is the symbol of the praying person who tends with his whole being, body and soul, towards the Lord, who seems distant and yet very much needed:  "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Ps 41[42], 3). In Hebrew a single word, nefesh, means both "soul" and "throat". Therefore we can say that the body and soul of the person praying are absorbed by the primary, spontaneous and substantial desire for God (cf Ps 62 [63], 2). It is no accident that a long tradition describes prayer as a type of "breathing": it is as primeval, necessary and basic as life-giving breathing.

Origen, the great Christian author of the third century, explained that the human search for God is a never-ending venture because progress is ever possible and necessary. In one of his homilies on the Book of Numbers he writes: "Those who make their journey on the road to seek God's wisdom do not build permanent homes but mobile tents, for they are in constant movement covering new ground, and the further they go, the more the road that lies ahead of them opens up, presenting a horizon lost in immensity" (Homily XVII, In Numeros [on Numbers] GCS VII, 159-160).

3. Let us now try to set out the basic design of this supplication. We can think of it as composed of three actions, two of them belong to our psalm, while we find the third in the one that follows, Psalm 42 [43], to be considered later. The first scene (cf Ps 41[42], 2-6) expresses deep longing, kindled by the memory of a past made happy by beautiful liturgical celebrations to which the one praying no longer has access: "These things will I remember as I pour out my soul: how I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy." (v 5).

"The house of God" with its liturgy is that temple of Jerusalem which the faithful person once frequented; it is also the centre of intimacy with God, "the fountain of living waters" as Jeremiah sings (2, 13). Now his tears at the absence of the fountain of life are the only water that glistens in his eyes (Ps 41[42], 4). The festive prayer of former times, raised to the Lord during worship in the temple, is now replaced by weeping, lament and supplication.

4. Unfortunately, a sorrowful present is contrasted with the serene and joyful past. The Psalmist now finds himself far from Zion: the horizon all around him is that of Galilee, the northern region of the Holy Land, suggested by the reference to the sources of the Jordan, the summit of Hermon from which this river flows, and another mountain, unknown to us, Mount Mizar (cf v 7). Thus we are more or less in the region of the cataracts of the Jordan, the cascades that are the source of this river that flows through the entire Promised Land. However, these waters are not thirst-quenching as are those of Zion. Rather, in the eyes of the psalmist, they are like the turbulent flood waters that devastate everything. He feels them falling upon him like a raging torrent that wipes out life: "your torrents and all your waves swept over me" (v 8). In the Bible, chaos, evil and divine judgement are portrayed by the deluge that generates destruction and death (Gn 6, 5-8; Ps 68[69], 2-3).

5. The symbolic value of this irruption is defined later on. It stands for the perverse, the adversaries of the person praying, perhaps even the pagans who dwell in this remote region to which the faithful one has been banished. They despise the righteous person and deride him for his faith, asking him ironically: "Where is your God?" (v 11; cf v 14). And to God he raises his anguished question: "Why have you forgotten me?" (v 10). The "why" addressed to the Lord, who seems absent on the day of trial, is typical of Biblical supplications.

Can God remain silent in the face of these parched lips that cry out, this tormented soul, this face that is about to be submerged in a sea of mud? Of course not! Hence once again, the person praying is encouraged to hope (cf v 6, 12). The third act, found in the next Psalm 42[43], will be a trusting invocation addressed to God (Ps 42[43], 1, 2a, 3a, 4b) using words of joy and gratitude: "I will go to the altar of God, to God my joy, my delight"."


"I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, especially the many student groups from the United States. My warm greeting also goes to the students of Saint Joseph School in Ringsted, Denmark. I thank the Choir from Jackson for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience, spécialement le groupe de l’École Normale Catholique Blomet, de Paris. Que votre pèlerinage renouvelle en vous la confiance en l’amour de Dieu, pour que vous soyez témoins de sa miséricorde et artisans de paix ! À tous, j’accorde de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

Mit diesen Gedanken begrüße ich die Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Möge das tiefe Verlangen nach Gott, dem Retter unseres Lebens, immer in Euch wach sein! Dazu erteile ich euch, euren Lieben daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Saúdo com afecto os peregrinos de língua portuguesa. Desejo a quantos me escutam felicidades, com a graça de Deus. Levai a certeza da minha estima e oração por vós, com uma bênção para as vossas famílias e Comunidades.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los feligreses de las parroquias de San Barlomé, San José Obrero y San Francisco, de Murcia. Invito a todos a persistir en la oración, afianzando así la fe y avanzando por los caminos del Señor. Gracias por vuestra atención.

* * * * *

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i Dirigenti di società e imprese che sostengono L’Osservatore Romano, qui presenti insieme con i loro familiari. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per la generosa disponibilità con cui vi adoperate per far sì che il messaggio evangelico, la voce del Successore di Pietro e il Magistero della Chiesa raggiungano il maggior numero possibile di credenti. Iddio renda feconda questa vostra collaborazione.

Saluto poi i Rappresentanti della "Casa Pio XII" di Pozzuoli ed auguro a ciascuno di continuare con rinnovato slancio il servizio di amore verso i più bisognosi, sull’esempio luminoso di san Vincenzo de Paoli.

Il mio pensiero va infine ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. La festa del Battesimo del Signore, che abbiamo celebrato la scorsa domenica, ridesti in voi, cari giovani, il ricordo del vostro battesimo e vi sia di stimolo a testimoniare con gioia la fede in Cristo; costituisca per voi, cari malati, conforto nella sofferenza; aiuti voi, cari sposi novelli, ad approfondire e testimoniare coraggiosamente la fede per trasmetterla poi fedelmente ai vostri figli. A tutti la mia Benedizione."