Christ Is Only Savior, Victorious Over Evil, John Paul II Says

Address at General Audience

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2001 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience, which gathered some 10,000 pilgrims in Paul VI Hall.

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1. When a Christian, in unison with the praying voice of Israel, sings Psalm 117[118], which we have just heard, he feels within himself a particular quiver. In fact, in this hymn he discovers two phrases of a strong liturgical character, which are echoed in the New Testament with a new tone. The first is in verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This phrase is quoted by Jesus, who applies it to his mission of death and glory, after narrating the parable of the murderous vinedressers (see Matthew 21:42). The phrase is also recalled by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles: “He is ´the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.´ There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:11-12). Cyril of Jerusalem comments: “We say the Lord Jesus Christ is one only, because his filiation is one; one only we say, so that you will not believe that there is another. In fact, he is called stone, not an inanimate stone cut by human hands, but the cornerstone, because he who believes in him will not be disappointed” (“La Catechesi,” Rome, 1993, pp. 312-313).

The second phrase that the New Testament takes from Psalm 117[118] is proclaimed by the crowd in Christ´s solemn messianic entrance into Jerusalem: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9; see Psalm 117[118]:26). The acclamation is framed by an “Hosanna,” which takes up the Hebrew hoshiac na,´ “deh,” “save us!”

2. This splendid biblical hymn is placed at the heart of the little collection of Psalms, from 112[113] to 117[118], known as the “Paschal Hallel,” namely, the Psalmic praise used in Hebrew worship for Passover and also for the principal solemnities of the liturgical year. The processional rite can be considered as the theme of Psalm 117[118], articulated perhaps in the songs by the soloist or choir, with the Holy City and its Temple as the background. A beautiful antiphon begins and ends the text: “Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose love endures forever” (verses 1 and 29).

The word “mercy” is a translation of the Hebrew word “hesed,” which designates God´s faithful generosity in his relations with his allied and friendly people. Three categories of people are instructed to sing this faithfulness: the whole of Israel, the “house of Aaron,” namely the priests, and “those who fear God,” a locution that indicates the faithful and, subsequently, also proselytes, namely, members of other nations desirous of adhering to the law of the Lord (see verses 2-4).

3. The procession seems to move through the streets of Jerusalem, because there is reference to the “tents of the victors” (see verse 15). Anyway, a hymn of thanksgiving is raised (see verses 5-18) whose essential message is: Even when anguished, there is need to keep alive the flame of confidence, because the Lord´s powerful hand leads his faithful to victory over evil and to salvation.

The sacred poet uses strong and vivid images: The cruel adversaries are compared to a swarm of bees or a column of flames that advances, reducing everything to ashes (see verse 12). However, the reaction of the righteous, sustained by the Lord, is vehement: Three times he repeats: “in the Lord´s name I crushed them” and the Hebrew verb evidences a destructive intervention in confronting evil (see verses 10,11,12). In fact, at the root is the powerful right hand of God, namely, his effective work, and certainly not the weak and uncertain hand of man. And it is because of this that the joy of victory over evil gives way to a very thought-provoking profession of faith: “The Lord, my strength and might, came to me as savior” (verse 14).

4. The procession seems to reach the Temple, to “the gates of victory” (verse 19), namely, to the Holy Door of Sion. Here a second song of thanksgiving is intoned, which opens with a dialogue between the assembly and the priests to be admitted to worship. “Open the gates of victory; I will enter and thank the Lord,” the soloist says in the name of the processional assembly. “This is the Lord´s own gate, where the victors enter” (verse 20), others respond, probably the priests.

Once inside, the hymn of gratitude to the Lord can be sung, who offers himself in the Temple as a stable and safe stone on which to build the house of life (see Matthew 7:24-25). A priestly blessing descends on the faithful, who have entered the Temple to express their faith, to raise their prayer, and to celebrate the worship.

5. The last scene that opens before our eyes is made up of a joyful rite of sacred dances, coupled with a festive agitation of branches: “Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar” (verse 27). The liturgy is joy, a festive meeting, an expression of the whole of existence that praises the Lord. The rite of branches recalls the Hebrew solemnity of Tents, in memory of the pilgrimage of Israel in the desert, a solemnity in which a procession was carried out with palm, myrtle and willow branches.

This same rite, evoked in the Psalm, is proposed again to the Christian in Jesus´ entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in the liturgy of Palm Sunday. Christ is acclaimed with Hosannas as the “son of David” (see Matthew 21:9) by the crowd “that had come to the feast … took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: ´Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, [even] the king of Israel” (John 12:12-13). In that festive celebration that, however, is a prelude to the hour of the passion and death of Jesus, the full sense of the symbol of the cornerstone is applied, proposed at the beginning, acquiring a glorious and paschal value.

Psalm 117[118] encourages Christians to recognize in Jesus´ paschal event “the day made by the Lord,” in which “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” With the Psalm they can then sing full of gratitude: “The Lord, my strength and might, came to me as savior” (verse 14). “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad” (verse 24).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave this summary of his address, in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 117 is part of the Jewish Hallel, that part of the Psalter used at Passover. It has a special significance for Christians, because it contains two phrases well known in the New Testament. The first of them is: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone” — words used by Jesus to speak of his own Death and Resurrection. The second is the cry: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” — used by the crowd to acclaim Jesus as he entered Jerusalem a few days before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Originally, the Psalm accompanied a procession of pilgrims to Jerusalem, with the Temple as their final goal. As they journey, the pilgrims sing the praises of God for his mighty protection; and the climax of this thanksgiving comes in the Temple, where the liturgy celebrates the whole of human life as praise of God. The ancient pilgrimage looks to the great Passover from death to life, which is the heart of the Christian experience, and which comes to its fullness in the eternal liturgy of heaven.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially the groups from Korea, Cameroon, and the United States of America. In these days of Advent, as we look to the birth of the Prince of Peace, I ask you to join me in praying for peace in the world. God bless you all!

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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