General Audience Meditation on Psalm 150

John Paul II Focuses on Last Canticle of Psalter

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address to the general audience today. He gave it in Italian, in Paul VI Hall.

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1. The hymn that has just served as a support for our prayer is Psalm 150, the last canticle of the Psalter. The last word that resounds in Israel´s book of prayer is the alleluia, namely, the pure praise of God and, because of this, the Psalm is proposed twice in the Liturgy of Lauds, in the second and fourth Sundays.

The brief text is strewn with a series of 10 imperatives that repeat the same word “hallelû,” “praise!” As perennial music and song, they seem never to end, as also happens in the famous alleluia of Handel´s Messiah. Praise of God becomes like the ceaseless breath of the soul. As has been written, “this is one of the recompenses of the human being: the quiet exaltation, the capacity to celebrate. It is well expressed in a phrase that Rabbi Akiba addressed to his disciples: “A song every day, / a song for every day” (A.J. Heschel, “Who Is Man?,” Milan, 1971, p. 198).

2. Psalm 150 seems to unfold in three moments. At the beginning, in the first two verses (verses 1-2), the gaze is fixed on “God” in “his holy sanctuary,” on “the mighty dome of heaven,” on “his mighty deeds,” on “his great majesty.” In a second moment, as in a genuine musical movement, the orchestra of the Temple of Zion is involved in praise (see verses 3-5b), which accompanies the song and sacred dance. At the end, in the last verse of the Psalm (see verse 5c[6]) the universe appears, represented by […] the Hebrew original, “everything that has breath.” Life itself becomes praise, a praise that rises from the creatures to the Creator.

3. Now, in our first encounter with Psalm 150, we will be satisfied to reflect on the first and last moment of the hymn. They virtually serve as the frame for the second moment, which is at the heart of the composition and which we will examine in the future, when the Psalm will be proposed again in the liturgy of lauds.

The first place where the musical and prayerful theme unfolds is the “sanctuary” (see verse 1). The Hebrew original speaks of the “sacred” area, pure and transcendent, in which God dwells. It is, therefore, a reference to the celestial and paradisaical horizon where, as the Book of Revelation will specify, the eternal and perfect liturgy of the Lamb is celebrated (see, for example, Revelation 5:6-14). The mystery of God, in which the saints are gathered for a full communion, is an ambit of light and joy, of revelation and love. Not accidentally, although with a certain liberty, the old Greek translation of the Septuagint and the same Latin translation of the Vulgate proposed the word “saints” instead of “sanctuary”: “Praise the Lord in his saints.”

4. From heaven our thought moves implicitly to earth, emphasizing the “mighty deeds” of God, which manifest “his great majesty” (verse 2). These mighty deeds are described in Psalm 104[105], which invites the Israelites to “proclaim all his wondrous deeds” of God (verse 2), and to remember “the wondrous deeds he had done, his signs and his words of judgment” (verse 5); the Psalmist now recalls the covenant “made with Abraham” (verse 9), the extraordinary story of Joseph, the wonderful works of the deliverance from Egypt and the desert crossing, and, lastly, the gift of the land. Another Psalm speaks of anguishing situations from which the Lord delivers those who “cried” to him; the people who are delivered are repeatedly invited to give thanks for the wonderful works accomplished by God: “Let them thank the Lord for such kindness, such wondrous deeds for mere mortals” (Psalm 106:8,15,21,31).

Thus we can understand in our Psalm […], as the Hebrew original says, […] the “mighty deeds” (see verse 2) that God disseminates in the history of salvation. Praise becomes the profession of faith in God the creator and redeemer, a festive celebration of divine love, which is displayed in creation and salvation, giving life and deliverance.

5. So we come to the last verse of Psalm 150 (see verse 5c[6]). The Hebrew word [which is] used to indicate the living who praise God refers to breath, as I said earlier, but also to something intimate and profound, innate to man.

Although one can think that the whole of life of the created should be a hymn of praise to the Creator, it is more precise, however, to maintain that a position of primacy in this choir is reserved to the human creature. Through the human being, spokesman of the whole of creation, all the living praise the Lord. Our breath of life, which also spells self-consciousness, awareness and liberty (see Proverbs 20:27), becomes a song and prayer of the whole of life that vibrates in the universe. This is why all of us must address one another “with Psalms, hymns, spiritual canticles, singing and praising the Lord” with all our heart (Ephesians 5:19).

6. In transcribing the verses of Psalm 150, the Hebrew manuscripts often reproduce the menorah, the famous candelabrum with seven candles, placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem. Thus they suggest a beautiful interpretation of this Psalm, which has always been a true “Amen” to the prayer of our “elder brothers”: Every man, with all the instruments and musical forms that his own genius has invented, “trumpets, lutes, harps, timbrels, dance, strings, pipe, sounding cymbals, clashing cymbals,” as the Psalm says, but also “everything that has breath,” is invited to burn like the menorah before the Holy of Holies, in constant prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

In union with the Son, the perfect voice of the whole world created by him, we also become an incessant prayer before the throne of God.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave the following summary in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 150, the last of the Psalms, is a repeated invitation to sing the praises of God. Fixing our gaze on the Lord who dwells in the heavens, we praise him for his mighty deeds and for his surpassing greatness. Musical instruments used in the Temple liturgy are pressed into service in a joyful celebration of God´s love, a love revealed in his actions in creation and in history. The incarnate Son, through his life, death, and resurrection, gives perfect praise to the Father. In union with him, man is able, through word and song, to express the pure hymn of praise that all created life sings to God. This Psalm is like a great Amen, bringing together all the hopes, prayers, and praises of God contained in the Book of Psalms.

At the beginning of the New Year, I extend a special greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark and the United States of America. I particularly welcome the many students from various schools and universities, and I ask the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen you as you grow in knowledge and prepare for life´s challenges. Upon all of you I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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