Meditation on Psalm 148

John Paul Meditates on «Te Deum» of Old Testament

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, JULY 17, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, dedicated to Psalm 148. The address was in Italian.

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1. Psalm 148, which was just raised to God, constitutes an authentic «Canticle of creatures,» a kind of Te Deum of the Old Testament, a cosmic alleluia that involves everything and everyone in divine praise.
This is how a contemporary exegete comments on it: «The Psalmist, calling them by name, puts beings in order: Above is the sky, with two heavenly bodies according to the times, and then the stars; on one side the fruit trees, on the other the cedars; on one level the reptiles, and on the other birds; here the princes and over there the people; in two lines, perhaps holding hands, young men and maidens. … God has established them, giving them their place and function; man receives them, giving them a place in language, and thus presents them in the liturgical celebration. Man is the ‘shepherd of being’ or the liturgist of creation» (Luis Alonso Schökel, «Trenta salmi: poesia e preghiera» [Thirty Psalms: Poetry and Prayer], Bologna, 1982, p. 499).

Let us also join this universal chorus, which resounds in the apse of heaven and that has the entire cosmos as a temple. Let us be conquered by the breathing of the praise that all creatures raise to their Creator.

2. In the heavens we meet with the singers of the stellar universe: the distant heavenly bodies, the choirs of angels, the sun and moon, the shining stars, the «highest heavens» (see verse 4), namely, the stellar space, the waters above, which the man of the Bible imagines were conserved in reservoirs before falling on earth like rain.

The alleluia, namely, the invitation to «praise the Lord,» resounds at least eight times and has the order and harmony of the heavenly beings as its final end: He [«gave them tasks that will never change»] (verse 6).

Our gaze then turns to the earthly horizon where a procession of singers files past, at least 22, namely, a kind of alphabet of praise, disseminated over our planet. Here are the sea monsters and the deeps, symbol of the aquatic chaos on which the earth was founded (see Psalm 23[24]:2), according to the cosmological conception of the ancient Semites.

The Church Father St. Basil observed: «Not even the deep was judged contemptible by the Psalmist, who included it in the general chorus of creation, what is more, with its own language, which completes harmoniously the hymn to the Creator» («Homiliae in hexaemeron,» III, 9: PG 29, 75).

3. The procession continues with the creatures of the atmosphere: lightening and hail, snow and frost, stormy winds, considered a speedy messenger of God (see Psalm 148:8).

Then the mountains and hills appear, regarded, popularly, as the most ancient creatures of the earth (see verse 9a). The vegetable kingdom is represented by the fruit trees and cedars (see verse 9b). The animal world, instead, is personified by the beasts and cattle, the reptiles and flying birds (see verse 10).

And, finally, man appears, who presides over the liturgy of creation. He is represented according to all ages and distinctions: maidens, youths and elderly, princes, kings and nations (see verses 11-12).

4. Let us now entrust to St. John Chrysostom the task of casting a comprehensive look upon this immense chorus. He does so with words that refer also to the Canticle of the three youths in the burning furnace, meditated by us in the last catechesis.

The great Father of the Church and patriarch of Constantinople affirms: «Because of their great rectitude of spirit, the saints, when they were about to render thanks to God, used to call many to participate in their praise, exhorting them to participate together with them in this beautiful liturgy. This was also done by the three youths in the furnace, when they called the whole of creation to praise and sing hymns to God for the benefit received (Daniel 3).

This Psalm does the same too, calling both parts of the world, that which is above and that which is below, the sentient and the intelligent. The prophet Isaiah also did this, when he said: «Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted» (Isaiah 49:13). And the Psalter expresses itself again thus: «When Israel came forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from an alien people … the mountains skipped like rams; the hills, like lambs» (Psalm 113[114]:1,4). And elsewhere in Isaiah: «Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above» (Isaiah 45:8). Indeed the saints, considering themselves insufficient to give praise to the Lord on their own, «turn to all sides involving all in a common hymnody» («Expositio in psalmum» CXLVIII: PG 55, 484-485).

5. We are also invited to associate ourselves to this immense chorus, becoming the explicit voice of every creature and praising God in the two fundamental dimensions of his mystery. On one hand, we must adore his transcendent greatness, «for his name alone is exalted; majestic above earth and heaven,» as our Psalm says (verse 13). On the other hand, let us acknowledge his condescending goodness, because God is close to his creatures and comes especially to help his people. «He has raised up a horn for his people, for the people of Israel who are near to him» (verse 14), as the Psalmist again affirms.

Let us now take up, before the omnipotent and merciful Creator, the invitation of St. Augustine to praise, exalt and celebrate him through his two works: «When you observe these creatures and you enjoy them and rise up to the Architect of everything and of created things, and intellectually contemplate his invisible attributes, then a confession rises over the earth and in heaven. … If the creatures are beautiful, how much more beautiful must the Creator be?» («Expositions on the Psalms,» — «Esposizioni sui Salmi,» IV, Rome, 1977, pp. 887-889).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 148 is a great cosmic «alleluia.» All creation — everything in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth — is called upon to sing praise to God, the Maker of all that exists. Our voices, too, join this immense chorus in praising the Lord. He is above all creation, and his love for us is without end.

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially those from Ireland, Scotland, and the United States of America. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy Summer!

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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