Papal Address on Psalm 97(98)

A Song of Praise to the Lord of the Universe and of Human History

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 6, 2002 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience in Paul VI Hall. The address, on Psalm 97(98), was in Italian.

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1. Psalm 97[98], proclaimed earlier, belongs to the type of hymns already encountered during the spiritual journey we are undertaking in light of the Psalter.

This is a hymn to the Lord King of the universe and of history (see verse 6). It is described as a “new song” (verse 1), which in biblical language means a perfect, full, solemn song accompanied by festive music. In fact, in addition to the choral song, “the melodious sound” of the lyre (see verse 5), the trumpet and the horn (see verse 6), but also a kind of cosmic applause (see verse 8) are evoked.

Moreover, the name of the “Lord” resounds repeatedly (six times), invoked as “our God” (verse 3). Hence, God is at the center of the scene in all his majesty, while he carries out salvation in history and is awaited to “govern” the world and peoples (verse 9). The Hebrew verb that indicates “judgment” also means “to govern”: so, the effective action of the Sovereign, which will bring peace and justice, is awaited by the whole earth.

2. The Psalm opens with the proclamation of divine intervention at the heart of the history of Israel (see verses 1-3). The images of the “right hand” and the “holy arm” refer to the Exodus, to the deliverance from the slavery of Egypt (see verse 1). Instead, the covenant with the chosen people is remembered through the two great divine perfections: “love” and “faithfulness” (see verse 3). These signs of salvation are revealed “for the nations to see” and “all the ends of the earth” (verses 2,3), so that the whole of humanity will be attracted to God the Savior and be open to his word and to his salvific work.

3. The reception reserved for the Lord, who intervenes in history, is marked by choral praise: in addition to the orchestra and the songs of the Temple of Sion (see verses 5-6), the universe also participates, which constitutes a kind of cosmic temple.

There are four singers of this immense choir of praise. The first is the roaring sea, which seems to be the constant basso of this grandiose hymn (see verse 7). It is followed by the earth and the whole world (see verse 4-7) with all its inhabitants, united in solemn harmony. The third personification is that of the rivers that, being considered as arms of the sea which, with their rhythmic flow, seem to clap hands in applause (see verse 8). Lastly, there are the hills, which seem to dance with joy before the Lord, even though they are the most massive and imposing creatures (see verse 8; Psalm 28:6; 113[114]: 6).

A colossal choir, then, that has only one purpose: to exalt the Lord, King and just Judge. As mentioned, the end of the Psalm, in fact, presents God, “who comes to govern the earth … with justice and … fairness” (Psalm 97[98]:9).

This is our great hope and our invocation: “Your Kingdom come!” — a Kingdom of peace, justice and serenity, which will re-establish the original harmony of creation.

4. In this Psalm, the Apostle Paul has recognized with profound joy a prophecy of the work of God in the mystery of Christ. Paul made use of verse 2 to express the theme of his important Letter to the Romans: in the Gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed” (see Romans 1:17), “is manifested” (see Romans 3:21).

The interpretation made by Paul confers on the Psalm a greater fullness of meaning. Read in the perspective of the Old Testament, the Psalm proclaims that God saves his people and that all the nations, seeing this, are in admiration. However, in the Christian perspective, God works salvation in Christ, son of Israel; all the nations see him and are invited to benefit from this salvation, given that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” namely, the pagan (Romans 1:16). Moreover, “all the ends of the earth” not only “have seen the victory of our God” (Psalm 97[98]:3), but have received it.

5. In this perspective Origen, a Christian writer of the third century, in a text quoted later by St. Jerome, interprets the “new song” of the Psalm as an anticipated celebration of the Christian novelty of the crucified Redeemer. Let us now follow his commentary, which combines the song of the Psalmist with the evangelical proclamation.

“A new song is the Son of God who was crucified — something which had never before been heard. A new reality must have a new song. ‘Sing to the Lord a new song.’ He who suffered the Passion is, in fact, a man; but you sing to the Lord. He suffered the Passion as a man, but saved as God.” Origen continues: Christ “did miracles in the midst of the Jews: He healed the paralytics, cleansed the lepers, resurrected the dead. But other prophets also did this. He changed a few loaves into an enormous number, and gave countless people to eat. But Elisha did this. Now, what new thing did he do to merit a new song? Do you want to know what new thing he did? God died as a man, so that men could have life; the Son of God was crucified, to take us up to heaven” (74 Omelie sul libro dei Salmi [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan, 1993, pp. 309-310).

[Translation by Zenit]

[At the end of the Audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 97 is a song of praise to the Lord of the universe and of human history. It calls upon the people, and indeed all of creation, to rejoice and proclaim God’s greatness. The earth and its inhabitants, the sea, the rivers and mountains, all express their joy at the wonderful things the Lord has done for his Chosen People. The Psalm ends on a note of intense expectation: for the Lord will come to rule with justice and judge with truth. This is the same hope that we express when, in the Lord’s Prayer, we say: ‘Your Kingdom come!’ God’s justice is revealed in Christ. The Gospel is the power of God to save all who believe in him (see Romans 1:16). His saving death on the Cross brings us God’s goodness and mercy. For us, then, the Psalm becomes a new song of thanksgiving for our salvation.

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark, Malta, India, and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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