Papal Address on Psalm 86(87)

John Paul II Refers to Jerusalem, Mother of All Nations

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 13, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, in which he commented on Psalm 86[87], a hymn to Jerusalem, mother of all nations.

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1. The song of Jerusalem, city of peace and universal mother, which we have just heard is, unfortunately, in contrast with the historical experience that the city is living. However, the task of prayer is to sow trust and generate hope.

The universal perspective of Psalm 86[87] might remind one of the hymn of the Book of Isaiah, in which one sees all people converging toward Zion to hear the Word of the Lord and rediscover the beauty of peace, forging “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks” (see 2:2-5). In reality, the Psalm is placed in a very different perspective, that of a movement which, instead of converging toward Zion, leaves from Zion; the Psalmist sees in Zion the origin of all peoples. After having declared the primacy of the Holy City, not because of historical or cultural merits but only because of the love God poured over it (see Psalm 86[87]:1-3), the Psalm opens with a celebration of this very universalism that makes all peoples brothers.

2. Zion is sung as mother of the whole of humanity and not just of Israel. Such an affirmation is extraordinarily audacious. The Psalmist is aware of it and makes one take note of it: “Glorious things are said of you, O city of God” (verse 3). How can the humble capital of a small nation ever be presented as the origin of peoples who are far more powerful? Why can Zion have this immense pretension? The answer is given in the same phrase: Zion is mother of all humanity, because it is the “city of God”; therefore, it is at the base of God’s plan.

All the cardinal points of the earth are in relation with this mother: Rahab, namely, Egypt, the great western state; Babylon. the well-known eastern power; Tyre, which personifies the commercial people of the north, while Ethiopia represents the deep south; and Palestine, the central area, is also a daughter of Zion.

In the spiritual register of Jerusalem, all peoples of the earth are recorded: The formula “was born there/ was born here” is repeated three times (verses 4,5,6). It is the official juridical expression which at the time stated that a person was a native of a specific city or, as such, enjoyed the fullness of civil rights of that people.

3. Finally, it is thought-provoking to observe the nations considered hostile to Israel going up to Jerusalem to be received as “relatives,” not foreigners. What is more, the Psalmist transforms the procession of these people toward Zion in a choral song and a joyful dance: they rediscover their springs (see verse 7) in the city of God, from which a current of living water flows that makes the whole world fruitful, in line with what the prophets proclaimed (see Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1; 14:8; Revelation 22:1-2).

In Jerusalem, all must discover their spiritual roots, feel they are in their homeland, meet again as members of the same family, embrace like brothers who have returned home.

4. A page of true interreligious dialogue, Psalm 86 gathers the universal legacy of the prophets (see Isaiah 56:6-7; 60:6-7; 66:21; Job 4:10-11; Malachi 1:11, etc.) and anticipates the Christian tradition that applies this Psalm to “Jerusalem from above,” of which St. Paul proclaims that “she is free and is our mother” and has more children than the earthly Jerusalem (see Galatians 4:26-27). The Book of Revelation does not speak differently when it sings [of] “a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2,10).

In line with Psalm 86[87], the Second Vatican Council also sees in the universal Church the place in which are gathered “all the righteous, beginning with Adam, and the righteous Abel to the last elect.” It will have its “glorious fulfillment at the end of time” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 2).

5. This ecclesial reading of the Psalm opens, in the Christian tradition, to its re-reading in a Mariological key. For the Psalmist, Jerusalem was a real “metropolis,” namely, a “mother-city,” in whose interior the Lord himself was present (see Zephaniah 3:14-18). In this light, Christianity sings of Mary as the living Zion, in whose womb the Incarnate Word was generated and, as a consequence, the children of God are regenerated. The voices of the Church Fathers — from Ambrose of Milan to Athanasius of Alexandria, from Maximus the Confessor to John Damascene, from Cromazio of Aquileia to Germanus of Constantinople — are in accord in this Christian rereading of Psalm 86[87].

Now we will listen to a teacher of the Armenian tradition, Gregory of Narek (circa 950-1010), who in his Panegyric to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, addresses the Virgin thus: “Taking refuge under your most worthy and powerful intercession, we are protected, O Holy Mother of God, finding relief and repose under the shadow of your protection as if we were protected by a well-fortified wall: ornate wall, studded gracefully with most pure diamonds; a wall enveloped by fire, and therefore impregnable to the assault of robbers; sparkling flaming wall, unreachable and inaccessible to cruel traitors; a wall surrounded on all sides, according to David, whose foundations were laid by the Most High (see Psalm 86[87]:1,5); potent wall of the heavenly city, according to Paul (see Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), where you welcome all as inhabitants, because through the corporeal birth of God you rendered the children of the earthly Jerusalem children of the Jerusalem above. Therefore, their lips bless your virginal womb and all confess you as dwelling and temple of Him who is of the same essence as the Father. Justly, then, the saying of the said prophet is fitting for you: ‘You were for us a house of refuge and help against the torrents in the days of anguish’ (see Psalm 45[46]:2)” (“Testi Mariani del Primo Millennio” [Marian Texts of the First Millennium], IV, Rome, 1991, p. 589).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters.

Psalm 86 sings of Jerusalem, the city of peace and spiritual home of the nations. Christian tradition sees in this Psalm a description of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City coming down from heaven (see Revelation 21: 2, 10). The Church Fathers have also read the Psalm in the light of Mary, who gave birth to the Incarnate Word and is thus the mother of all the redeemed. May God’s children everywhere turn always to the Blessed Virgin in trusting hope as they journey to their true home, the heavenly Jerusalem.

I extend a special welcome to the students of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland, to the members of the NATO Defense College, and to the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. May these days spent in Rome strengthen you in your spiritual lives and in your commitment to your respective callings. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Mauritius and the United States of America, I invoke the abiding peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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