Reflection on Psalm 109(110)

On the Divine Begetting of a King

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 18, 2004 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 109(110).

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1. Following an ancient tradition, Psalm 109(110), which was just proclaimed, is the primary component of Sunday vespers. It appears in each of the four weeks in which the Liturgy of the Hours is articulated. Its brevity, accentuated by the exclusion in Christian liturgical use of verse 6, of an imprecating nature, does not imply the absence of exegetical and interpretative difficulties. The text is presented as a royal Psalm, linked to the Davidic dynasty, and probably refers to the enthronement rite of the sovereign. However, the Jewish and Christian tradition has seen in the anointed king the profile of the Anointed par excellence, the Messiah, the Christ.

From this perspective, the Psalm becomes a luminous song raised by Christian liturgy to the Risen One on the feast day, memorial of the Lord’s passover.

2. There are two parts to Psalm 109(110), both characterized by the presence of a divine oracle. The first oracle (see verses 1-3) is addressed to the sovereign on the day of his solemn enthronement «at the right hand» of God, that is, next to the ark of the covenant in the temple of Jerusalem. The memory of the divine «begetting» of the king was part of the official protocol of his coronation and assumed a symbolic value of investiture and tutelage for Israel, the king being the lieutenant of God in the defense of justice (see verse 3).

In the Christian re-reading that «begetting» becomes real by presenting Jesus Christ as true Son of God. This is what occurred in the Christian use of another famous royal-messianic Psalm, the second of the Psalter, in which this divine oracle is read: «You are my son, today I am your father» (Psalm 2:7).

3. The second oracle of Psalm 109(110) has, instead, a priestly content (see verse 4). Formerly, the king also carried out functions of worship, not according to the line of the Levitical priesthood, but according to another relation: that of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the sovereign-priest of Salem, pre-Israelite Jerusalem (see Genesis 14:17-20).

In the Christian perspective, the Messiah becomes the model of a perfect and supreme priesthood. The central part of the Letter to the Hebrews exalts this priestly ministry «after the order of Melchizedek» (5:10), seeing it incarnated fully in the person of Christ.

4. The first oracle is quoted on several occasions in the New Testament to celebrate the messianic character of Jesus (see Matthew 22:44; 26:64; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27; Hebrews 1:13). Christ himself, before the supreme priest and before the Jewish Sanhedrin, will refer explicitly to this Psalm, proclaiming that he will be «seated at the right hand of the divine Power, as stated in Psalm 109:1 (Mark 14:62; see 12:36-37).

We will return to this Psalm in our itinerary through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours. To conclude our brief presentation of this messianic hymn, we wish to emphasize its Christological interpretation.

5. We do so with a synthesis of St. Augustine. In his «Commentary on Psalm 109,» delivered during Lent of the year 412, he presented the Psalm as an authentic prophecy of the divine promises on Christ. The famous Father of the Church said: «It was necessary to know the only Son of God, who would come among men to assume man and to become man through the assumed nature: he would die, rise and ascend into heaven, and be seated at the right hand of the Father and would carry out among people all that he had promised. … All this, therefore, had to be prophesied and announced beforehand, pointed out as destined to come, so that he would not cause fright by coming unannounced, but rather be accepted with faith and expectation. This Psalm is inserted in the ambit of these promises; it prophesizes, in both certain and explicit terms, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in which we cannot doubt for a moment that Christ was announced» («Esposizioni sui Salmi» [Commentaries on the Psalms], III, Rome, 1976, pp. 951,953).

6. We now address our invocation to the Father of Jesus Christ, only King and perfect and eternal priest, so that he will make us a people of priests and prophets of peace and love, a people that sings Christ the King and priest who was immolated to reconcile in himself, in one only body, the whole of humanity, creating the new man (see Ephesians 2:15-16).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, John Paul II greeted the pilgrims present in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience. I greet particularly the groups from the United States of America. Wishing you a pleasant stay in Rome, I cordially invoke upon you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy vacation!

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