Commentary on Psalm 115(116)

«God Is Not Indifferent to His Creature’s Drama»

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on a passage from Psalm 115(116).

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1. Psalm 115(116), which we just prayed, has always been in use in the Christian tradition, beginning with St. Paul who, quoting the introduction, following the Greek translation of the Seventy, writes to the Christians of Corinth: «Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, «I believed, therefore I spoke,» we too believe and therefore speak» (2 Corinthians 4:13).

The Apostle is in spiritual agreement with the Psalmist, in serene trust and sincere testimony, despite human sufferings and weaknesses. Writing to the Romans, Paul takes up verse 2 of the Psalm and delineates the contrast between the faithfulness of God and the inconsistency of man: «God must be true, though every human being is a liar» (Romans 3:4).

Subsequent tradition would transform this song into a celebration of martyrdom (see Origen, «Exhortation to Martyrdom,» 18: «Testi di Spiritualità,» Milan, 1985, pp. 127-129) because of the affirmation «precious is the death of his saints» (see Psalm 115[116]:15), or it would make it a Eucharistic text because of the reference to the «cup of salvation» which the Psalmist lifts invoking the name of the Lord (see verse 13). Christian tradition identifies this cup with the «cup of blessing» (see 1 Corinthians 10:16), the «cup of the New Covenant» (see 1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20): expressions which, in the New Testament, refer specifically to the Eucharist.

2. In the Hebrew original, Psalm 115(116) constitutes a single composition with the preceding Psalm 114(115). Both are a unitary thanksgiving addressed to the Lord who liberates from the nightmare of death.

In our text appears the memory of an anguished past: The Psalmist has held high the flame of faith, even when on his lips there was the bitterness of despair and unhappiness (see Psalm 115(116):10). All around him, in fact, an icy curtain of hatred and deceit was raised, because his fellowman showed himself to be false and unfaithful (see verse 11). Now, however, the prayer is transformed into gratitude because the Lord has raised his faithful one from the dark vortex of falsehood (see verse 12).

Therefore, the Psalmist prepares to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, in which the ritual cup will be drunk, the cup of the sacred libation, which is the sign of acknowledgment of the liberation (see verse 13). The liturgy, therefore, is the privileged place from which to raise grateful praise to the Savior God.

3. In fact, in addition to the sacrificial rite, explicit reference is also made to the assembly of «all the people,» before whom the Psalmist pays his vow and witnesses his faith (see verse 14). It is in this circumstance that he renders public his thanksgiving, well aware that, even when death is imminent, the Lord bends over him with his love. God is not indifferent to his creature’s drama, but breaks his chains (see verse 16).

Saved from death, the Psalmist feels himself «servant» of the Lord, «son of his handmaid» (ibid.), a beautiful Eastern expression to indicate the one who is born in the master’s house. The Psalmist professes humbly and with joy his belonging to the house of God, to the family of creatures united to him in love and faithfulness.

4. Always with the words of the one praying, the Psalm ends by evoking again the rite of thanksgiving that will be celebrated in the context of the temple (see verses 17-19). Thus his prayer will be placed in the ambit of the community. His personal story is narrated so that it can be a stimulus for all to believe and love the Lord. In the background, therefore, we can perceive the whole people of God while they thank the Lord of life, who does not abandon the righteous in the dark realm of pain and death, but leads him to hope and life.

5. Let us conclude our reflection commending ourselves to the words of St. Basil the Great who, in his Homily on Psalm 115(116), comments thus on the question and answer present in the Psalm: «What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation. The Psalmist has understood the very many gifts received from God: from nonbeing he was brought into being, he was made from the earth and gifted with reason … he then perceived the economy of salvation in favor of the human race, recognizing that the Lord gave himself in redemption in place of us all; and, searching through all his belongings, he is uncertain about what gift he can ever find that is worthy of the Lord. What then, shall I render to the Lord? Not sacrifices or holocausts … but the whole of my life. This is why he says: ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation,’ calling a ‘cup’ the suffering in the spiritual combat, the resisting of sin till death. Moreover, it is what our Savior taught in the Gospel: ‘Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me’; and when he said to the disciples: ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink?’ referring clearly to the death he accepted for the salvation of the world» (PG XXX, 109).

[Translation of Italian original by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read this summary in English:]

Psalm 115 is a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord who has faithfully sustained the Psalmist in times of tribulation. It begins as a personal prayer but then develops into a public act of worship. The Psalmist sees himself in the temple, before the people, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving and raising the «cup of salvation.» Our Christian tradition discerns in this Psalm an invitation to trust in the Lord who never abandons his faithful servants. The «cup of salvation,» evokes both the Eucharist and the Lord’s Passion, and calls each of us to engage courageously in our daily spiritual combat.

[The Pope then greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present today. I greet especially the groups from England, Malta, Canada, China, and the United States of America, as well as the Missionaries of Charity from various countries. God bless you all!

Today is Africa Day. My thoughts and prayers are with the beloved people of Africa. I encourage our Catholic institutions to continue giving generous attention to their needs, and I hope and pray that the international community will become ever more involved in the problems of the African continent.

Tomorrow, the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, I will preside at Holy Mass at 7 o’clock in the evening, in the square of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Afterwards our traditional procession to St. Mary Major will take place. I cordially invite all of you to join this celebration where we give witness together to our faith in Christ, present in the Eucharist.

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