Commentary on Second Part of Psalm 134(135)

«Two Different Religious Visions»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the second part of Psalm 134(135):13-21.

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1. Psalm 134, a song of paschal tone, is offered to us by the liturgy of Vespers in two distinct passages. We have just heard the second part (see verses 13-21), sealed by the alleluia, the exclamation of praise to the Lord which opened the psalm.

After having commemorated in the first part of the hymn the event of Exodus, heart of Israel’s paschal celebration, the psalmist now contrasts in a decisive way two different religious visions. On one hand, rises the figure of the living and personal God who is at the center of authentic faith (see verses 13-14). His presence is effective and salvific; the Lord is not an immobile and absent reality, but a living person who «guides» his faithful,» «having compassion» on them, sustaining them with his power and love.

2. On the other hand, there is idolatry (see verses 15-18), expression of a deviant and deceitful religiosity. In fact, the idol is nothing other than a «work of men’s hands,» a product of human desires and, therefore, impotent to exceed creaturely limits. It does have a human form with a mouth, eyes, ears, throat, but it is inert, lifeless, as is the case, precisely, of an inanimate statue (see Psalm 113B:4-8).

The destiny of one who worships these dead realities is to become like them, impotent, fragile, inert. In these verses is clearly represented man’s eternal temptation to seek salvation in the «work of his hands,» placing hope in wealth, in power, in success, in matter. Unfortunately, what happens to him is what the prophet Isaiah already described effectively: «He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?'» (Isaiah 44:20).

3. Psalm 134(135), after this meditation on true and false religion, on genuine faith in the Lord of the universe and of history, and on idolatry, ends with a liturgical blessing (see verses 19-21), which introduces a series of figures present in the worship practiced in the temple of Zion (see Psalm 113B:9-13).

From all the community gathered in the temple rises a blessing in unison to God Creator of the universe and Savior of his people, expressed in the diversity of voices and humility of faith.

The liturgy is the privileged place to listen to the divine Word, which renders present the Lord’s salvific acts, but it is also the circle in which the communitarian prayer rises which celebrates divine love. God and man meet in a saving embrace, which finds its fulfillment precisely in the liturgical celebration.

4. Commenting on the verse of this psalm on the idols and the resemblance those assume who trust in them (see Psalm 134[135]:15-18), St. Augustine observes: «Indeed — believe it, brothers — there is in them a certain resemblance with their idols: not of course in their body, but in their interior man. They have ears, but they do not hear how much God cries out to them: ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.’ They have eyes, but they do not see: they have, that is, the eyes of the body, but not the eye of faith.» And in the same way, «they have noses but they do not perceive fragrances. They are unable to perceive that aroma of which the Apostle says: Let us be the good fragrance of Christ everywhere (see 2 Corinthians 2:15). Of what advantage is it for them to have noses, if with them they do not succeed in breathing the sweet perfume of Christ?»

It is true, Augustine acknowledges, that there remain people who are bound to idolatry; «every day, however, there are people who, convinced of the miracles of Christ the Lord, embrace the faith. Every day the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf open, noses that were first blocked begin to breathe, the tongues of the mute are loosened, the legs of paralytics are consolidated, the feet of the crippled are straightened. From all these stones are raised up children to Abraham (see Matthew 3:9). To all these, therefore, must be said: ‘House of Israel, bless the Lord.’ Bless him, you prelates of the Church! This means ‘House of Aaron.’ Bless him, you ministers! This means, ‘House of Levi.’ And what to say of the other nations? ‘You who fear the Lord, bless the Lord'» («Esposizione sul Salmo» [Commentary on Psalm] 134, 24-25): Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome, 1977, pp. 375,377).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our reflection today centers on the second half of Psalm 134. Two religious visions are presented. The first depicts a living and personal God whose efficacious and saving presence stands at the heart of authentic faith as he guides and takes pity on his people. The second illustrates the distorted and misleading religiosity of idolatry.

Idols are merely a product of man’s desires and are as impotent and lifeless as a statue. Indeed, those who seek salvation through «the work of human hands» — placing their hope in wealth, power, or success — only deceive themselves.

Following this meditation on true and false faith, the psalm concludes with a liturgical blessing. The whole community gathered in the temple offers its prayers to God, celebrating his love and saving embrace.

Like St. Augustine, we too recognize that still some people remain bound to idolatry, but let us also rejoice that there are people who every day embrace the faith and, in unison with all believers, exclaim from their hearts: Let us bless the Lord!

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

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, Australia and the United States of America. In particular I greet the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College who tomorrow will be ordained deacons. Upon you all, I invoke the peace and joy of Jesus Christ our Lord!

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