VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The psalm that Jesus likely prayed before he left the Upper Room and went to his agony is a prayer in the form of a litany, marked by the refrain "for his steadfast love endures forever."
And it was this psalm -- Psalm 136, or 135 according to the Greco-Latin tradition -- that Benedict XVI took up for his catechesis today in St. Peter's Square. He said that with this psalm, the "horizon of praise" illumined Jesus' "difficult road to Golgotha."
Known as the "Great Hallel," the Pope explained, this psalm is traditionally sung at the end of the Hebrew Passover meal. The Evangelists likely alluded to it when they wrote, "And when they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."
The psalm enumerates God's "many mighty deeds in human history," as well as his "continual interventions on behalf of his people," the Pontiff noted. "And to each proclamation of the Lord's saving action the antiphon responds with the fundamental motivation for praise: God's eternal love, a love that, according to the Hebrew word employed, involves fidelity, mercy, goodness, grace and tenderness."
The decisive gift in this litany of wonders is the fulfillment of the divine promise made to the Fathers, as seen in Verses 21 and 22: "He gave their land as a heritage, for his love endures forever; a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures forever."
The Pope reflected that the gift of land is remembered as one that "the people must receive without ever claiming it as their own possession -- by living continually in an attitude of grateful acceptance."
"Israel received the land in which they live as an 'inheritance,'" he said, "a word that generally designates the possession of a good received from another; a right of propriety that refers specifically to a paternal inheritance.
"One of the prerogatives of God is that of 'giving'; and now, at the end of the Exodus journey, Israel, the receiver of the gift, enters as a son into the Land of the promise fulfilled. The time of wandering -- under tents, in a life marked by danger -- is over. Now the blessed time of stability has begun."
Benedict XVI went on to ask how we could make this psalm "our own" -- "how can we make this psalm a part of our own prayer?"
He suggested firstly the theme of creation, the frame of the psalm at its beginning and end: "Creation as God's great gift from which we live, in which he reveals himself in his goodness and greatness."
"Therefore," the Pope said, "to regard creation as a gift of God is of interest to us all."
"Then," he continued, "follows salvation history. Naturally we can say: The liberation from Egypt, the time in the desert, the entrance into the Promised Land and then the other problems are very distant from us; they are not part of our history. But we must be attentive to the fundamental structure of this prayer. The fundamental structure is that Israel remembers the Lord's goodness. In its history, there are so many dark valleys, so many passages through difficulty and death, but Israel remembers that God is good, and they can overcome in the dark valley -- in the valley of death -- because they remember. Israel remembers the Lord's goodness and his power; that his mercy endures forever."
The Holy Father emphasized that remembering the Lord's goodness is also important for us. "Remembering becomes the strength of hope," he said. "Remembering tells us: God is; God is good, and his mercy is eternal. And thus, remembering opens the road to the future -- even in the darkness of a day, of a moment in time, it is the light and star that guides us."
"Let us, too, remember the good; let us remember God's eternal, merciful love," he invited. "Israel's history is already part of our memory as well, of how God revealed himself, of how he created for himself a people to be his own. Then God became man, one of us: He lived with us, suffered with us, died for us. He remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament and in the Word. It is a history, a remembrance of God's goodness that assures us of his goodness: His love is eternal."
The Pontiff further suggested remembering our own "personal history of salvation," saying we "must truly treasure this history, keeping always in mind the great things he has also done in my life, so that we might trust: His mercy is eternal."
Bread of life
Benedict XVI concluded with another insight: The psalm ends by returning to creation: "The Lord, it says, 'gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.'"
He reflected, "The invisible power of the Creator and Lord, which the psalm extols, is revealed in the littleness and visibility of the bread that he gives us, and by which he makes us live."
"This daily bread," the Holy Father said, "symbolizes and summarizes God's love as Father, and opens before us the New Testament fulfillment of that 'bread of life,' the Eucharist, which accompanies us in our existence as believers, and anticipates the definitive joy of the messianic banquet of Heaven."
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