"God is offering His salvation to the whole world"

"My house is a house of prayer for all peoples": universal vision of psalmist, Abraham and prophets

At the General Audience on Wednesday, 9 October, in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father commented on Psalm 66 [67], a short but compelling hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God. Psalm 66 [67] is sung to the Lord in the name of all the peoples of the earth, who are called to make his ways known, the ways of salvation, light and peace. It invokes God's mercy and asks him to bless his people, that they may be fruitful and in turn become a source of blessing for others. Jesus Christ is the ultimate blessing that God gives to his people. It is through Christ that the whole world receives the promise of redemption, the gift of eternal life.

After greeting the pilgrims in various languages, the Holy Father spoke briefly to young people, the sick and newly-weds asking them to pray the Rosary for peace in October, the month of the Rosary. The Pope also asked the faithful to observe the World Day of Sight on 10 October.

The Holy Father ended with an appeal to the Church to pray for peace in Africa and especially in Ivory Coast. Here is a translation of the Holy Father's 53rd catechesis on the Psalms.

1. Now we have just heard the voice of the ancient Psalmist, who sang a joyful song of thanksgiving to the Lord. It is a brief but compelling text, which opens out on an immense horizon, to embrace in spirit all the peoples of the earth.

Universal breadth

This universal openness probably reflects the prophetic spirit of the age that followed the Babylonian exile, when it was hoped that God would also lead foreigners to his holy mountain to fill them with joy. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings would be pleasing to him, for the temple of the Lord would become "a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is 56,7).

In our Psalm, 66 [67] too, the universal chorus of the nations is invited to join in the praise that Israel raises in the temple of Zion. Indeed, this antiphon is repeated twice: "Let the peoples praise you O God; let all the peoples praise you" (vv. 4-6).

All are called to know the way God has revealed

2. Even those who do not belong to the community chosen by God receive a vocation from him: indeed, they are called to know the "way" revealed to Israel. The "way" is the divine plan of salvation, the kingdom of light and peace in whose realization the pagans are also involved since they are invited to listen to the voice of the Lord (cf. v. 3). The result of this obedient listening is the fear of the Lord "to the ends of the earth" (v. 8), an expression that does not evoke fear but rather adoring reverence for the transcendent and glorious mystery of God.
Abundant divine blessing: grace for the whole world

3. At the beginning and end of the psalm there is an insistent desire for the divine blessing: "May God be gracious to us and bless us, may God's face shed its light upon us ... God, our God, has blessed us. May God still give us his blessing" (vv. 2.7-8).
In these words it is easy to hear the echo of the famous priestly blessing which, in God's name, Moses taught Aaron and the descendants of the priestly tribe: "The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you: the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace" (Nm 6,24-26).

Well, according to the Psalmist, this blessing of Israel was to be like a seed of grace and salvation planted in the soil of the whole world and of history, ready to sprout and become a flourishing tree.

We turn in thought to the promise the Lord made to Abraham on the day of his election: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing ... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Gn 12,2-3).
Symbolic interpretation: prophecy of incarnation

4. In the biblical tradition, one of the effects of the divine blessing that was experienced is the gift of life, of fruitfulness and fertility.

In our Psalm there is an explicit reference to this concrete reality, that is precious for existence: "The earth has yielded its fruit" (v. 7). This observation has led scholars to link the Psalm with the rite of thanksgiving for an abundant harvest, the sign of divine favour and a witness for other peoples of the Lord's closeness to Israel.

The same sentence attracted the attention of the Fathers of the Church, who moved from the agricultural horizon to the symbolic perspective. Thus Origen applied the verse to the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist, that is, to Christ who came from the flower of the Virgin and becomes fruit that can be eaten. In this perspective, "the earth is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who comes from our earth, from our seed, from this mud, from this clay, from Adam". This earth has borne its fruit: what it lost in paradise, it has recovered in the Son. "The earth has borne its fruit: first it produced a flower   then, this flower became a fruit, so that we could eat it, so that we could eat his flesh. Do you want to know what this fruit is? It is the Virgin from the Virgin, the Lord from the handmaid, God from man, the Son from the Mother, the fruit from the earth" (74 Omelie sul libro dei Salmi, Milan 1993, p. 141).

Abundant mercy, grace for the world

5. Let us conclude with St Augustine's words in his commentary on our Psalm. He identifies the fruit that sprouted on earth with the newness that is produced in the human being thanks to the coming of Christ, a newness of conversion, a fruit of praise to God.

Indeed, he describes "the earth as full of thorns". But "there came the hand of One rooting them up, there came a calling by His majesty and mercy, the earth began to confess; now the earth gives her fruit". Certainly, would she give her fruit "unless first she were rained on", "unless first the mercy of God had come from above?" Now we see a mature fruit in the Church thanks to the preaching of the Apostles: Then "by his sending rain through the clouds, by the sending of the Apostles and by their preaching the truth, 'the earth has given her fruit' more abundantly, and that harvest has now filled the whole world" (Esposizioni sui Salmi, II, Rome, 1970, p. 551 [Exposition on the Psalms by St Augustine, Oxford 1849, vol. 3, pp. 308-309]).

L'Osservatore Romano October 16, 2002
Reprinted with permission