'Praise the name of the Lord!'   

Pope calls believers to reflect on the harmony and beauty of creation, cherishing God's gifts and benefits of peace

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 9 April, in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father commented on Psalm 134[135]. God's faithful people are called "servants of the Lord", and the Almighty is recognized as "good" and "gra­cious." As the Lord's faithful servants, we shall contemplate the glory and majesty of our God forever.   

After his catechesis, the Pope prayed for the victims of destruction and death in Iraq as well as in the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, appealing to political leaders to end violence and strive for rec­onciliation. The following is a translation of the Pope's 71st catechesis in the se­ries on the Psalms and Canticles, which was given in Italian.

1. The Liturgy of Lauds, whose devel­opment we are following in our catech­eses, presents to us the first part of Psalm 134 [135] which we have just heard the choir sing. The text reveals a closely-packed series of allusions to oth­er biblical passages, and it seems to be pervaded by an Easter atmosphere. Not for nothing has the Judaic tradition linked our Psalm to the next one, Psalm 135 [136], considering the whole as the "Great Hallel", the solemn, festive praise to be raised to the Lord at East­er.

Indeed, the Psalm brings the Exodus to the fore with its mention of the "plagues" of Egypt and its evocation of the entry into the promised land. But let us now look at the subsequent stages which Psalm 134 [135] reveals in the de­velopment of the first 12 verses: it is a reflection that we would like to turn in­to a prayer.

All the faithful are called to praise the Lord

2. The Psalm opens with the charac­teristic invitation to praise, a typical fea­ture of the hymns addressed to the Lord in the Psalter. The appeal to sing the Al­leluia is addressed to the "servants of the Lord" (cf. v. 1), who in the original Hebrew "stand" in the sacred area of the temple (cf. v. 2), that is, in the ritu­al attitude of prayer (cf. Ps 133[134]:1-­2).

The first to be involved in this praise are the ministers of worship, priests and Levites, who live and work "in the courts of the house of our God" (cf. Ps 134[135]:2). However, all the faithful are associated, in spirit, with these "ser­vants of the Lord". In fact, immediately after the mention of the election of all Israel to be ally and witness of the Lord's love follows: "For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession" (v. 4). In this perspec­tive, two basic qualities of God are cele­brated: he is "good" and he is "gracious" (cf. v. 3). The bond between us and the Lord is marked by love, intimacy and joyful adherence.

The Lord of the cosmos commands all creation

3. After the invitation to praise, the Psalmist continues with a solemn profes­sion of faith that starts with the words "I know", that is, I recognize, I believe (cf. v. 5). Two articles of faith are sung by a soloist on behalf of the entire peo­ple, assembled for the liturgy. He first exalts God's work in the whole uni­verse: He is the Lord of the cosmos par excellence: "The Lord does whatever he wills, in heaven and on earth" (v. 6). He even commands the seas and the depths, which are the emblem of chaos, of negative forces, of limitation and the void.

Again, it is the Lord, with recourse to his "storehouses" (cf. v. 7), who pro­duces the clouds, lightning, rain and winds. In ancient times, people in the Near East imagined that the elements were stored in special containers, rather like heavenly caskets, from which God drew them and scattered them on earth.

The Lord is one, 'high above all gods'

4. The other element of the profession of faith concerns the history of salva­tion. God the Creator is now recognized as the redeeming Lord, calling to mind the fundamental events of Israel's libera­tion from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist initially cites the "plague" of the first­born (cf. Ex 12:29-30) that sums up all the "signs and miracles" that God the Liberator worked during the epic of the Exodus (cf. Ps 134[135]:8-9). Immediate­ly afterwards are recalled the sensation­al victories that enabled Israel to over­come the difficulties and obstacles with which its path was strewn (cf. vv. 10­11). Finally, the promised land, which Israel receives as "a heritage" from the Lord, can be discerned on the horizon (cf. v. 12).

All these signs of the covenant, more broadly expressed in the following Psalm, 135 [136], testify to the basic truth, announced in the first Command­ment of the Decalogue. God is one and he is a person who works and speaks, loves and saves: "the Lord is great... our God is above all gods" (v. 5; cf. Ex 20:2-­3; Ps 95 [94]:3).

Cherish God's gifts and benefits of peace

5. Following this profession of faith, we too raise our praise to God. Pope St Clement I, in his Letter to the Corinthi­ans, addresses this invitation to us: "Let us gaze upon the Father and Creator of the whole universe. Let us cherish his gifts and benefits of peace, magnificent and sublime. Let us contemplate him with our minds and turn the eyes of our soul to the greatness of his will! Only think how just he is to all his creatures. The heavens that move as he orders obey him in harmony. Day and night take the course he has established and are not confused with each other. The sun and moon and the multitudes of stars revolve harmoniously according to his directions, never deviating from the orbits he has assigned to them. The earth, made fertile through his will, pro­duces abundant food for men and wom­en, for wild beasts and for all the ani­mals that live on it, without reluctance and changing none of his orders" (19,2-­20,4: I Padri Apostolici, Rome, 1984, pp. 62-63). Clement I concludes observ­ing: "The Creator and Lord of the uni­verse disposes that all these things should be in peace and concord, benefi­cient to all and especially to us who call on his mercy through Our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen" (20,11-12: ibid., p. 63).

L'Osservatore Romano April 16, 2003
Reprinted with permission.