'O Lord, to you I call!'

In choosing to do good and avoid evil, followers of Jesus know that it is only the power of the Lord that can protect, strengthen and save

On Wednesday, 5 November, in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father ad­dressed the faithful during his Gener­al Audience. The Pope's Catechesis was based on Psalm 141[140], a "prayer in danger" which also speaks of our prayer rising to God like in­cense and an evening oblation. An in­timate link exists between prayer and daily life, and our prayer is in itself an act of sacrifice to God. The Psalmist begs the Lord to keep him safe from evil, knowing that his refuge is in the Lord. The following is a translation of the Holy Father's Cat­echesis, the third in the new series on the Liturgy of Vespers, given in Ital­ian.

1. In previous catecheses, we gave an overall look at the structure and value of the Liturgy of Vespers, the great ec­clesiastical prayer of the evening. We now journey into its interior. It will be like making a pilgrimage to that "holy land" made up of the Psalms and Canti­cles. One by one we will reflect on each of those poetic prayers, which God has sealed with his inspiration. They are in­vocations which the Lord himself de­sires should be addressed to him, for he loves to listen to them, hearing in them the heartbeat of his beloved children.

Let us begin with Psalm 141[140], which opens Sunday Vespers of the first of the four weeks when, following the Second Vatican Council, the evening prayer of the Church was adopted.

Worship united with life, prayer with existence

2. "Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands,  like the evening sacrifice". Verse two of this Psalm can be considered as the dis­tinctive sign of the entire hymn and as the apparent justification of the fact that it has been included in the Liturgy of Vespers. The idea expressed reflects the spirit of prophetic theology that inti­mately unites worship with life, prayer with existence.

The same prayer made with a pure and sincere heart becomes a sacrifice offered to God. The entire being of the person who prays becomes a sacrificial act, a prelude to what St Paul would suggest when he invited Christians to of­fer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God: this is the spiri­tual sacrifice acceptable to him (cf. Rom 12:1).

Hands raised in prayer are a bridge to communication with God, as is the smoke that rises as sweet odour from the victim during the sacrificial rite of the evening.

The Lord protects and saves those who call upon him

3. The Psalm continues in a tone of supplication, transmitted to us by a text which in the original Hebrew is unclear and presents certain interpretative diffi­culties (especially in vv. 4-7).

The general sense may, however, be identified and transformed into medita­tion and prayer. Above all else, the per­son praying calls upon the Lord that He not permit his lips (cf. v. 3) and the mo­tions of his heart to be attracted and en­ticed by evil, thus inclining him to com­mit "wicked deeds" (cf. v. 4). In fact, a person's words and actions express his or her moral choice. Evil exercises such an attraction that it easily provokes even the faithful to taste "the delights" that sinners can offer, sitting down at their table; that is, taking part in their perverse actions.

The Psalm even acquires the charac­ter of an examination of conscience, which is followed by the commitment to always choose the ways of God.

Decide to do good, do not be tempted by evildoers

4. At this point, however, the person praying starts by bursting out with a passionate declaration that he will not associate with the evildoer; he will not be a guest of the sinner, nor let the fra­grant oil that is reserved for privileged guests (cf. Ps 23[22]:5) bear witness to his connivance with the evildoer (cf. Ps 141[140]:5). To express his downright disassociation from the wicked with greater vehemence, the Psalmist then declares an indignant condemnation in his regard, in vivid images of vehement judgment.

It is one of the typical imprecations of the Psalter (cf. Ps 58[57] and 109[108]), whose purpose is to affirm, in a realistic and even picturesque way, hostility to­wards evil, the choice of good and the certainty that God intervenes in history with his judgment of severe condemna­tion of injustice (cf. vv. 6-7).

Rescued like a bird from the snare, prayer of thanksgiving

5. The Psalm closes with a final invo­cation of trust (cf. vv. 8-9): it is a hymn of faith, thankfulness and joy in the cer­tainty that the faithful one will not be engulfed by the hatred that the perverse reserve for him and will not fall into the trap they set for him, after having noted his firm choice to do what is right. In this way, the righteous person is able to surmount every deceit unscathed, as it is said in another Psalm: "We were res­cued like a bird from the fowler's snare; broken was the snare, and we were freed" (Ps 124[123]:7).

Let us end our reading of Psalm 141[140] by returning to the first image: that of evening prayer as a sacrifice pleasing to God. John Cassian, a great spiritual master and native of the East, who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries and spent the last part of his life in Southern Gaul, re-read these words in a Christological vein: "Indeed, in them, one perceives an allusion made to the evening sacrifice in a more spiri­tual way, brought to fulfilment by the Lord and Saviour during his Last Sup­per and consigned to the Apostles when he sanctioned the beginning of the Church's holy mysteries. Or (might one perceive an allusion) to that same sacri­fice that he offered of himself the fol­lowing day in the evening, with the rais­ing of his own hands: a sacrifice pro­longed until the end of time for the sal­vation of the whole world" (cf. Le Isti­tuzioni Cenobitiche [The Cenobitic In­stitutions] , Abbey of Praglia, Padua 1989, p. 92).

L'Osservatore Romano November 12, 2003
Reprinted with permission