'Sit on my right!

The Christian tradition clearly sees in the person of the consecrated king the profile of the Consecrated One par excellence: Jesus Christ

At the General Audience on Wednesday, 18 August, at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father commented on Psalm 110[109], a royal Psalm that "probably refers to the rite of the sovereign's en­thronement", but in which for the Ju­daic and Christian tradition the conse­crated king prefigures "the profile of the Consecrated One par excellence: the Messiah, Christ". The following is a translation of the Holy Father's 28th Catechesis on evening prayer, which was given in Italian.

1. Continuing an ancient tradition, Psalm 110[109] which has just been pro­claimed constitutes the primary compo­nent of Sunday Vespers. It is proposed in all four of the weeks into which the Liturgy of the Hours is divided. Its brevity is further accentuated by the ex­clusion in Christian liturgical usage of verse 6, which contains a curse. This does not do away with the difficulties it presents for exegesis or for its interpretation. The text is presented as a royal Psalm connected to the Davidic dynasty and probably refers to the rite of the sovereign's enthronement. Yet the Juda­ic and Christian tradition has seen in the consecrated king the profile of the Consecrated One par excellence: the Messiah, Christ.

Precisely in this light, the Psalm be­comes a luminous hymn that the Chris­tian Liturgy raises to the Risen One on the festive day that commemorates the Passover of the Lord.

Two divine oracles

2. Psalm 110[109] has two parts, both of which are characterized by the pres­ence of a divine oracle. The first oracle (cf. vv. 1-3) is addressed to the sovereign on the day of his solemn en­thronement "at the right hand" of God, that is, next to the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Jerusalem. The re­minder that the king was "begotten" by the Lord was part of the official proto­col for his coronation, and acquired for Israel the symbolic value of investiture and protection, since the king was God's lieutenant in the defence of jus­tice (cf. v. 3).

Of course, in the Christian interpreta­tion, that divine "begetting" actually takes place and presents Jesus Christ as the true Son of God. This is likewise what happened in the Christian inter­pretation of another famous royal-mes­sianic psalm, the second in the Psaltery, where one reads this divine oracle: "You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day" (Ps 2:7).

The Messiah, model of priesthood

3. On the other hand, the second or­acle in Psalm 110[109] has a priestly connotation (cf. v. 4). The office of king formerly also included ritual functions, not only according to the Levitic priest­hood but also following another connec­tion: that of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the sovereign-priest of Salem, the pre-Israelitic Jerusalem (cf. Gn 14:17-20).

In the Christian vision, the Messiah becomes the model of a perfect, supreme priesthood. The Letter to the Hebrews, in its central section, exalted this priestly ministry "after the order of Melchizedek" (5:10), seeing it fully incar­nate in the person of Christ.

Christ, 'at the right hand of power'

4. The first oracle is taken up several times in the New Testament to celebrate Jesus' messianic role (cf. Mt 22:44; 26:64; Acts 2:34-35; I Cor 15:25-27; Heb 1:13). Christ himself, before the high priest and the Hebraic Sanhedrin, was to refer explicitly to our Psalm, pro­claiming that he would henceforth "sit at the right hand of divine power", as it also says in Psalm 110[109] (Mk 14:62; cf.  12:36-37).

We will return to this Psalm on our journey through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours. Now, at the end of our brief presentation of this messianic hymn, let us reaffirm its Christological interpretation.

Prediction of the coming of Christ

5. Let us do so with the syntheses that St Augustine offers us. In his Expo­sition on Psalm 109, which he gave during Lent in the year 412, he de­scribes the Psalm as a true prophecy of the divine promises regarding Christ. The famous Father of the Church said: "It was necessary to know the only-be­gotten Son of God, who was to come among men, to take flesh and become a man through the nature he took on: he was to die, to rise again and to ascend into Heaven, where he was to sit at the right hand of the Father and fulfil all he had promised among the peoples…. All this, therefore, had to be prophesied, had to be foretold, had to be signaled as destined to occur, in order not to give rise to fear by coming like a bolt from the blue, but rather to be anticipated with faith and hope. This Psalm fits into the context of these promises; it fore­tells in clear and explicit terms the com­ing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of whom we cannot have the slightest doubt that he was the Christ proclaimed" (Exposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome, 1976, pp. 951, 953).

Jesus died to reconcile humanity

6. Let us now address our prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ, the one King and perfect and eternal Priest, so that he may make us a people of priests and prophets of peace and love, a people that praises Christ, King and Priest, who sacrificed himself to reconcile in himself, in one body, the whole of hu­manity, creating the new man (cf. Eph 2:15-16).

L'Osservatore Romano August 25, 2004
Reprinted with permission