'Grant victory,  O Lord!'

God's Chosen One, the Lord Jesus, is the Conqueror of evil, enabling those united to him to win the victory by faith, goodness and forgiveness

At the General Audience on Wednesday, 10 March, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy Father reflected on Psalm 20[19], a solemn liturgical prayer asking the Lord to grant the king victory over his enemies. Christian tradition applies this Psalm to Christ, God's Anointed One, who triumphs over evil. In him, all Christians are called to overcome evil, not by violence but by the power of faith and forgiveness. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, 13th in the series on Evening Prayer, which was given in Italian.   

1. The final invocation: "Give victory to the king, O Lord, give answer on the day we call" (Ps 20[19]:10), reveals to us the origin of Psalm 20[19] that we have just heard and upon which we will now meditate. We are looking, therefore, at a royal Psalm of ancient Israel that was proclaimed during a solemn rite in the Temple of Zion. It invokes the divine blessing upon the king especially "in the time of trial" (v. 2); that is, the time when the entire nation has fallen prey to deep distress caused by the night­mare of a war. Indeed, chariots and horses (cf. v. 8) are mentioned and seem to be advancing on the horizon; however, the king and his people put their trust in the Lord who marches with the weak, the oppressed, those who are victims of the arrogant con­querors.

It is easy to understand how Christian tradition transformed this Psalm into a hymn to Christ the King, the "conse­crated one" par excellence, "the Messiah" (cf. v. 7). He comes into the world without armies, but with the strength of the Spirit. He launches the definitive at­tack against evil and guile, against arro­gance and pride, against lies and ego­ism. The words Christ addressed to Pi­late, emblem of sovereign earthly pow­er, reverberate in our ears: "I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear wit­ness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" (Jn 18:37).

The Lord is source of security and God's Word is a refuge

2. In reviewing the structure of this Psalm, we notice that it reveals in filigree a liturgical celebration being held in the Temple of Jerusalem. It depicts the assembly of the sons of Israel who pray for the king, head of the nation. Indeed, it opens with a fleeting refer­ence to a sacrificial rite, one of the many sacrifices and holocausts offered by the king to the "God of Jacob" (Ps 20[19]:2), who does not abandon "his anointed" (v. 7), but protects and supports him.

The prayer is deeply marked by the conviction that the Lord is the source of security: he goes to meet the confident desire of the king and of the entire com­munity, bound by the terms of the covenant. The threat of war hangs in the air, with all the fears and risks to which it gives rise. The Word of God does not appear as an abstract message, but rather a voice that adapts to hu­manity's miseries, great and small. It is for this that the Psalm uses military lan­guage and reflects the oppressive cli­mate of war in Israel (cf. v. 6), thus adapting to the feelings of men in diffi­culty.

David to Goliath: 'The battle is the Lord's'

3. In verse 7 of the Psalm, there is a turning point. While the previous verses implicitly invoke God (cf. vv. 2-5), verse 7 affirms the certainty of an answer ob­tained: "I am sure now that the Lord will give victory to his anointed, will re­ply from his holy heaven". The Psalm does not specify what sign was given for this assurance.

However, it clearly expresses a con­trast between the position of the ene­mies, who depend on the material strength of their chariots and horses, and that of the Israelites, who place their trust in God; for this they are vic­torious. Immediately the mind's eye sees the famous scene of David and Go­liath: against the weapons and the arro­gance of the Philistine warrior, the young Hebrew calls upon the  name of the Lord, who defends the weak and defenceless. In fact, David says to Go­liath: "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts... the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's. (I Sam 17:45, 47).

The evil of death is overcome with Christ at our side

4. Although tied to the logic of battle in its historical reality, the Psalm can be taken as an invitation never to allow oneself to be attracted by violence. Isa­iah himself exclaimed: "Woe to those who... rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Is­rael or consult the Lord" (Is 31:1).

The righteous one counteracts every form of evil with faith, goodness, for­giveness, the offering of peace. The Apostle Paul will advise Christians: "Re­pay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all" (Rom 12:17). When commenting on our Psalm, Eusebius of Caesarea, a Church historian of the early centuries (3rd-4th centuries), will extend his gaze even to the evil of death that the Chris­tian knows he is able to overcome by Christ's doing: "All evil powers and the enemies of God, hidden and invisible, who have turned their backs and fled from the same Saviour, will fall. In­stead, all those who have received salva­tion will rise from their ancient ruin. For this, Simeon said: He 'is set for the fall and rising of many' (Lk 2:34): that is, for the destruction of his enemies and for the resurrection of those who have fallen but through him have risen" (PG 23, 197).

L'Osservatore Romano March 17, 2004
Reprinted with permission