Bookmark and Share

Psalm 132 [131]

Catechesis by Benedict XVI
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer), Thursday Week 3

The divine promises made to David - 1-10

1. We have heard the first part of Psalm 132, a hymn that the Liturgy of Vespers offers us at two different times. Many scholars think that this song would have rung out during the solemn celebration of the transportation of the Ark of the Lord, a sign of divine presence amid the people of Israel in Jerusalem, the new capital chosen by David.

In the narrative of this event, as told in the Bible, we read that King David "girt with a linen apron (efod), came dancing before the Lord with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn" (II Sm 6: 14-15).

Other experts, instead, relate Psalm 132 to a commemorative celebration of that ancient event, after David himself had instituted the worship in the Sanctuary of Zion.

2. Our hymn seems to suggest a liturgical dimension: it was in all likelihood sung during a procession with the presence of priests and faithful and included a choir.

Following the Liturgy of Vespers, let us reflect on the first 10 verses of the Psalm that has just been proclaimed. At the heart of this section is the solemn oath pronounced by David. Indeed, it says that, having left behind him the bitter struggle with his predecessor, King Saul, David "swore to the Lord, his vow to the Strong One of Jacob" (Ps 132: 2). The content of this solemn commitment, expressed in verses 3-5, is clear: the sovereign will not set foot in the royal palace of Jerusalem, he will not go calmly to rest until he has found a dwelling place for the Ark of the Lord.

And this is a very important thing, because it shows that at the heart of the social life of a city, of a community, of a people there must be a presence that calls to mind the mystery of the transcendent God, a proper space for God, a dwelling for God. Man cannot walk well without God; he must walk together with God through history, and the task of the temple, of the dwelling of God, is to point out in a visible way this communion, this allowing God to guide.

3. Perhaps at this point, after David's words, a liturgical choir's words prepare the way for the memory of the past. In fact, it recalls the rediscovery of the Ark in the plains of Yearím in the Éphrata region: it had been left there for a long time after the Philistines had restored it to Israel, which had lost it during a battle. Thus, it was taken from the province to the future Holy City; and our passage ends with a festive celebration which, on the one hand, shows the people worshipping, that is, the liturgical assembly, and on the other, the Lord who returns to make himself present and active in the sign of the Ark set in place in Zion, that is, in the heart of his people.

The heart of the liturgy is found in this intersection between priests and faithful on one side, and the Lord with his power on the other.

4. A prayerful acclamation on behalf of the kings, the successors of David, seals the first part of Psalm 132. "For the sake of David your servant do not reject your anointed" (v10).

One sees, then, the future successor of David, "your anointed". It is easy to perceive a Messianic dimension in this supplication, initially destined to implore support for the Hebrew sovereign in his life's trials. The term "anointed", in fact, expresses the Jewish term "Messiah": the gaze of the praying person thus extends beyond the events in the Kingdom of Judah to the great expectation of the perfect "anointed One", the Messiah who will always be pleasing to God, and loved and blessed by him, and will be not only for Israel, but the "anointed", the king for all the world. He, God, is with us and awaits this "anointed", come then in the person of Jesus Christ.

5. This Messianic interpretation of the future "anointed" will dominate the Christian reinterpretation and will extend to the whole Psalm.

For example, the analogy Hesychius of Jerusalem, a priest in the first half of the fifth century, was to make between verse 8 and the Incarnation of Jesus is significant. In his Second Homily on the Mother of God, he addresses the Virgin in these words: "Upon you and upon the One born of you, David does not cease to sing to the zither: "Rise, O Lord, and come to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your sanctification.' What is "the ark of your sanctification?'". Hesychius replies: "The Virgin Mother of God, of course. For if you are the pearl, she is rightly the ark; if you are the sun, the Virgin must necessarily be called the sky; and if you are the uncontaminated flower, then the Virgin will be the plant of incorruption, the paradise of immortality."

This double interpretation seems very important to me. The "anointed" is Christ. Christ, the Son of God, is made flesh. And the Ark of the Covenant, the true dwelling of God in the world, not made of wood but of flesh and blood, is the Mother who offers herself to the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant and invites us also to be living dwellings for God in the world.

BXVI - General Audience, Wednesday 14 September 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

"My crown shall shine" - 11-18

(Evening Prayer, Thursday, Week 3) - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 21 September 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. We have just heard the second part of Psalm 132, a hymn that recalls a major event in Israel's history: the transfer of the Ark of the Lord to the city of Jerusalem.

David was responsible for this transfer, as the psalmist testifies in the first part of the Psalm we have already seen. Indeed, the king had sworn not to take up residence in the royal palace until he had found a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of God, a sign of the Lord's presence with his people.

In response to the sovereign's oath, God in turn takes an oath: "The Lord swore an oath to David; he will not go back on his word" (v11). This solemn promise is essentially the same one that the Prophet Nathan swore in God's name to David himself; it concerns the future of David's descendants, destined to reign for ever.

2. The divine oath, however, involves a human commitment inasmuch as it is conditioned by an "if": if your sons "keep my covenant" (Ps 132: 12).

Men and women must respond with faithful and active loyalty to God's promise and gift, which have nothing magic about them, in a dialogue in which are interwoven two freedoms, the divine and the human.

At this point, the Psalm becomes a hymn that extols the marvellous effects of both the gift of the Lord and the fidelity of Israel.

In fact, Israel will experience God's presence in the midst of his people: he will be like an inhabitant among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a citizen who lives the events of history with the other citizens, but who offers the power of his blessing.

3. God will bless the harvest and see to it that the poor can satisfy their hunger. He will clothe priests with his protective mantle, offering them his salvation; he will ensure that all the faithful live in joy and trust.

The greatest blessing is once again reserved for David and his descendants: "There David's stock will flower: I will prepare a lamp for my anointed. I will cover his enemies with shame, but on him my crown shall shine" (v17-18).

As happened in the first part of the Psalm, the figure of the "anointed" One, in Hebrew, "Messiah", once again makes his entrance, thereby binding the house of David to messianism, which in the Christian interpretation reaches complete fulfilment in Christ.

Lively images are used: David is represented by a shoot that will flourish. God illumines David's descendants with a shining lamp, a symbol of vitality and glory; a splendid crown will indicate his triumph over his enemies, hence, victory over evil.

4. The twofold presence of the Lord, his presence in space and in history, is actuated in Jerusalem, in the temple that preserves the Ark, and in the Davidic dynasty. Psalm 132 therefore becomes a celebration of the God-Emmanuel who is with his creatures, who lives beside them and benefits them, as long as they stay united to him in truth and justice.

The spiritual centre of this hymn is already a prelude to the Joannine proclamation: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1: 14).

5. Let us end by remembering that the beginning of this second part of Psalm 132 was commonly used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the Incarnation of the Word in the Virgin Mary's womb.

St Irenaeus, referring to the prophecy of Isaiah about the Virgin in labour, had already explained: "The words: "Listen, then, O house of David!' (Is 7: 13), indicate that the eternal King, whom God had promised David would be "the fruit of [his] body' (132: 11), was the same One, born of the Virgin and descended from David.

"Thus, God promised him that a king would be born who was "the fruit of [his] body', a description that indicates a pregnant virgin. Scripture, therefore, .. sets down and affirms the fruit of the womb to proclaim that the One to come would be begotten of the Virgin.

"Likewise, Elizabeth herself, filled with the Holy Spirit, testified, saying to Mary: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb' (Lk 1: 42).

"In this way the Holy Spirit points out to those who want to hear him that in the Virgin's, that is, Mary's, giving birth is fulfilled God's promise to David that he would raise up a king born of his body."

And thus, we see God's faithfulness in the great span of time that goes from the ancient Psalm to the Incarnation of the Lord. The mystery of a God who dwells among us, a God who becomes one with us in the Incarnation, already appears and transpires in the Psalm. And this faithfulness of God and our trust throughout the changes of history contribute to our joy.