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Psalm 45 [44]

Catechesis by John Paul II

"The wedding feast of the King"

Vespers (Evening prayer) Monday, Week 2 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. "To the king I must speak the song I have made" (Ps 45): these words at the beginning of the Psalm give the reader an idea of the basic character of this hymn. The court scribe who composed it reveals to us straightaway that it is a song in honour of the Jewish sovereign. Indeed, glancing through the verses of this composition, we realize that we are in the presence of an epithalamium, a nuptial song.

Scholars have endeavoured to identify the historical coordinates of the Psalm on the basis of certain clues, such as the linking of the queen with the Phoenician city of Tyre, but have failed to identify the royal couple precisely. It is significant that a Jewish king comes into the scene. This allowed the Judaic tradition to transform the text into a hymn to the Messiah-King, and the Christian tradition to reinterpret the Psalm in a Christological key and, because of the queen's presence, also in a Marian perspective.

2. The Liturgy of Vespers treats this Psalm as a prayer, dividing it into two parts. We have just heard the first part which, after the introduction of the scribe who wrote the text already mentioned, presents a splendid portrait of the sovereign who is about to celebrate his wedding.

This is why Judaism has recognized Psalm 45 as a nuptial song that exalts the beauty and intensity of the gift of love between the bride and the bridegroom. Women, in particular, can repeat with the Song of Songs: "My beloved is mine and I am his" (2: 16). "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6: 3).

3. The traits of the royal bridegroom are outlined solemnly, with recourse to all the pomp of a court scene. He bears the military emblems, to which are added sumptuous, scented robes, while music resounds in the background of the spacious ivory halls of shimmering palaces (vv9-10). The throne is set in the centre, and there is also a reference to the sceptre, both insignia of power and royal investiture.

At this point we would like to highlight two elements. First of all, the beauty of the bridegroom, a sign of inner splendour and divine blessings: "You are the fairest of the children of men" (v3). On the very basis of this verse, Christian tradition pictures Christ in the form of a perfect and attractive man. In a world that is all too often marred by ugliness and ugly deeds, this image is an invitation to rediscover the "via pulchritudinis" in faith, in theology and in social life, in order to ascend to the beauty of the divine.

4. Beauty, however, is not an end in itself. The second point we would like to make concerns the encounter between beauty and justice. Indeed, the sovereign "rides on in triumph for the cause of truth and goodness and right" (v5); his "love is for justice; [his] hatred for evil" (v8), and the sceptre of his kingdom is "a sceptre of justice" (v7). Beauty must be combined with goodness and holiness of life so as to make the luminous face of God who is good, admirable and just shine out in the world.

In v. 7, experts have supposed that the name "God" is addressed to the king himself because he is consecrated to the Lord and therefore in a certain way belongs to the sphere of the divine: "Your throne, O God, shall endure for ever". Or it might be an invocation to the one supreme king, the Lord, who bends down to the Messiah-King. It is certain that the Letter to the Hebrews, in applying the Psalm to Christ, has no hesitation in recognizing the full and not merely symbolic divinity of the Son who has entered into his glory.

5. Following this Christological interpretation, let us conclude by referring to the voice of the Fathers of the Church, who attribute further spiritual values to each verse. Thus, St John Chrysostom interweaves this Christological application with the sentence of the Psalm in which it says that "God has blessed" the Messiah-King "for ever more".

"The first Adam was subjected to an overwhelming curse, whereas the second Adam was filled with the greatest blessing. The former had heard: "cursed is the ground because of you' (Gn 3: 17), and again: "cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness' (Jer 48: 10), "cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them' (Dt 27: 26), and "a hanged man is accursed by God' (Dt 21: 23). You see how many curses? Christ has set you free from all these curses, "having become a curse for us'. Indeed, just as he humbled himself to lift you up and died to make you immortal, so he became a curse in order to crown you with blessings. Can anything ever compare to this blessing, when due to a curse he lavishes a blessing upon you? Indeed, he himself had no need of blessing, but he gives it to you."

JPII - General Audience, 29 September 2004 - © Copyright 2004 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

"The King and his Wife"  Psalm 45 (44) v 11-18

(Evening prayer, Monday, Week 2) - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
General Audience - 6 October 2004 - © Copyright 2004 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

1. The sweet feminine portrait that the liturgy has offered us forms the second scene of the diptych which makes up Psalm 45. It is a serene and joyful nuptial song that we read in the Liturgy of Vespers. Thus, after meditating on the king who is celebrating his wedding, our gaze now shifts to the figure of the queen, his bride. This nuptial perspective enables us to dedicate the Psalm to all couples who live their marriage with inner intensity and freshness, a sign of a "great mystery", as St Paul suggests: the mystery of the Father's love for humanity and Christ's love for his Church. However, the Psalm unfolds a further horizon.

In fact, the Jewish king is in the limelight and in view of this the subsequent Judaic tradition saw in him the features of the Davidic Messiah, whereas Christianity transformed the hymn into a song in honour of Christ.

2. Now, however, our attention is held by the profile of the queen which the court poet, the author of the Psalm, paints with great delicacy and feeling. The reference to the Phoenician city of Tyre leads us to suppose that she is a foreign princess. The appeal to forget her own people and her father's house, which she has had to leave, thus acquires particular meaning.

The vocation to marriage is a turning point in life and changes a person's existence, as has already emerged in the Book of Genesis: "Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2: 24). The queen-bride, with her wedding procession that is bearing gifts, now advances towards the king who is entranced by her beauty.

3. The Psalmist's insistence in exalting the woman is important: she is "clothed with splendour" (v14), and this magnificence is illustrated by her wedding robes, woven of gold and richly embroidered.

The Bible loves beauty as a reflection of God's splendour; even clothing can be raised to a sign of dazzling inner light and purity of soul.

The thought runs parallel, on the one hand, to the marvellous pages of the Song of Songs, and on the other, to the echo in the Book of Revelation that portrays the "marriage of the Lamb", that is, of Christ, with the community of the redeemed, focusing on the symbolic value of the wedding robes: "The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rv 19: 7-8).

4. Besides beauty, the joy is exalted that transpires from the festive procession of "maiden companions", the bridesmaids who accompany the bride "with joy and gladness" (Ps 45: 15-16). True joy, far deeper than mere merriment, is an expression of love that shares with a serene heart in the good of the beloved.

Now, according to the concluding hopes expressed, another reality radically inherent in marriage is also described: fertility. Indeed, "sons" are mentioned, and "peoples". The future, not only of the dynasty but of humanity, is brought about precisely because the couple offers new creatures to the world.

In our time, this is an important topic in the West, which is often unable to entrust its existence to the future by begetting and protecting new creatures who will continue the civilization of peoples and realize the history of salvation.

5. Many Fathers of the Church, as is well known, interpreted the portrait of the queen by applying it to Mary, from the very first words of the appeal: "Listen, O daughter, give ear..." (v11). This also happens, for example, in the Homily on the Mother of God by Chrysippus of Jerusalem. He was a Cappadocian who was part of the monks who founded the monastery of St Euthymius in Palestine. He became a priest and was the custodian of the Holy Cross in the Basilica of Anastasius in Jerusalem.

"My discourse is addressed to you", he says, turning to Mary, "to you who must go as bride to the great sovereign; to you I address my discourse, to you who are about to conceive the Word of God in the way that he knows... "Listen, O daughter, give ear to my words'; indeed, the auspicious announcement of the world's redemption is coming true. Listen, and what you will hear will gladden your heart... "Forget your own people and your father's house': pay no attention to your earthly parents, for you will be transformed into a heavenly queen. And "listen', he says, "to how much the One who is Creator and Lord of all things loves you'. Indeed, the "king', he says, "will desire your beauty'; the Father himself will take you as bride; the Holy Spirit will arrange all the conditions that are necessary for these nuptials... Do not believe you will give birth to a human child, "for he is your Lord and you will adore him'. Your Creator has become your child; you will conceive and with all the others, you will worship him as your Lord."