Wednesday 14 February 2001 - All creation will be "recapitulated' in Christ

1. God's saving plan, "the mystery of his will" (cf.
Ep 1,9) for every creature, is described in the Letter to the Ephesians with a distinctive term: to "recapitulate" all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (Ep 1,10). The image could also refer to the roller around which was wrapped the parchment or papyrus scroll of the volumen with a written text: Christ gives a single meaning to all the syllables, words and works of creation and history.

The first person to take up this theme of "recapitulation" and develop it in a marvellous way was St Irenaeus of Lyons, a great second-century Father of the Church. Against any fragmentation of salvation history, against any division of the Old and New Covenants, against any dispersion of God's revelation and action, Irenaeus extols the one Lord, Jesus Christ, who in the Incarnation sums up in himself the entire history of salvation, humanity and all creation: "He, as the eternal King, recapitulates all things in himself" (Adversus Haereses, III, 21, 9).

2. Let us listen to a passage in which this Father of the Church comments on the Apostle's words concerning the recapitulation of all things in Christ. The phrase "all things", Irenaeus says, includes man, who was touched by the mystery of the Incarnation when the invisible Son of God "became visible, the incomprehensible became comprehensible, the impassible became passible, the Word became man. He recapitulated all things in himself, so that, just as the Word of God has primacy over heavenly, spiritual and invisible beings, so he does over visible and corporeal beings.

Assuming this primacy in himself and giving himself as head to the Church, he draws all things to himself" (Adversus Haereses, III, 16, 6). This coming together of all being in Christ, the centre of time and space, gradually takes place in history, as the obstacles, the resistance of sin and the Evil One, are overcome.

3. To illustrate this movement, Irenaeus refers to the difference, already presented by St Paul, between Christ and Adam (cf. Rm 5,12-21): Christ is the new Adam, that is, the Firstborn of faithful humanity, who lovingly and obediently welcomes the plan of redemption which God designed as the soul and goal of history. Christ must therefore cancel the work of devastation, the horrible idolatries, violence and every sin that rebellious Adam sowed in the age-old history of humanity and in the created realm. By his total obedience to the Father, Christ opens the era of peace with God and among men, reconciling dispersed humanity in himself (cf. Ep 2,16). In himself he "recapitulates" Adam, in whom all humanity can see itself, transforms him into a child of God and restores him to full communion with the Father. Through his brotherhood with us in flesh and blood, in life and death, Christ becomes "the head" of saved humanity. St Irenaeus writes again: "Christ has recapitulated in himself all the blood shed by all the just and by all the prophets who have lived since the beginning" (Adversus Haereses, V, 14, 1; cf. V, 14, 2).

4. Good and evil, then, are considered in the light of Christ's redemptive work. As Paul shows us, this involves all creation with the variety of its elements (cf. Rm 8,18-30). Indeed, nature itself, since it was subjected to the senselessness, degradation and devastation caused by sin, thus shares in the joy of the liberation achieved by Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the full realization of the Creator's original plan emerges: that of a creation in which God and man, man and woman, humanity and nature are in harmony, in dialogue and in communion. This plan, upset by sin, is restored in the most marvellous way by Christ, who mysteriously but effectively carries it out in the present reality, waiting to bring it to fulfilment. Jesus himself said he was the fulcrum and point of convergence of this saving plan when he said: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12,32). And the Evangelist John presents this work precisely as a kind of recapitulation: "to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn 11,52).

5. This work will reach its fullness at at the end of time when - as Paul again recalls - "God will be all in all" (cf. 1Co 15,28).

The last page of the Book of Revelation - proclaimed at the start of our gathering - depicts this goal in vivid colours. The Church and the Spirit are waiting and praying for the moment when Christ will "deliver the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.... The last enemy to be destroyed is death. "For God has put all things in subjection under his [Son's] feet'" (1Co 15,24 1Co 15,26-27).

At the end of this battle - described on marvellous pages in the Book of Revelation - Christ will complete the "recapitulation", and those who are united with him will form the community of the redeemed, which "will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community. The beatific vision, in which God opens himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace and mutual communion" (CEC 1045).

The Church, the loving Bride of the Lamb, with her gaze fixed on that day of light, raises the ardent prayer: "Marana tha" (1Co 16,22), "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Ap 22,20).
* * * * *

I extend a special greeting to the students from Kagoshima, Japan, and from the University of Dallas. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, and upon your families, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Ash Wednesday 28 February 2001


1. "O that today you would hear his voice: harden not your hearts".

This invitation echoes in our souls as today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey. It will lead to the Easter Triduum, the living memorial of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, the central mystery of our salvation.

The holy season of Lent, which has always held deep meaning for the Christian people, recalls ancient biblical events such as the 40 days of the universal flood, a prelude to the covenant that God made with Noah; Israel's 40-year pilgrimage through the desert to the promised land; the 40 days that Moses remained on Mount Sinai, where he received the tablets of the Law from Yahweh.

In particular, the Lenten season invites us to relive with Jesus the 40 days that he spent praying and fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public mission, which culminated on Calvary in the sacrifice of the Cross, the definitive victory over death.

2. "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return". The traditional rite of distributing ashes, which is repeated today, is always very eloquent, and the words accompanying it are expressive. In its simplicity, it suggests the transitory nature of earthly life: everything passes and is destined to die. We are wayfarers in this world, wayfarers who must never forget their true and final destination: heaven. For, though we are dust and destined to become dust, nevertheless not all will come to an end. Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is destined for eternal life. In dying on the Cross, Jesus opened the way for every human being.

11 The entire Ash Wednesday liturgy helps us to focus on this fundamental truth of faith and spurs us to undertake a resolute journey of personal renewal. We must change our way of thinking and acting, set our gaze firmly on the face of Christ crucified and make his Gospel our daily rule of life. "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel": let this be our Lenten programme, as we enter an atmosphere of prayerful listening to the Spirit.

3. "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willling, but the flesh is weak" (
Mt 26,41). Let us be guided by these words of the Lord in a committed effort of conversion and spiritual renewal. In daily life there is a risk of being absorbed in material concerns and interests. Lent is an appropriate time for a reawakening of genuine faith, for a salutary renewal of our relationship with God and for a more generous Gospel commitment. The means available to us are the same as always, but we must use them more intensely in these weeks: prayer, fasting and penance, as well as almsgiving, that is, the sharing of what we have with the needy. This personal and community journey of asceticism can be particularly difficult at times because of the secularized environment in which we live. But for this very reason our effort must be stronger and more determined.

"Watch and pray". If Christ's command applies to all times, it seems more eloquent and forceful at the start of Lent. Let us accept it with humble docility. Let us prepare to carry it out in practical acts of conversion and reconciliation with our brethren. Only in this way can faith be reinvigorated, hope be strengthened and love become the way of life that distinguishes the believer.

4. The fruit of such a courageous ascetical journey can only be a greater openness to the needs of our neighbour. Those who love the Lord cannot close their eyes to individuals and peoples who are tried by suffering and poverty. After contemplating the face of the crucified Lord, how can we not recognize him and serve him in those who are suffering and abandoned? Jesus himself, who invites us to stay with him watching and praying, also asks us to love him in our brothers and sisters, remembering that "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). The fruit of a Lent intensely lived will thus be a greater and more universal love.

May Mary, the example of docile listening to the voice of the Spirit, guide us on the penitential journey we are beginning today. May she help us to treasure all the opportunities the Church offers us in order to prepare ourselves worthily for the celebration of the Easter mystery.

I extend a cordial welcome to the parish pilgrimages, the choirs and the groups of students present at this audience. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father called for an immediate ceasefire to the war in Afghanistan and asked the international community not to forget the tragic situation that is particularly threatening the young, the sick and the elderly:

A serious humanitarian emergency is developing in Afghanistan. There are alarming reports of countless victims among those displaced by drought and civil war. Thousands of people are in danger of dying from hunger and the cold, particularly children, the sick and the elderly.

I express my deep appreciation of the efforts of the humanitarian organizations that are trying to bring urgent aid to the Afghan people. As I invite the international community not to forget this tragic situation, I hope that the combatants in an overly long and bloody war will arrange an immediate ceasefire so that relief can be brought in time to the areas most at risk.

                                                                               March 2001

Wednesday 14 March 2001 - Mary, eschatological icon of the Church

1. We began our meeting by listening to one of the most famous passages in John's Book of Revelation. In the woman with child, who is giving birth while a bloodred dragon rages against her and the child she has conceived, Christian liturgical and artistic tradition has seen an image of Mary, the Mother of Christ. However, according to the sacred author's primary intention, if the child's birth represents the coming of the Messiah, the woman obviously personifies the People of God, both the biblical Israel and the Church. The Marian interpretation does not conflict with the ecclesial meaning of the text, since Mary is "a type of the Church" (Lumen gentium,
LG 63 cf. St Ambrose, Expos. Lc., II, 7).

The profile of the Mother of the Messiah is thus seen against the background of the believing community. The dragon, which evokes Satan and evil, rises up against Mary and the Church, as the symbolism of the Old Testament has already indicated; red is the sign of war, slaughter and bloodshed; the "seven heads" with diadems mean immense power, while the "ten horns" recall the impressive strength of the beast described by the prophet Daniel (cf. Da 7,7), which too is an image of the abusive power that rages in history.

2. Good and evil thus confront each other. Mary, her Son and the Church represent the apparent weakness and smallness of love, truth and justice. Against them is unleashed the monstrous, devastating energy of violence, deceit and injustice. But the song that closes the passage reminds us that the final verdict is entrusted to "the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ" (Ap 12,10).

Certainly, in historical time the Church can be forced to seek refuge in the desert, like ancient Israel on its way to the promised land. Among other things, the desert is the traditional refuge of those pursued, the secret, tranquil place where divine protection is offered (cf. Gn 21,14-19 1R 19,4-7). However, as the Book of Revelation stresses (cf. Ap 12,6 Ap 12,14), the woman remains in this refuge for only a limited period. The time of anguish, persecution and trial, then, is not indefinite: in the end liberation will come and the hour of glory.

In contemplating this mystery in a Marian perspective, we can say that "Mary, at the side of her Son, is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libertatis conscientia, 22 March, 1986, n. 97; cf. Redemptoris Mater, RMA 37).

3. Let us fix our gaze, then, on Mary, the icon of the pilgrim Church in the wilderness of history but on her way to the glorious destination of the heavenly Jerusalem, where she will shine as the Bride of the Lamb, Christ the Lord. The Mother of God, as the Church of the East celebrates her, is the Hodegetria, she who "shows the way", that is, Christ, the only mediator for fully encountering the Father. A French poet sees her as "creation in its first honour and its final flowering, as it came forth from God at the dawn of its original splendour" (P. Claudel, La vierge à midi, ed. Pléiade, p. 540).

In her Immaculate Conception Mary is the perfect model of the human creature who, filled from the very beginning with that divine grace which sustains and transfigures the creature (Lc 1,28), always and freely chooses God's way. On the other hand, in her glorious Assumption into heaven Mary is the icon of the creature who is called by the risen Christ to attain, at the end of history, the fullness of communion with God in the resurrection for an eternity of bliss. For the Church, which often feels the weight of history and the assault of evil, the Mother of Christ is the shining emblem of humanity redeemed and enveloped by the grace that saves.

4. We will reach the ultimate goal of human life when "God will be all in all" (1Co 15,28), and - as the Book of Revelation foretells - "the sea [will be] no more" (Ap 21,1), that is, the sign of destructive chaos and evil will be destroyed at last. Then the Church will be presented to Christ as "a Bride adorned for her Husband" (Ap 21,2). That will be the moment of intimacy and unblemished love. But now, gazing precisely at the Virgin Assumed into heaven, the Church already has a foretaste of the joy that will be fully hers at the end of time. Mary accompanies the Church on her pilgrimage of faith through history as "a model of ecclesial communion in faith, in charity and in union with Christ. Eternally present in the mystery of Christ, she is, in the midst of the Apostles, at the very heart of the Church at her birth and of the Church of all ages. Indeed, the Church was congregated in the upper part (of the cenacle) with Mary, who was the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. We cannot therefore speak of the Church unless Mary, the Mother of the Lord, is present there, with the Lord's brethren" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Communionis notio, 28 May 1992, n. 19; cf. Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermo 30, 1).

5. So let us sing our hymn of praise to Mary, the icon of redeemed humanity, the sign of the Church which lives in faith and love, anticipating the fullness of the heavenly Jerusalem. "The poetic genius of St Ephrem the Syrian, called the "lyre of the Holy Spirit', tirelessly sang of Mary, leaving a still living mark on the whole tradition of the Syriac Church" (Redemptoris Mater, RMA 31). It is he who describes Mary as an icon of beauty: "She is holy in her body, beautiful in her spirit, pure in her thoughts, sincere in her understanding, perfect in her sentiments, chaste, firm in her intentions, immaculate in her heart, eminent and filled with all virtues" (Hymns to the Virgin Mary, 1, 4; ed. Th. J. Lamy, Hymni de B. Maria, Malines 1886, t. 2, col. 520). May this image shine brightly at the centre of every ecclesial community as a perfect reflection of Christ and a sign raised among the peoples, like a "city set on a hill" and "a lamp put on a stand so that it gives light to all" (cf. Mt 5,14-15).

I extend a special greeting to the members of the Catenian Association of Great Britain, and the Ontario Catholic Supervisory Officers’ Association, as well as to the many student groups present. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Great Britain, Denmark, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Wednesday 21 March 2001 - Mary leads us on a pilgrimage of faith

1. The passage from Luke that we have just heard presents Mary to us as a pilgrim of love. But Elizabeth draws attention to her faith and states the first Beatitude of the Gospels in her regard: "Blessed is she who believed". This expression is "a kind of "key' which unlocks for us the innermost reality of Mary" (Redemptoris Mater,
RMA 19). As a conclusion to the catecheses of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, then, we would like to present the Mother of the Lord as a pilgrim in faith. As the Daughter of Zion, she walks in the footsteps of Abraham, the one who obeyed by faith, "[going] out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go" (He 11,8).

This symbol of the pilgrimage in faith sheds light on the interior history of Mary, the believer par excellence, as the Second Vatican Council already suggested: "The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross" (Lumen gentium, LG 58). The Annunciation is "the point of departure from which her whole "journey towards God' begins" (Redemptoris Mater, RMA 14): a journey of faith which, knowing the prediction that a sword would pierce her heart (cf. Lc 2,35), advanced down the tortuous paths of exile in Egypt and of inner darkness, when Mary "did not understand" the attitude of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple and yet kept "all these things in her heart" (Lc 2,51).

2. Jesus also pased his hidden life in semi-darkness, during which Mary must have heard Elizabeth's beatitude echoing within her through a true and real "heaviness of heart" (Redemptoris Mater, RMA 17).

Certainly, glimmers of light were not missing from Mary's life, as at the wedding of Cana, where - even in his apparent indifference - Christ granted his Mother's request and worked the first sign of revelation, inspiring faith in his disciples (cf. Jn 2,1-12).

The two beatitudes mentioned by Luke are found in the same counterpoint of light and shadow, of revelation and mystery: the one that was addressed to the Mother of Christ by a woman in the crowd, and the one that Jesus addressed to "those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lc 11,28).

The peak of this earthly pilgrimage of faith was Golgotha, where Mary intimately lived her Son's paschal mystery: in a certain sense she died as a mother in the death of the Son and was opened to the "resurrection" with a new motherhood for the Church (cf. Jn 19,25-27). There, on Calvary, Mary experienced the night of faith, like that of Abraham on Mount Moriah, and after the enlightenment of Pentecost she continued on her pilgrimage of faith until the Assumption, when the Son welcomed her into eternal bliss.

3. "The Blessed Virgin Mary continues to "go before' the People of God. Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations, and in a sense for all humanity" (Redemptoris Mater, RMA 6). She is the star of the third millennium, just as, at the beginning of the Christian era, she was the dawn that preceded Jesus on the horizon of history. Mary, in fact, was born chronologically before Christ and gave birth to him, introducing him into our human events.

We turn to her so that she may continue to lead us to Christ and to the Father, even in the dark night of evil and in moments of doubt, crisis, silence and suffering. We offer her the chant that the Eastern Church loves more than any other, the Akathistos Hymn, which exalts her lyrically in 24 stanzas. In the fifth stanza, dedicated to her visit to Elizabeth, it exclaims:

14 "Hail, O Tendril whose Bud shall not wilt; hail, O Soil whose Fruit shall not perish!
Hail, O Tender of mankind's loving Tender; hail, O Gardener of the Gardener of Life!
Hail, O Earth who yielded abundant compassion; hail, O Table full-laden with mercy!
Hail, for you have greened anew the pastures of delight; hail, for you have prepared a haven for souls!
Hail, acceptable Incense of prayer; hail, Expiation of the whole universe!
Hail, O Favour of God to mortal men; hail, O Trust of mortals before God!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!".

4. The visit to Elizabeth is sealed by the canticle of the Magnificat, a hymn that has come down through all Christian centuries as a perennial melody: a hymn that unites their hearts of Christ's disciples beyond the historical divisions, which we are committed to overcoming in view of full communion. In this ecumenical atmosphere, it is good to remember that in 1521 Martin Luther devoted a famous commentary to this "holy canticle of the Blessed Mother of God", as he expressed it. In it he says that the hymn "must be learned well and remembered by all", because "in the Magnificat Mary teaches us how we should love and praise God.... She wants to be the greatest example of God's grace in order to spur everyone to have trust and to praise divine grace" (M. Luther, Scritti religiosi, edited by V. Vinay, Turin 1967, pp. 431-512).

Mary celebrates the primacy of God and his grace, God who chooses the least and the despised, the "poor of the Lord" spoken of in the Old Testament; she reverses their destiny and introduces them as the protagonists of salvation history.

5. From the moment when God looked on her with love, Mary became a sign of hope for the multitude of the poor, the earth's least ones who become the first in the kingdom of God. She faithfully followed the choice of Christ, her Son, who repeats to all of history's afflicted: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (
Mt 11,28). The Church follows Mary and the Lord Jesus, walking on the tortuous roads of history, to lift up, promote and esteem the immense line of poor, hungry, humiliated and offended men and women (cf. Lc 1,52-53). The humble Virgin of Nazareth, as St Ambrose observes, is not "the God of the temple, but the temple of God" (De Spiritu Sancto, III 11, 80). As such she guides all who turn to her to the encounter with God the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
* * * * *

15 I am happy to extend a special greeting today to the members of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations meeting in Rome for their General Assembly. You have come together to grow in a deeper understanding of your mission and to support one another as you seek to live out your commitment to Christian holiness, to feminine holiness. This form of discipleship is indispensable to the Church in the Third Millennium. Women, in fact, are uniquely gifted in the task of passing on the Christian message in the family and in the world of work, study and leisure. Catholic women who live by faith, hope and love, and who honour God’s name in prayer and service, have always played a central role in transmitting the genuine sense of Christian faith and in applying it to every circumstance of life. Grateful for your loving commitment to Christ and his saving word, I urge you to look ever more confidently to Mary of Nazareth, so that your prophetic mission will bring forth ever greater fruits of Christian life and service.

Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Denmark, Sweden and the United States of America, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father affirmed the Church's support for all efforts to eliminate racial and other forms of discrimination in society:

Today, 21 March, is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It also marks the beginning of the week of solidarity with those who are fighting this injustice.

The international instruments adopted, the world conferences, especially the next one to be held in Durban, South Africa, in September this year, are important stages on the way to affirming the fundamental equality and dignity of every person and to peaceful coexistence among all peoples. Despite these efforts, millions of human beings still do not see their "right of citizenship" in the human family recognized.

The Church joins in the efforts of those who defend human rights and offers her solidarity to all who, for racial, ethnic, religious and social reasons, are victims of discrimination. Spiritual and religious values, with their potential for renewal, contribute in an effective way to improving society. It is only right that the work of religious communities should be joined to the praiseworthy action of governments and international organizations in this area.

I would therefore like to repeat that no one is a foreigner in the Church and everyone must feel at home! To make the Church "the home and the school of communion" is a concrete response to the expectations for justice in today's world.

Wednesday 28 March 2001 - Psalter is ideal source of Christian prayer

1. In the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte I expressed the hope that the Church would become more and more distinguished in the "art of prayer", learning it ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master (cf.
NM 32). This effort must be expressed above all in the liturgy, the source and summit of ecclesial life. Consequently, it is important to devote greater pastoral care to promoting the Liturgy of the Hours as a prayer of the whole People of God (cf. ibid., NM 34). If, in fact, priests and religious have a precise mandate to celebrate it, it is also warmly recommended to lay people. This was the aim of my venerable Predecessor Paul VI, a little over 30 years ago, with the Constitution Laudis canticum in which he determined the current form of this prayer, hoping that the Psalms and Canticles, the essential structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, would be understood "with new appreciation by the People of God" (AAS 63 [1971], 532).

It is an encouraging fact that many lay people in parishes and ecclesial associations have learned to appreciate it. Nevertheless, it remains a prayer that presupposes an appropriate catechetical and biblical formation, if it is to be fully savoured.

To this end, we begin today a series of catecheses on the Psalms and Canticles found in the morning prayer of Lauds. In this way I would like to encourage and help everyone to pray with the same words that Jesus used, words that for thousands of years have been part of the prayer of Israel and the Church.

2. We could use various approaches to understanding the Psalms. The first would consist in presenting their literary structure, their authors, their formation, the contexts in which they were composed. It would also be fruitful to read them in a way that emphasizes their poetic character, which sometimes reaches the highest levels of lyrical insight and symbolic expression. It would be no less interesting to go over the Psalms and consider the various sentiments of the human heart expressed in them: joy, gratitude, thanksgiving, love, tenderness, enthusiasm, but also intense suffering, complaint, pleas for help and for justice, which sometimes lead to anger and imprecation. In the Psalms, the human being fully discovers himself.

Our reading will aim above all at bringing out the religious meaning of the Psalms, showing how they can be used in the prayer of Christ's disciples, although they were written many centuries ago for Hebrew believers. In this task we will turn for help to the results of exegesis, but together we will learn from Tradition and will listen above all to the Fathers of the Church.

3. The latter, in fact, were able with deep spiritual penetration to discern and identify the great "key" to understanding the Psalms as Christ himself, in the fullness of his mystery. The Fathers were firmly convinced that the Psalms speak of Christ. The risen Jesus, in fact, applied the Psalms to himself when he said to the disciples: "Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Lc 24,44). The Fathers add that in the Psalms Christ is spoken to or it is even Christ who speaks. In saying this, they were thinking not only of the individual person of Christ, but of the Christus totus, the total Christ, composed of Christ the Head and his members.

Christians were thus able to read the Book of Psalms in the light of the whole mystery of Christ. This same perspective also brings out the ecclesial dimension, which is particularly highlighted when the Psalms are sung chorally. We can understand, then, how the Psalms came to be adopted from the earliest centuries as the prayer of the People of God. If in some historical periods there was a tendency to prefer other prayers, it is to the monks' great credit that they held the Psalter's torch aloft in the Church. One of them, St Romuald, founder of Camaldoli, at the dawn of the second Christian millennium, even maintained, as his biographer Bruno of Querfurt says, that the Psalms are the only way to experience truly deep prayer: "Una via in psalmis" (Passio sanctorum Benedicti et Johannis ac sociorum eorundem: MPH VI, 1893, 427).

4. With this assertion, which seems excessive at first sight, he actually remained anchored to the best tradition of the first Christian centuries, when the Psalter became the book of Church prayer par excellence. This was the winning choice in view of the heretical tendencies that continuously threatened the unity of faith and communion. Interesting in this regard is a marvellous letter that St Athanasius wrote to Marcellinus in the first half of the fourth century while the Arian heresy was vehemently attacking belief in the divinity of Christ. To counter the heretics who seduced people with hymns and prayers that gratified their religious sentiments, the great Father of the Church dedicated all his energies to teaching the Psalter handed down by Scripture (cf. PG 27, 12ff.). This is how, in addition to the Our Father, the Lord's prayer by antonomasia, the practice of praying the Psalms soon became universal among the baptized.

5. By praying the Psalms as a community, the Christian mind remembered and understood that it is impossible to turn to the Father who dwells in heaven without an authentic communion of life with one's brothers and sisters who live on earth. Moreover, by being vitally immersed in the Hebrew tradition of prayer, Christians learned to pray by recounting the magnalia Dei, that is, the great marvels worked by God both in the creation of the world and humanity, and in the history of Israel and the Church. This form of prayer drawn from Scripture does not exclude certain freer expressions, which will continue not only to characterize personal prayer, but also to enrich liturgical prayer itself, for example, with hymns and troparia. But the Book of Psalms remains the ideal source of Christian prayer and will continue to inspire the Church in the new millennium.

I warmly welcome the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Formation at the Pontifical North American College, and I am confident that this special time of study will help you to minister ever more effectively to the people you serve. I also greet the Vicars for Religious from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

                                                                                April 2001