GENERAL AUDIENCE 2001 57
58 Ps 119,142-152
1. What the liturgy of Lauds for Saturday of the first week offers us is a single strophe of Ps 118, (the verses 145-152), in the monumental prayer of 22 strophes or stanzas, that correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the order of the strophes follows that of the alphabet. The one we have proclaimed is the 19th strophe (verses 145-152) corresponding to the letter qoph.
This introductory preface is a great help for understanding the meaning of this hymn in honour of the divine law. It is similar to Eastern music, whose sonorous waves seem never ending, ascending to heaven in a repetition which involves the mind and senses, the spirit and body of the one who prays.
2. In a sequence that goes from "aleph to tav', from the first to the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, we would say from A to Z in our alphabets, the one who prays pours out his thanks for the Law of God, that he adopts as a lamp for his steps in the often dark path of life (cf. Ps 119,105).
It is said that the great philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal recited this fullest of all the psalms every day, while the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, assassinated by the Nazis in 1945, made it become a living and timely prayer when he wrote: "Undoubtedly, Psalm 118  is tedious on account of its length and monotony, but we must proceed very slowly and patiently word by word, phrase by phrase. Then we will discover that the apparent repetitions in reality are new aspects of one and the same reality: love for the Word of God. Since this love is never ending, so are the words that profess it. They can accompany us all our life, and in their simplicity they become the prayer of the youth, the mature man and the venerable old man" (Pray the Psalms with Christ, English translation of the Italian title, Pregare i Salmi con Cristo, Brescia, 1978, 3a edizione, p. 48).
3. The fact of repetition, in addition to helping the memory in the choral chant, is also a good way to foster inner attachment and confident abandonment into the arms of God, who is invoked and loved. Among the repetitions of the Psalm 118 , I want to point out an important one. Each of the 176 verses which make up this praise of the Torah, of the divine Law and Word, contains at least one of the eight words used to define the Torah itself: law, word, witness, judgment, saying, decree, precept, and order. We celebrate divine revelation this way because it is the revelation of the mystery of God and the moral guide of the life of the faithful.
In this way God and man are united in a dialogue composed of words and deeds, teaching and listening, truth and life.
4. Now we come to our strophe (cf. Ps 119,145-152) that is well suited to the spirit of morning Lauds. In fact the scene at the centre of this set of 8 verses is nocturnal, but open to the new day. After a long night of waiting and of prayerful vigil in the Temple, when the dawn appears on the horizon and the liturgy begins, the believer is certain that the Lord will hear the one who spent the night in prayer, hoping and meditating on the divine Word. Fortified by this awareness and facing the day that unfolds before him, he will no longer fear dangers. He knows that he will not be overcome by his persecutors who besiege him with treachery (cf. Ps 119,150) because the Lord is with him.
5. The strophe expresses an intense prayer: "I call with all my heart, Lord; answer me.... I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your word ..." (Ps 119,145 Ps 119,147). In the Book of Lamentations, we read this invitation: "Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands toward him" (Lm 2,19). St Ambrose repeated: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A).
At the same time our strophe is also the exaltation of a certainty: we are not alone because God listens and intervenes. The one who prays, says: "Lord, you are near" (Ps 119,151). The other psalms confirm it: "Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies!" (Ps 68,19); "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps 33,19).
59 After the commentary, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Croatian, and Italian. Here is a translation of the Italian greeting to the young, the sick and newly-weds.
Tomorrow [Thursday] we celebrate the feast of the Bishop St Albert the Great, who continually endeavoured to establish peace among the peoples of his time. May his example be an inspiration for you, young people, to be agents of justice and builders of reconciliation. May he be a source of encouragement for the sick, to trust in the Lord who never abandons us in the time of trial. For you, newly-weds, may he be a stimulus to find in the Gospel the joy of accepting and generously serving life, the incommensurable gift of God.
He gave this greeting in English:
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors here today, especially the pilgrims from the Philippines and the United States of America. I cordially greet the members of the NATO Defence College, confident that in these troubled times you will see your profession as a noble service of peace and the common good. God bless you all!
Lastly the Holy Father expressed his spiritual closeness to the relatives of the victims of the recent floods in Algeria:
My thought embraces the beloved peoples of Algeria, recently struck by floods which have claimed thousands of victims and left many families homeless.
While I entrust to the goodness of a merciful God all those who are tragically missing, I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all those in distress on account of this disaster. May our brothers, so sorely tried, not lack our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community.
60 Ex 15,1-18
Sing to the Lord for he is triumphant
1. This hymn of victory (cf. Ex 15,1-18), used at Lauds on Saturday of the first week, transports us to the key moment in the history of salvation: the event of the Exodus, when God saved Israel from a humanly desperate situation. The facts are well known: following the long time of slavery in Egypt, the Hebrews were on their way to the promised land when the army of Pharoah overtook them and nothing would have saved them from annihilation if the Lord had not intervened with his powerful hand. The hymn delights in describing the arrogance of the plans of the armed enemy: "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoils" (Ex 15,9).
What can the greatest army do against divine omnipotence? God commands the sea to make a passage for the assailed people and then to close the passage to the aggressors: "When your wind blew: the sea covered them, they sank like lead in the mighty waters" (Ex 15,10).
These are vigorous images that attempt to describe the greatness of God, while expressing the wonder of a people who can scarcely believe their eyes, and break out with one voice in a glorious hymn of praise: "The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. This is my God and I will praise him, the God of my father and I will exalt him" (Ex 15,2).
2. The Canticle does not just sing of the liberation obtained; it also indicates the positive objective, none other than entry into the dwelling place of God to live in communion with him: "You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you redeemed, you guided them by your strength to your holy abode" (Ex 15,13). So understood, the event was not only at the base of the covenant between God and his people, but became the "symbol" of the whole history of salvation. On many other occasions, Israel will survive similar situations, and the Exodus will be repeated regularly. In a special way that event prefigures the great redemption that Christ will bring about with his death and resurrection.
For this reason our canticle resounds in a special way in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil to demonstrate with its intense imagery what has taken place in Christ. In Christ we have been saved not from a human oppressor, but from the slavery to Satan and sin, that has weighed on human destiny from the beginning. With Christ humanity takes up the road again on the path that leads us to the house of the Father.
3. This liberation, already achieved in mystery and present in Baptism as the seed of life destined to grow, will attain its fullness at the end of time, when Christ will return in glory and "hand over the Kingdom to God the Father" (1Co 15,24). It is this final, eschatological horizon that the Liturgy of the Hours certainly invites us to look for when it introduces our canticle with a quote from the Apocalypse: "They have conquered the beast ... [They] were singing the canticle of Moses, the servant of God" (Ap 15,2 Ap 15,3).
At the end of time what the Exodus event prefigured and what Easter accomplished in a definitive way that is still open to the future will be fully realized for all the saved. Indeed, our salvation is real and entire, but it lies between the "already" and the "not yet" of our earthly condition, as the Apostle Paul recalls: "It is in hope that we are saved" (Rm 8,24).
4. "I will sing to the Lord for he is gloriously triumphant" (Ex 15,1). Putting on our lips the words of the ancient hymn, the liturgy of lauds invites us to see our day in the great horizon of the history of salvation. This is the Christian way of perceiving the passage of time. In the accumulation of passing days, there is no fatality that oppresses us, but a plan that goes on unfolding and that we must learn to read with discernment in the events of our time.
The Fathers of the Church were particularly attuned to this perspective. Indeed, originating from the history of salvation meant they loved to read the salient facts of the Old Testament - from the deluge at the time of Noah to the calling of Abraham, from the liberation of the Exodus to the return of the Hebrews after the Babylonian exile - as "prefigurations" of future events, allowing to those facts an "archetypal" value: in them were pre-announced the fundamental characteristics that would be repeated in some way throughout the course of human history.
5. As for the prophets, they had already reread the events of the history of salvation, showing how they influenced present reality and pointing to the full realization in the future. Thus, meditating on the mystery of the covenant that God established with Israel, they even began to speak of a "new covenant" (Jr 31,31 cf. Ez 36,26-27), in which the law of God would be written in the heart of the human person. It is easy to see in the prophecy the new covenant sealed in the blood of Christ and realized through the gift of the Spirit. By reciting this hymn of victory on the ancient Exodus, now, with the full light of the Easter exodus, the faithful can live joyously as a pilgrim Church that moves in time towards the heavenly Jerusalem.
6. We can contemplate with increased wonder what God has wrought for his people: "You will bring them in, and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which your hands have established" (Ex 15,17). The hymn of victory sings the triumph of God, not of man. It is a canticle, not of war, but of love.
61 Allowing our days to be permeated by the ancient Hebrews' thrill of praise, we will walk on the roads of the world, full of threats, risk, and suffering, but with the certainty of being encompassed by the merciful gaze of God. Nothing can resist the power of his love.
After giving the commentary, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Croatian, and then Italian. He said to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors:
I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the Rome Study Visit organized by the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. May your experience of Christian Rome be a source of enrichment for your work in the service of reconciliation and unity between Christ's followers. I also greet the clergy of the Church of Norway taking part in a study tour. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, Taiwan and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
In Italian, the Holy Father greeted two groups in a special way, the Legio Mariae and cloistered nuns.
I want to mention the presence of the members of the Legio Mariae, who have come in large numbers to observe the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Marian association. While I express my appreciation for their ecclesial service, I invite each one to find in our Blessed Mother a model they must always contemplate. May the Virgin Mary be the magnetic example and sure guide who leads them to Christ.
Today on the liturgical memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, we celebrate the Day for Cloistered Nuns. I want to renew my closeness and that of the whole Church to the sisters whom the Lord has called to a contemplative life. I also ask all Christians to support the monasteries of enclosed sisters both spiritually and materially. We owe so much to these persons who consecrate themselves entirely to unceasing prayer for the Church and for the world. I am delighted to send a special Apostolic Blessing to these wonderful sisters.
At the end of all the greetings, the Holy Father offered a special prayer for the victims of violence in the conflict in Afghanistan and for the four journalists who were killed during the weekend of 18 November.
I am deeply saddened by the recent news of the brutal killing of four journalists, in Afghanistan. My condolences are with the families and those bereaved by this tragedy.
Let us entrust the souls of these deceased persons to the mercy of the Lord and let us pray the Our Father for them and for all the other victims of violence.
1. This is the shortest of the psalms. In Hebrew it has only 17 words, and nine of them are noteworthy. It is a short doxology, namely, an essential hymn of praise, that ideally functions as the conclusion of longer psalms. This happened sometimes in the liturgy, as it happens now with our Glory be to the Father, that we use to end the recitation of every psalm.
Indeed, these few words of prayer are found to be deeply meaningful for acclaiming the covenant of the Lord with his people from a universal point of view. In this light, the Apostle Paul uses the first verse of the Psalm to invite the peoples of the world to glorify God. In fact, he writes to the Christians of Rome: That the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy as it is written: "Praise the Lord, all you nations; all you peoples exalt him'" (Rm 15,9 Rm 15,11).
2. As often happens with this kind of psalm, the brief hymn that we are meditating on opens with an invitation to praise that is directed not only to Israel, but to all the peoples of the earth. An Alleluia should burst forth from the hearts of all the just who seek and love God with a sincere heart. Once again, the Psalter reflects a vision of vast perspective, nourished by Israel's experience during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century before Christ. At the time the Hebrew people met other nations and cultures and felt the need to announce their own faith to those among whom they lived. The Psalter portrays the concept that good flourishes in many places and can be directed toward the one Lord and Creator.
Hence, we can speak of an "ecumenism" of prayer that now holds in one embrace peoples who are different by origin, history and culture. We are in line with the great "vision" of Isaiah who describes "at the end of days" the procession of all the nations towards "the mountain of the house of the Lord". Then the swords and spears will fall from their hands; they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, so that humanity can live in peace, singing its song of praise to the one Lord of all, listening to his word and observing his law (cf. Is 2,1-5).
3. Within this universal horizon Israel, the Chosen People, has a mission to fulfill. They should proclaim two great divine virtues, that they had experienced living the covenant with the Lord (cf. Ps 117,2). The two virtues, that are the fundamental features of the face of God, the "good binomial" of God, as St Gregory of Nyssa said (cf. On the Titles of the Psalms, (the Italian original is Sui titoli dei Salmi, Rome, 1994, p.183), are expressed with other Hebrew words which, in translation, do not convey the full richness of their meaning.
The first is hésed, a term repeatedly used in the Psalter, that I have commented on before. It points to the richness of the profound sentiments that pass between two persons, linked by an authentic and constant bond. It includes values such as love, fidelity, mercy, goodness, and tenderness.
Between God and us, there is a relationship which is not cold, as is the case between an emperor and his subject, but alive like that between two friends, two spouses, parents and their children.
4. The second term is eméth and is a synonym for the first. It is beloved of the Psalter, where it appears half of all the time that it is used in the rest of the Old Testament.
The term itself expresses "truth", namely, the genuineness of a relationship, its authenticity and loyalty, that remain despite obstacles and trials; it is pure and joyful fidelity that knows no betrayal. It is no accident that the Psalmist declares that it "is faithful forever" (Ps 117,2). The faithful love of God will never fail and will not abandon us to ourselves or to the darkness of nihilism, or to a blind destiny, or to the void or death.
God loves us with an unconditional, tireless, never ending love. It is the message of our Psalm, brief as a sigh of prayer from the heart, but intense as a great canticle.
63 Church praises God in word and deed
5. The words that it suggests are like an echo of the song that resounds in the heavenly Jerusalem, where a great multitude of every tongue, people and nation, sings the divine glory before the throne of God and the Lamb (cf. Ap 7,9). The pilgrim Church joins in this canticle with infinite expressions of praise, often accompanied by poetic genius and musical art. We think, for example, of the Te Deum, which generations of Christians throughout the centuries have used to praise and to thank: "We praise you O God, we confess you O Lord, all the earth venerates you, eternal Father". For its part, the short psalm that we are meditating on today, is an effective synthesis of the perennial liturgy of praise with which the Church raises her voice in the world uniting herself to the perfect praise that Christ himself addresses to his Father.
Let us praise the Lord! Let us praise him unceasingly. But our lives must express our praise, more than our words. We will hardly be credible if with our psalm we invite the peoples to give glory to the Lord, and we did not take seriously the Lord's admonition: "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5,16). In singing psalm 116(117), as in all the psalms praising the Lord, the Church, People of God, strives to become herself a hymn of praise.
The Holy Father then addressed the pilgrims and visitors in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Croatian, and Italian. He greeted the English visitors with these thoughts.
I extend a special greeting to the Sisters of the Divine Saviour in Rome for their General Chapter: may the Lord's light and grace accompany you in your deliberations and guide you always in your life of service in the Church. I am pleased to greet also two groups from Norway: the Pastoral Council of the Prelature of Trondheim with Bishop Georg Müller, and a group of Church of Norway clergy from Stavanger. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of all the universe.
In his Italian greetings, he greeted the Bishop of Massa Carrara-Pontremoli and the faithful, the seminarians of the Seminary of Ravenna and the Sisters of St Charles Borromeo in Rome for their General Chapter. He greeted the participants in a course of study organized by the "School of Medicine of the Hospitals of Rome". He also greeted young people, sick persons and newly-weds. The Holy Father's greeting of the medical personnel was seen as a swift reaction to the recent human cloning experiments reported by the Advanced Cell Technology Inc of Worcester, Mass, USA. Here is a translation.
Dearly beloved, I express appreciation for your professional dedication and I encourage you to defend the life and the dignity of the person without compromise, as you work within the respect of the moral law. True humanism can never allow methods and experiments that constitute "scientifically and systematically programmed threats" against human life (cf. Evangelium Vitae EV 17).
The Holy Father then held up for the young people the person of St Andrew. May he be a model of Christian following and witness. May St. Andrew intercede for you beloved sick persons so that the divine consolation promised by Jesus to the afflicted may fill your hearts and strengthen your faith. Dear newly weds, strive to correspond faithfully to the plan of love that Christ makes you share in with the sacrament of marriage.
At the end of his greetings in different languages, Pope John Paul II said he had "learned with great sorrow the news of the explosion yesterday which involved a building in the Montesacro neighbourhood of Rome". He added that
"In this moment of pain, I am especially close to all those who have been struck by this tragic event; to them I express sentiments of comfort and affection. Let us together call upon the Lord to grant the eternal prize to those who lost their lives, with a special thought for the firemen who died while generously fulfilling their duty. Let us pray that there will be no lack of solidarity with the families who bemoan the loss of loved ones and who must face the serious discomfort following such a grave accident".
1. When a Christian, in unison with the voice of prayer in Israel, sings Psalm 117(118), that we just heard, he feels within him a special thrill. In fact, he finds in this liturgical hymn two phrases that echo with a new meaning in the NT. The first is verse Ps 118,22, "The stone rejected by the builders has become the corner-stone". The phrase is quoted by Jesus, who applies it to his mission of death and glory, after having told the parable of the murderous vinedressers (cf. Mt 21,42). The phrase is also recalled by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles: "This Jesus is the stone, rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation in anyone else nor is there any other name given to men under heaven by which we are to be saved" (Ac 4,11-12). St Cyril of Jerusalem comments: "We say the Lord Jesus Christ is only one because his sonship is one; only one we say so that you do not think that there is another ... In fact he called stone, not inanimate stone nor cut by human hands, but the cornerstone, because he who believes in him will not remain disappointed" (The Catecheses, English title of the Italian version of St Cyril's Catecheses, Le Catechesi, Rome, 1993, p. 312-313).
The second phrase that the NT takes from Psalm 117 is proclaimed by the crowd at the solemn Messianic entrance of Christ into Jersualem: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mt 21,9 cf. Ps 118,26). The acclamation is framed by a Hosanna that takes up the Hebrew petition hoshiac na',"please, save us!"
2. The splendid Biblical hymn is placed at the heart of the small collection of psalms, 112  to 117, called the Passover Hallel, namely, the psalms of praise used in Hebrew worship for the Passover and the major solemnities of the liturgical year. The processional rite can be taken as the theme of Psalm 117 articulated with the chants by the soloist or choir, with the Holy City and its Temple as the background. A beautiful antiphon begins and ends the psalm: "Praise the Lord for he is good, his mercy endures forever" (Ps 118,1 and Ps 118,29).
The word "mercy" translates the Hebrew word hesed, that designates the generous fidelity of God towards the covenanted and friendly people. Three categories of people are told to praise this fidelity: all of Israel, the "house of Aaron", namely the priests, and those "who fear the Lord", a way of speaking that includes the faithful and the proselytes, namely, the members of other nations who desire to follow the law of the Lord (cf. Ps 118,2-4).
3. The procession makes its way through the streets of Jerusalem, because the psalm speaks of the "tents of the righteous" (cf. Ps 118,15). There is, however, a hymn of thanksgiving (cf. Ps 118,5-18) whose basic message is: Even when we are in anguish, we must keep high the torch of confidence, because the powerful hand of the Lord leads his faithful people to victory over evil and to salvation.
The sacred poet uses strong and vivid images; he compares the cruel adversaries to a swarm of bees or to a column of flames that advances turning everything to ashes (cf. Ps 118,12). There is the vehement reaction of the just person, sustained by the Lord. He repeats three times "In the name of the Lord I cut them off" where the Hebrew verb refers to an intervention that destroys evil (cf. Ps 118,10 Ps 118,11 Ps 118,12). Behind all of it, indeed, there is the powerful right hand of God, namely, his effective intervention, and certainly not the weak and uncertain hand of man. For this reason the joy of the victory over evil leads to a vibrant profession of faith: "The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation" (Ps 118,14).
4. The procession then arrives at the temple, at the "gates of justice" (Ps 118,19), at the Holy Door of Zion. Here a second song of thanksgiving is sung, that begins with a dialogue between the congregation and the priests to be admitted to worship. "Open to me the gates of justice: I will enter to give thanks to the Lord", the soloist says in the name of the congregation in procession: "This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter through it" (Ps 118,20), and others reply, probably the priests.
Once they enter, they begin the hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord, who in the Temple offers himself as the stable and secure "corner stone" on which to build the house of life (cf. Mt 7,24-25). A priestly blessing descends upon the faithful who have come into the temple to express their faith, to raise their prayer and to celebrate their worship.
5. The last scene that opens before our eyes is constituted by the joyful rite of sacred dances, accompanied by the festive waving of branches: "Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar" (Ps 118,27). The liturgy is a joyful, festive celebration, expression of the entire life that praises the Lord. The rite of the branches brings to mind the Jewish Feast of Booths, observed in memory of the pilgrimage of Israel through the desert, a solemnity in which there was a procession with palm, myrtle and willow branches.
65 This rite evoked by the Psalm is proposed to the Christian in Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in the liturgy of Palm Sunday. Christ is acclaimed as the "Son of David" (cf. Mt 21,9) by the crowd, who, "having come for the feast ... took branches of palms and went out to greet him shouting: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel" (Jn 12,12-13). At that festive celebration that is, however, the prelude to the hour of the Passion and Death of Jesus, the symbol of the cornerstone, proposed at the beginning, takes its full meaning, a glorious Easter meaning.
Psalm 117 encourages Christians to recognize in the Easter event of Jesus "the day that the Lord has made", on which "the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone". With the psalm they can then sing with great thanksgiving: " The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation" (Ps 118,14); "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and exult in it" (Ps 118,24).
At the end of the catechesis, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovak, Croatian, and back to Italian to greet the young people, the sick, and newly-weds.
To the English-speaking, he said.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially the groups from Korea, Cameroon, and the United States of America. In these days of Advent, as we look to the birth of the Prince of Peace, I ask you to join me in praying for peace in the world. God bless you all.
He continued in Italian.
The season of Advent, that we have just begun, offers us the glorious example of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. May she guide you, young people, on your spiritual path of following Christ. May she be a support of renewed hope for you sick persons. May she guide you, newly weds, ever more to discover the love of Christ.
The Holy Father concluded the audience with an appeal for peace in the Holy Land through the start up of negotiations.
I feel the need to express my heartfelt sympathy for the new victims of the absurd violence that continues to bloody the region of the Middle East. Once again, with a heavy heart, I repeat that violence never resolves conflicts but only increases their tragic consequences.
I launch a new and stronger appeal to the international community to help Israelis and Palestinians, with greater determination and courage, to break the useless spiral of death. May negotiations be restarted at once, so that the much longed for peace can finally be achieved.
66 Da 3,52-57
Canticle uses language of Love
1. The canticle we have just heard is the first part of a long and beautiful hymn that is found in the Greek version of the Book of Daniel. It is sung by three young Hebrew men who were thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian King Nabuchodonosor. Another part of the same hymn is found in the Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday Lauds in the first and third weeks of the liturgical psalter.
As is known, the Book of Daniel reflects the ferments, hopes and apocalyptic expectations of the Chosen People, who in the era of the Maccabeans (2nd century B.C.) were struggling to live according to the Law given by God.
From the furnace, the three young men, miraculously preserved from the flames, sing a hymn of praise addressed to God. The hymn is like a litany, at once repetitive in the form of the verses and new with each verse: the invocations rise to God like billowing incense that glides through the air in similar but unique clouds. Prayer does not eschew repetition, just as the lover, who wants to express his love repeats his love over and over again. To emphasize the same things conveys the intensity and multiple nuances of one's interior feelings and affections.
2. We heard the beginning of the cosmic hymn of the third chapter of Daniel, in verses 52-57. It is the introduction that precedes the grandiose parade of the creatures engaged in the work of praise. An overall view of the entire canticle, as an extended litany, makes us discover a succession of components that make up the theme of the hymn. It begins with six invocations spoken directly to God; they contain a universal appeal to "all you works of the Lord" to open their lips so ideal for praising God (cf. Da 3,57).
This is the part that we consider today and that the Liturgy proposes for Lauds of Sunday of the second week. Later on, the canticle will be prolonged by summoning all the creatures of heaven and earth to praise and magnify their Lord.
3. Our initial passage will be taken up again by the Liturgy at Lauds of the Sunday of the fourth week. We will now choose only a few elements for our reflection. The first is the invitation to blessing: "Blessed are you..." that at the end will become "Bless the Lord...!".
In the Bible there are two forms of blessing, which are intertwined. There is, first of all, the blessing that comes down from God: the Lord blesses his people (cf. Nb 6,24-27). It is an effective blessing, source of fruitfulness, happiness and prosperity. Then there is the blessing that earth lifts towards heaven. The human person who receives so many blessings from the divine generosity, blesses God, praising, thanking and exalting him: "Bless the Lord, my soul!" (Ps 103,1 ,1; Ps 104,1 ,1).
Priests often mediate the divine blessing (cf. Nb 6,22-23 Nb 6,27 Si 50,20-21) through the imposition of hands; human blessing is expressed in the liturgical hymn that rises to the Lord from the congregation of the faithful.
4. The antiphon is another element we should consider in the passage that we are reflecting on. We can imagine the soloist, in the crowded temple, intoning the blessing: "Blessed are you, Lord...", recounting God's wonderful deeds while the congregation of the faithful continuously repeats the formula: "praiseworthy and glorious above all forever". It is what happened with Psalm 135 , the "great Hallel", the great praise, where the people repeat "His mercy endures forever", while a soloist enumerated the various acts of salvation that the Lord wrought in favour of his people.
67 In our Psalm, the object of praise is above all the "glorious and holy" name of God, whose proclamation resounds in the temple, which is also "holy and glorious". When they contemplate in faith God who is seated on "the throne of his kingdom" the priests and the people are conscious of being the object of his gaze which "penetrates the abysses" and this awareness calls forth from their hearts the praise: "Blessed ... blessed ...". God, who "sits upon the cherubim" and has for his dwelling the "firmament of the heavens", is also close to his people who, for this reason, feel protected and safe.
5. When proposing this canticle afresh for use on Sunday morning, the weekly Easter of Christians, the Church is inviting us to open our eyes to the new creation which has its beginning with the resurrection of Jesus. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Greek Father of the Church, explains that with the Passover [Easter] of the Lord a "new heavens and new earth are created ... a different, renewed man comes into being in the image of his Creator by means of the birth from on high" (cf. Jn 3,3-7). And he continues: "As the one who looks toward the sensible world deduces from visible things the invisible beauty ... so the one who looks toward this new world of the ecclesial creation sees in it him who became everything in everyone, leading the mind by the hand, by means of the things that are understandable for our rational nature, toward that which goes beyond human comprehension" (Langerbeck H., Gregorii Nysseni Opera, VI, 1-22 passim, p. 385).
Thus in singing this canticle, the Christian believer is invited to contemplate the world of the first creation, intuiting the outline of the second, inaugurated with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And this contemplation leads all by the hand to enter into the one Church of Christ almost dancing with joy.
At the end of the instruction, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims and visitors in Italian, Spanish, French, English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Ukrainian. He greeted the crowds of Italians who come every year to Rome before Christmas.
The Holy Father greeted the Bishops of Sardegna and blessed the first stone for the chapel of the new Pontifical Regional Seminary of Sardegna. It should be the centre of the entire Seminary where those preparing for the priesthood would learn to love Christ above everything else. He greeted the seminarians from Calabria and urged them to build their lives on the Word of God.
He greeted the young, the infirm and newly-weds.
In the spiritual climate of Advent, period of hope that prepares us for Christmas, Mary is especially present as the Virgin who awaits. To her I entrust you young persons so that you may accept the invitation of Christ to realize the Kingdom to the full. I especially ask you sick persons to offer your sufferings together with Mary for the salvation of the world. May her maternal intercession help you, newly-weds, to establish your family on faithful love open to accept life.
He greeted the English visitors.
I am pleased to welcome the participants in the Conference on "International Bilateral Legal Relations between the Holy See and the States" being held uder the auspices of the Slovak Foreign Ministry, the Slovak Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Upon all English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The other newsworthy event at the Audience was the Holy Father's inaugurating on a laptop computer the official website of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
With the new site, the message of Guadalupe can go out far and wide as a help to those who seek a meaning for their lives and reasons for hope. Let us ask Our Lady that this new form of communication make more fully visible her consoling protection, especially for the poor and forgotten; that the diffusion of the mestiza image of Our Lady of Guadalupe may foster brotherhood among races, increase the dialogue between cultures and promote peace.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2001 57