GENERAL AUDIENCE 2004 76
1. The Liturgy of Vespers, on whose psalms and canticles we are systematically commenting, presents in two parts one of the Psalms dearest to Jewish and Christian tradition: Psalm 72, a royal hymn on which the Fathers of the Church meditated, reinterpreting it in a Messianic key.
We have just heard the first great movement of this solemn prayer (cf. Ps 72,1-11). It opens with an intense, choral entreaty to God to grant the sovereign the gift that is fundamental to good government: justice. It is expressed above all in dealing with the poor, who instead are usually oppressed by the authority.
You will note the special insistence with which the Psalm emphasizes the moral commitment to ruling the people in accordance with justice and law: "O God, give your judgment to the king, to a king's son your justice, that he may judge your people in justice and your poor in right judgment" (Ps 72,1-2 Ps 72,4).
Just as the Lord rules the world with justice (cf. Ps 36,7 ), so the king, who in the ancient biblical conception is his visible representative on earth, must conform to the action of his God.
2. If the rights of the poor are violated, this is not only the perpetration of a politically incorrect and morally evil act. In the perspective of the Bible this is also an act against God, a religious crime, for the Lord is the custodian and defender of the poor and the oppressed, of widows and of orphans (cf. Ps 68,6 ), that is, of those who have no human protectors.
It is easy to perceive how, after the collapse of the monarchy of Judah (sixth century B.C.), tradition replaced the frequently disappointing figure of the Davidic king with the glorious, shining features of the Messiah, in keeping with the prophetic hope which Isaiah expressed: "with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide aright for the land's afflicted" (Is 11,4); or, according to Jeremiah's announcement: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land" (Jr 23,5).
78 3. After this lively and passionate entreaty for the gift of justice, the Psalm's horizon broadens to take in the royal, Messianic kingdom as it evolves through the two coordinates of time and space. Moreover, its endurance in history is exalted (cf. Ps 72,5 Ps 72,7 ). The vivid images have a cosmic stamp: indeed, the passage of the days is measured by the sun and the moon, and the seasons by rain and abundance.
Hence, it is a fruitful and serene kingdom that always supports those values of capital importance: justice and peace (cf. Ps 72,7). These are the signs of the Messiah's entry into our history. The comments of the Fathers of the Church who see in this King-Messiah the face of Christ, the eternal and universal king, are illuminating.
4. Thus, St Cyril of Alexandria observes in his Explanatio in Psalmos that the judgment God gives to the king is the one mentioned by St Paul: "according to his purpose... to unite all things in [Christ]" (Ep 1,10). Indeed, "in his days justice will flourish and peace abound", as if to say, "in the days of Christ, through faith, justice will spring up for us and, as we turn to God, peace will abound". Moreover, it is precisely we who are the "wretched" and the "children of the poor" whom this king rescues and saves: and if first of all he "calls the holy Apostles "wretched' because they were poor in spirit, he has consequently saved us as "sons and daughters of the poor', justifying us and making us holy in the faith though the Holy Spirit" (cf. PG LXIX, 1180).
5. On the one hand, the Psalmist also outlines the space into which fits the royal justice and peace of the Messiah-King (cf. Ps 72,8-11 ). A universal dimension comes into play here, which extends from the Red Sea or from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Euphrates, the great "River" of the East, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Ps 72,8), also called to mind by mentioning Tarshish and the islands, the most remote western territories according to ancient biblical geography (cf. Ps 72,8). This gaze sweeps across the whole map of the world as it was then known, which included Arabs and nomads, the kings of remote States and even enemies, in a universal embrace of which the Psalms (cf. Ps 47,10 ; Ps 87,1-7 ) and prophets (cf. Is 2,1-5 Is 60,1-22 Ml 1,11) frequently sing.
The ideal seal to set on this vision can thus be expressed precisely by the words of the Prophet Zechariah, which the Gospel was to apply to Christ: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; he is just.... I will banish the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be broken, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth" (Za 9,9-10; cf. Mt 21,5).
To English-speaking pilgrims
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. I greet in particular the groups from Australia, the Philippines and the United States of America. I cordially invoke upon you in this Advent Season joy, hope and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. Have a happy stay in Rome!
To special groups
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds.
I invite you all, dear friends, to look at Jesus, the Son of God, whom we wait for in this season of Advent as our Saviour. May he sustain you at every moment of your lives!
1. The Liturgy of Vespers, which we are following through its series of Psalms, presents to us in two stages Psalm 72, a royal and messianic hymn. After meditating on the first part (cf. Ps 72,1-11; [ORE], 8 December 2004, p. 11), we now have before us the second poetic and spiritual movement of this hymn dedicated to the glorious figure of the Messiah-King (Ps 72,12-19). We must immediately point out, however, that the finale of the last two verses (cf. Ps 72,18-19) is actually a later liturgical addition to the Psalm.
In fact, it is a brief but intense blessing that was to seal the second of the five books into which Judaic tradition divided the collection of the 150 Psalms: this second book began with Psalm 42, the Psalm of the thirsting deer, a vivid symbol of spiritual thirst for God. So, a song of hope in an age of peace and justice concludes the sequence of Psalms and the words of the final blessing are an exaltation of the Lord's effective presence, both in the history of humanity where he "works wonders" (Ps 72,18 ) and in the universe he created, which is filled with his glory (cf. Ps 72,19).
2. As we have already seen in the first part of the Psalm, the crucial elements by which to recognize the figure of the Messianic King are above all his justice and his love for the poor (cf. Ps 72,12-14).
He is their sole reference point and source of hope, as the visible representative of their only defender and patron: God. In fact, this Old Testament story teaches us that all too often, the sovereigns of Israel neglected this duty of theirs and abused the weak, the wretched and the poor.
For this reason, the Psalmist's gaze now focuses on a just and perfect king, incarnated by the Messiah, the one sovereign ready to redeem the oppressed "from oppression" and abuse (cf. Ps 72,14). The Hebrew word used is the legal term for the protector of the lowliest and victims; it was also applied to Israel, "redeemed" from slavery when it was oppressed by Pharoah's power.
The Lord is the principal "deliverer-redeemer" who works visibly through the Messiah-King to save the poor whom he protects, for their "life" and "blood" are dear to him. "Life" and "blood" are the fundamental reality of the person; they represent the rights and dignity of each human being, which are frequently violated by the powerful and domineering of this world.
3. In the original composition, Psalm 72 ends before the final antiphon mentioned above with an acclamation in honour of the Messiah-King (cf. Ps 72,15-17). It is like a trumpet blast that accompanies a chorus of good wishes and hopes for the sovereign, for his life, his well-being, his blessing and the endurance of his memory down the ages.
We are, of course, in the presence of elements belonging to the style of courtly compositions, with their own special emphasis. Henceforth, however, these words were to acquire their truth in the action of the perfect king, the longed for and expected Messiah.
80 In accordance with a feature of messianic poems, the whole of nature is involved in a transformation that is first and foremost for the good of society: the corn of the harvests will be so abundant as to become, as it were, an undulating sea of rustling ears rolling to the peaks of the mountains (cf. Ps 72,16). This is a sign of the divine blessing that in its fullness spreads over the earth, pacified and serene. Indeed, all humanity, leaving aside and putting an end to all divisions, will converge toward this sovereign of justice, thus fulfilling the Lord's great promise to Abraham: "Every tribe shall be blessed in him, all nations bless his name (Ps 72,17; cf. Gn 12,3).
4. Christian tradition has discerned in the face of this Messiah-King the features of Jesus Christ. In his Exposition on Psalm 72 (Esposizione sul Salmo 71), St Augustine, who reinterprets our Psalm in a Christological key, explains that the wretched and the poor, to whose help Christ comes, are "the people who believe in him". Indeed, recalling the kings mentioned earlier in the Psalm, he explains that "this people also includes the kings who worship him. They did not in fact scorn to be wretched and poor, that is, humbly to confess their sins and recognize their need for God's glory and grace, so that that king, the son of the king, might free them from the powerful", that is, from Satan the "slanderer", the "powerful". "But our Saviour humiliated the slanderer and entered the house of the powerful, carrying away his vases after leaving him in chains. He "has set the unfortunate free from the powerful, and the poor who had no one to save them'. Indeed, no created power could have done this: neither any just man nor an angel. There was no one who could save us; and behold, he came in person and he saved us" (71, 14: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVI, Rome, 1970, pp. 809,811).
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, particularly the two groups from the United States of America. In the joy of this Advent season I cordially invoke upon you and your families the abundant Blessings of Jesus Christ our Lord and King.
I extend my greeting to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet you, in particular, dear faithful from the Autonomous Province of Trent, together with your Pastor, Archbishop Luigi Bressan, and the civil Authorities who have accompanied you. I remember with gratitude the cordial welcome you gave me during my brief but wonderful holidays in your beautiful mountains. Today, you have come to present to me the fine, tall Christmas tree, set up in St Peter's Square, and the trees that have been arranged in this Hall, in the Apostolic Palace and in other parts of the Vatican. They are a gift from your Autonomous Province. Thank you! And my special thanks to all who have made this Christmas tribute possible. It will remind the visitors and pilgrims of the birth of Jesus, Light of the world.
I then greet the Delegation of the Regional Council of Puglia and express my pleasure at the efforts made to protect human life and support families founded on marriage.
Lastly, I thank the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds for their participation in this Meeting. I hope that you will all come to the solemn feast of Christmas, watchful and ready in your hearts to receive our Redeemer.
1. At this time of the final preparation for the Christmas celebrations, the liturgy presents to us repeatedly the invocation "Come, Lord Jesus". It is like a refrain that wells up from the hearts of believers in every corner of the earth and ceaselessly echoes in the prayer of the Church.
We have also just invoked the coming of Christ as we sang today's "O" Antiphon. In it the Messiah is called by titles taken from the biblical tradition that are especially beautiful and meaningful: "King of nations" and the "Desired" of all nations, the "Cornerstone who makes all one".
2. At Christmas, we will contemplate the great mystery of God made man in the Virgin Mary's womb. He was born in Bethlehem to share our frail human condition! He comes to dwell among us and brings salvation to the whole world. His mission will be to gather individuals and peoples into the one family of God's children. We can say that in the Mystery of Christmas we are granted to contemplate a "qualitative leap" in the history of salvation. Man who through sin distanced himself from the Creator is now offered the gift of new and full communion with him.
Thus, hope is rekindled in his heart, while the gates of paradise are re-opened to humanity.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, the celebration of Christmas, now at hand, is a favourable opportunity for everyone to live more deeply the value and significance of the great event of Jesus' birth.
This is my hope for all of you who are taking part in this General Audience, for your families and for the Communities from which you come.
To special groups
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and I wish you many blessings during the holy season of Christmas.
I would also like to greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
Dear friends, I thank you for taking part in this meeting. May the Lord who comes to visit us in the mystery of Christmas bring comfort and hope to all.
1. "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (He 1,1-2).
In the Christmas season these opening words of the Letter to the Hebrews acquire special eloquence. In the Holy Night, God addresses his definitive Word of salvation to the humanity of every time and every place. The Only-begotten Son of the Father, in becoming man, came to dwell among us. Thus, the expectation of the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets was fulfilled. The liturgy of this season is all meditation and a deepening of the mystery of the Incarnation.
2. Let us continue to reflect before the crib! In this traditional representation of the Nativity scene, "the eternal and almighty Creator" speaks to us through the Son, Lord of the universe, who became a child in order to meet human beings. The Virgin Mary was the first to welcome him and to present him to the world. Joseph was beside her, called as Father to be custodian of the Redeemer.
The angels complete the scene, festively proclaiming "glory to God" and announcing "peace to all men" (cf. Lc 2,14), along with the shepherds, representing the poor and humble of the earth. In a few days the Magi will also arrive, coming from afar to adore the King of the universe.
The liturgy of Christmastide invites us to hasten joyously to the stable at Bethlehem to meet Jesus Christ, our Saviour: "Come, faithful! Come, let us adore the Lord Jesus!". Let us open the doors of our hearts to him, so that he will accompany us now and throughout the year that is about to begin.
To special groups
Lastly, I address my cordial greeting to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.
May the light of Christ, that shone upon humanity on Christmas Night, shine upon you and light your steps in the New Year.
The news that continues to arrive from Asia demonstrates the magnitude of the huge catastrophe that has hit India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand in particular.
83 The international community and many humanitarian organizations are mobilizing their forces to go straight to the rescue. Many charitable institutions of the Church are doing likewise. In the Christmas atmosphere of these days, I invite all believers and people of good will to contribute generously to this great work of solidarity for the peoples who have already been harshly tried and are now exposed to the risk of epidemics. I feel very close to them with my affection and prayers, especially those who are injured and homeless, as I entrust to divine mercy the countless persons who have lost their lives.
Let us pray for them all, singing the Our Father together.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2004 76