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Commentary on Psalm 113(112)
By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before we begin a brief interpretation of the Psalm we just heard, I would like to remind you that today is the birthday of our beloved John Paul II. He would have been 85 years old and we are certain that he sees us from on high and is with us. On this occasion we wish to say a profound thank you to the Lord for the gift of this Pope, and we wish to say thank you to the Pope himself for all that he did and suffered.

1. Psalm 112 has resounded in its simplicity and beauty, which serves as an introduction to the small collection of Psalms that goes from 112 to 117, conventionally called "the Egyptian Hallel." It is the alleluia, that is, the song of praise, which exalts the liberation from Pharaoh's slavery and the joy of Israel in serving the Lord in freedom in the Promised Land (cf. Psalm 112 (113)).

It was no accident that the Jewish tradition linked this series of Psalms to the paschal liturgy. The celebration of that event, according to its socio-historical and above all its spiritual dimensions, was regarded as a sign of liberation from evil in the multiplicity of its manifestations.

Psalm 112 is a brief hymn, which in the Hebrew original is made up of some sixty words, all suffused with sentiments of trust, praise, and joy.

2. The first stanza (cf. 1-3) exalts "the name of the Lord" that -- as is known -- in biblical language indicates the person of God himself, his living and acting presence in human history.

Thrice, with passionate intensity, resounds "the name of the Lord" at the heart of the prayer of adoration. All being and all time -- "from the rising of the sun to its setting," says the Psalmist (verse 3) -- is united in one act of thanksgiving. It is as if an incessant breath rises from the earth to heaven to exalt the Lord, creator of the cosmos and king of history.

3. Precisely through this movement toward the heavens, the Psalm leads us to the divine mystery. The second part (cf. 4-6) in fact, celebrates the Lord's transcendence, described with vertical images that go beyond the simple human horizon. It proclaims: the Lord "High above all nations," "enthroned on high," and no one can be his equal; he must even look "down" upon the heavens, because "his glory" is "above the heavens!" (4).

The divine gaze looks upon the whole of reality, on earthly and heavenly beings. Yet his look is not haughty and detached, as that of a cold emperor. The Lord -- says the Psalmist -- looks "down" (6).

4. We thus come to the Psalm's last movement (cf. 7-9), which shifts our attention from the heavenly heights to our earthly horizon. The Lord lowers himself with solicitude to our littleness and indigence which would impel us to withdraw in fear. He directs his loving gaze and efficacious commitment towards the least and miserable of the world: "The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap" (7).

Thus God bends over the needy and the suffering to console them. And this expression finds its ultimate meaning, its greatest realism at the moment that God bends down to the point of becoming incarnate, to become like one of us, like one of the poor of the world. He confers the greatest honor on the poor, he "sits them with princes"; yes, "with the princes of the people" (8). To the lonely barren woman, humiliated by ancient society as if she were a dry and useless branch, God gives the honor and great joy of having several children (cf. 9). Therefore, the Psalmist praises a God who is very different from us in his greatness, but at the same time very close to his suffering creatures.

It is easy to intuit in these last verses of Psalm 112 the prefiguration of Mary's words in the "Magnificat," the canticle of God's chosen one who "regards the lowliness of his handmaid." More radical than our Psalm, Mary proclaims that God "has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly" (cf. Luke 1:48,52, Psalm 112:6-8).

5. A very ancient "Evening Hymn," preserved in the "Constitutions of the Apostles" (VII, 48), takes up and develops our Psalm's joyful beginning. We recall it here, at the end of our reflection, to shed light on the Christian rereading that the early community made of the Psalms:

"Praise, children, the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.
We praise you, we sing to you, we bless you for your immense glory.
Lord king, Father of Christ spotless lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.
To you becomes praise, hymn, glory, to God the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit
now and forever. Amen" (S. Pricoco and M. Simonetti, "La Preghiera dei Cristiani," (The Prayer of Christians), Milan, 2000, p. 97).

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April 19, 2014

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