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Psalm 116 (117)

Praise to the God of mercy
“I ask the nations to give praise to God for his mercy” (Rom 15, 8-9)

O praise the Lord, all you nations,
acclaim him all you peoples!

Strong is his love for us;
he is faithful for ever.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 116 (117)
General Audience, Wednesday 28 November 2001 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds (Morning Prayer), Saturday Week 1 - Invitation to praise God for his love

"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'" (Rom 15,9.11).

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. v.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"(v.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. 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. Apoc. 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."