Bookmark and Share

Ecclesiasticus 36

Canticle - Prayer for the holy city of Jerusalem
"This is eternal life: to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17, 3).
vv 1-7, 13-16

Save us, God of all things,
  strike all the nations with terror;
raise your hand against foreign nations,
  that they may see the greatness of your might.

Our sufferings proved your holiness to them;
  let their downfall prove your glory to us.
Let them know, as we ourselves know,
  that there is no other God but you.

Give us signs again, work further wonders,
  clothe your hand, your right arm in glory.

Assemble all the tribes of Jacob,
  as when they first received their inheritance.
Pity the poor people called by your name,
  pity Israel, chosen as your first-born.

Have compassion on the holy city,
  Jerusalem, the place of your rest.
Let Sion ring with your praises,
  let your temple be filled with your glory.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 36
General Audience, Wednesday 23 January 2002 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Monday Week 2 - Prayer for the holy people of God

"1. In the Old Testament there is not just the official prayer book of the People of God, namely, the Psalter. Many Biblical pages are embellished with canticles, hymns, psalms, supplications, prayers and invocations that rise to the Lord as a response to his Word. The Bible thus turns out to be a dialogue of God with humanity, an interaction placed under the seal of the word of God, word of grace and love.

It is the case of the supplication that we have just addressed to "the Lord God of the universe" (Sir 36, 1). It is contained in the book of Sirach, a sage who gathered his reflections, counsels and hymns probably around 190-180 BC on the threshold of the epoch of liberation that Israel lived under the guidance of the Maccabees. In 138 BC a grandson of this sage translated into Greek, as he tells us in the prologue of the volume, the work of his grandfather in order to offer these teachings to a wider circle of readers and disciples.

The Book of Sirach is called "Ecclesiasticus" by the Christian tradition. Though it was not included in the Hebrew canon, this book, along with other "sapiential books", ended up setting forth the so-called "Christian truth" ("veritas Christiana"). Thus the values proposed by this sapiential work entered into Christian education in the Patristic age, above all, in the monastic world, becoming a manual of practical behaviour for the disciples of Christ.

2. The invocation of chapter 36 of Sirach, incorporated in a simplified form in the prayer of Lauds of the Liturgy of the Hours develops a few key themes.

Above all, we find the supplication to God to intervene in favour of Israel and against the foreign nations that oppress her. In the past God showed his holiness when he punished the sins of his people, by putting them in the hands of their enemies. Now the one praying asks God to show his greatness by undoing the power of his oppressors and establishing a new Messianic-like era.

Certainly, the request reflects the tradition of prayer in Israel, and in reality is full of Biblical references. In a certain sense, it can be considered a model of prayer to be used in time of persecution or oppression, as it was at the time the author lived, under the rather harsh and severe dominion of the foreign Syro-Hellenic sovereigns.

3. The first part of this prayer opens with an ardent appeal to the Lord that he may have mercy and pay attention to what is happening (cf Sir 36, 1). But immediately attention is directed to the divine action, that is exalted by a series of remarkable verbs:  "Have mercy ... pay attention ... put in dread ... raise your hand ... show yourself great ... renew your signs
... work new wonders ... glorify your hand and your right arm...".

The God of the Bible is not indifferent in the face of evil. Even if his ways are not our ways, and his times and plans are different from ours (cf Is 55,8-9), yet He takes the side of the victims and will be a severe judge of the violent, the oppressor, those who triumph without showing mercy.

But his intervention does not seek destruction. By showing his power and the faithfulness of his love, He can generate even in the conscience of the evil one a shudder that can lead to his conversion. "They will know, as we know, that there is no God but you, O Lord" (Sir 36, 4).

4. The second part of the hymn opens with a more positive perspective. In fact, while the first part asks for the intervention of God against one's enemies, the second part no longer speaks of enemies, but asks the favour of God for Israel, begs his mercy for the chosen people and for the holy city, Jerusalem.

The dream of the return of those sent into exile, even those belonging to the northern kingdom, became the goal of the prayer: "Gather all the tribes of Jacob, that they may inherit the land as of old" (v 10). The prayer is for the rebirth of the entire Israel, as in the happy days of the occupation of the whole of the Promised Land.

In order to make the prayer more urgent, the one praying insists on the relation that binds God to Israel and Jerusalem. Israel is designated "the people called by your name", the one "whom you have treated as your firstborn"; Jerusalem is "your holy city", "your dwelling place". It then expresses the desire that the relation become still closer and more glorious: "Fill Zion with your majesty, your people with your glory" (cf v 13). By filling with his majesty the Temple of Jerusalem, that will attract all nations to itself (cf Is 2, 2-4; Mi 4, 1-3), the Lord will fill his people with his glory.

5. In the Bible, the lament of those who suffer never ends in desperation, but is always open to hope. It is based on the certainty that the Lord does not abandon his children, he does not let those he made fall out of his hands.

The selection made by the liturgy has left out a very beautiful expression in the prayer. It asks God to "give evidence to the creatures that are yours from the beginning" (Sir 36, 14). From all eternity God has a plan of love and salvation for all his creatures, called to become his people. It is a plan that St Paul recognized as "revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit ... the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3, 5-11)."


"I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England, Denmark, Finland, Japan and the United States. I greet especially the Marist Brothers: may your time of renewal in Rome strengthen your commitment to teach the young the way of Christ. Upon all present I invoke the blessings of peace, and I ask you to be united spiritually with me and the representatives of the world religions as we go on pilgrimage to Assisi tomorrow in order to pray for peace in the world.

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française, en particulier les jeunes de l’école catholique Rocroy Saint-Léon et du lycée Gregor Mendel, de Paris. Alors que les responsables des grandes religions se réuniront demain à Assise pour invoquer le Seigneur de la paix, puissiez-vous contribuer, par votre prière et par votre témoignage de vie chrétienne, à faire régner la paix dans le monde ! À tous, j’accorde bien volontiers la Bénédiction apostolique.

Herzlich begrüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Vertraut in allen Lebenslagen der liebenden Vorsehung Gottes und schöpft Kraft aus seinem Wort! Gerne erteile ich euch und euren Lieben daheim sowie allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan oder das Fernsehen verbunden sind, den Apostolischen Segen.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, a minha saudação afectuosa com um renovado convite para me acompanharem na oração que amanhã, de Assis, se elevará pela recomposição da harmonia e concórdia no seio da grande família humana, que tem Deus por Pai. Em seu Nome, a todos abençoo e desejo paz e bem!

Doy mi cordial bienvenida a todos los peregrinos venidos de España y de América Latina, de modo particular a los grupos de las parroquias de San Juan y San Pablo de Murcia. Que la lectura y meditación de este Cántico renueve en cada uno de vosotros la certeza de que el Señor nunca abandona a sus hijos. ¡Que Dios os bendiga!

Zo srdca pozdravujem maturantov Stredného odborného učilišt’a Pier Giorgia Frassatiho z Bratislavy. Milí mladí priatelia, pozajtra sa konči Oktáva modlitieb za jednotu krest’anov. Modlime sa neúnavne za plné spoločenstvo veriacich v Krista i za pokoj vo svete. Rád žehnám Vás i Vašich drahých. Pochválený bud’ Ježiš Kristus!

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto il gruppo dei non udenti appartenenti all’Ente Nazionale Sordomuti, che provengono da diverse Regioni italiane. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per la vostra presenza così numerosa e vi assicuro la mia preghiera, perché si rafforzi in voi il desiderio di conoscere e seguire Gesù Cristo, unico Salvatore del mondo.

Saluto, inoltre, i partecipanti alla giornata di studio sull’Enciclica "Laborem exercens", promosso dalla Federazione Agricola Ambientale Alimentare Industriale. Cari Fratelli e Sorelle, mentre esprimo apprezzamento per questa iniziativa, auspico che essa accresca il vostro impegno di testimonianza evangelica nella società.

Il mio pensiero va infine, come di consueto, ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Carissimi, in questa settimana di preghiera per l’unità dei cristiani sia intensa la nostra invocazione perché quanto prima si giunga alla piena comunione di tutti i discepoli di Cristo.

In questo spirito, invito voi, cari giovani, ad essere ovunque, specialmente con i vostri coetanei, testimoni di unità nell’adesione al vangelo; chiedo a voi, cari malati, di offrire le vostre sofferenze per il raggiungimento di questa meta; esorto voi, cari sposi novelli, a essere all’interno della vostra famiglia un cuor solo ed un’anima sola.

Come sapete, domani mi recherò ad Assisi, dove, insieme con Esponenti di Chiese e Comunità ecclesiali e con Rappresentanti di altre religioni, vivremo una giornata dedicata alla preghiera per la pace nel mondo. Si tratterà di un pellegrinaggio di speranza, sulle orme di san Francesco d'Assisi, profeta e testimone di pace.

Confido che tale iniziativa, oltre agli effetti spirituali che sfuggono alle misure umane, possa contribuire a orientare gli animi e le decisioni verso sinceri e coraggiosi propositi di giustizia e di perdono. Se così sarà, avremo contribuito a consolidare le basi di una pace autentica e duratura.

Invito, pertanto, i fedeli cattolici ad unire la loro preghiera a quella che domani, ad Assisi, eleveremo insieme come cristiani, coltivando al tempo stesso nel loro cuore sentimenti di simpatia per i seguaci di altre religioni convenuti nella città di San Francesco a pregare per la pace.

A tutti, singoli e comunità, esprimo fin d'ora la mia cordiale riconoscenza."