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Psalm 109 (110)

The Messiah is king and priest
"He must be king so that he may put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor 15, 25).
v 1-5, 7

The Lord's revelation to my Master:
  'Sit on my right:
  your foes I will put beneath your feet.

The Lord will wield from Sion
  your sceptre of power:
  rule in the midst of all your foes.

A prince from the day of your birth
  on the holy mountains;
  from the womb before the dawn I begot you.

The Lord has sworn an oath he will not change.
  'You are a priest for ever,
  A priest like Melchizedek of old.'

The Master standing at your right hand
  will shatter kings in the day of his wrath.

He shall drink from the stream by the wayside
  and therefore he shall lift up his head.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 109
General Audience, Wednesday 26 November 2003 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

II Vespers, Sunday Week 1 - Sit at my right hand

"1. We have just listened to one of the most famous psalms in Christian history. Indeed, Psalm 109, which the Liturgy of Vespers presents to us every Sunday, is cited frequently in the New Testament. Verses 1 and 4 in particular are applied to Christ in the wake of the ancient Judaic tradition that has transformed this Davidic hymn of royal praise into a Messianic Psalm.

This prayer's popularity is also due to its constant use at Sunday Vespers. Psalm
109, therefore, in its Latin Vulgate version, has been the subject of many splendid musical compositions that have marked the history of western culture. The Liturgy, in accordance with the procedures decided upon by the Second Vatican Council, has omitted the violent verse 6 from the original Hebrew text of this Psalm, which, moreover, is composed of only 63 words. It is very close in tone to the so-called "Cursing Psalms" and describes the Jewish king advancing in a sort of military campaign, crushing his adversaries and judging the nations.

2. Since we will have an opportunity to return to this Psalm on other occasions, after thinking about its use in the Liturgy, we will now be satisfied with an overall glance at it.

We will be able to distinguish clearly two parts in it. The first (cf v 1-3) contains an oracle addressed by God to the one the Psalmist calls "my lord", that is, the sovereign of Jerusalem. The oracle proclaims the enthronement at God's "right hand" of David's descendent. In fact, the Lord speaks to him, saying: "Sit at my right hand" (v 1). It is quite likely that this is an allusion to a rite that required the person chosen to sit on the right of the Ark of the Covenant, to receive the power of government from the supreme king of Israel, in other words, the Lord.

3. Against this background we can sense the presence of hostile forces that have been neutralized by a victorious conquest: the enemies are portrayed at the feet of the sovereign, who solemnly advances among them bearing the sceptre of his authority (cf v 1-2). This undoubtedly reflects a real political situation, recorded at the time when one king handed over his power to another with the uprising of a few subordinates or an attempt to conquer. Henceforth, however, the text refers to a general contrast between the plan of God, who works through his Chosen People, and the scheming of those who would like to assert their own hostile and counterfeit power. Here, then, we have the eternal conflict between good and evil that takes place in the context of historical events through which God manifests himself and speaks to us.

4. The second part of the Psalm, however, contains a priestly prayer whose protagonist is still the Davidic king (v 4-7). Guaranteed by a solemn divine oath, the dignity of kingship also unites in itself the dignity of priesthood. The reference to Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, that is, of ancient Jerusalem (cf Gn 14), is perhaps a way to justify the specific priesthood of the king beside the official Levitical priesthood of the Temple of Zion. Additionally, it is also well known that the Letter to the Hebrews starts, precisely, with this oracle: "You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedek" (Ps 109, 4), in order to illustrate the special and perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ.

We will examine Psalm 109 in greater detail later, going through it verse by verse and making a careful analysis.

5. To conclude, however, let us reread the first verse of the psalm that contains the divine oracle: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool". And let us read it with St Maximus of Turin (fourth-fifth century AD), who commented on it in his Sermon on Pentecost: "Our custom has it that the sharing of the footstool is offered to the one who, having accomplished some feat, deserves to sit in the place of honour as champion. So too, the man Jesus Christ, overcoming the devil with his passion, opening underground realms with his Resurrection, arriving victorious in heaven as one who has brought some undertaking to a successful conclusion, listens to God the Father inviting him: "Sit at my right hand'. Nor must we be surprised if the Father offers to share with us the seat of the Son who, by nature, is consubstantial with the Father.... The Son sits on his right because, according to the Gospel, the sheep will be on the right; on the left, on the other hand, will be the goats. The first Lamb, therefore, must sit on the same side as the sheep, and the immaculate Head must take possession in advance of the place destined for the immaculate flock that will follow him" (40, 2: Scriptores circa Ambrosium, IV, Milan-Rome, 1991, p 195).

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 109 (110)
General Audience, Wednesday 18 August 2004 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

II Vespers, Sunday Week 2 - The Messiah, king and priest

"1. Continuing an ancient tradition, Psalm 109 which has just been proclaimed constitutes the primary component of Sunday Vespers. It is proposed in all four of the weeks into which the Liturgy of the Hours is divided. Its brevity is further accentuated by the exclusion in Christian liturgical usage of verse 6, which contains a curse. This does not do away with the difficulties it presents for exegesis or for its interpretation. The text is presented as a royal Psalm connected to the Davidic dynasty and probably refers to the rite of the sovereign's enthronement. Yet the Judaic and Christian tradition has seen in the consecrated king the profile of the Consecrated One par excellence, the Messiah, the Christ.

Precisely in this light, the Psalm becomes a luminous hymn that the Christian Liturgy raises to the Risen One on the festive day that commemorates the Passover of the Lord.

2. Psalm 109 has two parts, both of which are characterized by the presence of a divine oracle. The first oracle (cf v 1-3) is addressed to the sovereign on the day of his solemn enthronement "at the right hand" of God. that is, next to the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Jerusalem. The reminder that the king was "begotten" by the Lord was part of the official protocol for his coronation, and acquired for Israel the symbolic value of investiture and protection, since the king was God's lieutenant in the defence of justice (cf v 3).

Naturally in the Christian interpretation, that divine "begetting" actually takes place and presents Jesus Christ as the true Son of God. This is likewise what happened in the Christian interpretation of another famous royal-messianic psalm, the second in the Psaltery, where one reads this divine oracle: "You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day" (Ps 2: 7).

3. On the other hand, the second oracle in Psalm 109 has a priestly connotation (cf. v. 4). The office of king formerly also included ritual functions, not only according to the Levitic priesthood but also following another connection: that of the priesthood of Melchizedek, the sovereign-priest of Salem, the pre-Israelitic Jerusalem (cf Gn 14: 17-20).

In the Christian vision, the Messiah becomes the model of a perfect, supreme priesthood. The Letter to the Hebrews, in its central section, exalted this priestly ministry "after the order of Melchizedek" (5: 10), seeing it fully incarnate in the person of Christ.

4. The first oracle is taken up several times in the New Testament to celebrate Jesus' messianic role (cf Mt 22: 44; 26: 64; Acts 2: 34-35; I Cor 15: 25-27; Heb 1: 13). Christ himself, before the high priest and the Hebraic Sanhedrin, was to refer explicitly to our Psalm, proclaiming that he would henceforth "sit at the right hand of divine power", as it also says in Psalm 109 (Mk 14: 62; cf 12: 36-37).

We will return to this Psalm on our journey through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours. Now, at the end of our brief presentation of this messianic hymn, let us reaffirm its Christological interpretation.

5. Let us do so with the syntheses that St Augustine offers us. In his Exposition on Psalm 109, which he gave during Lent in the year 412, he describes the Psalm as a true prophecy of the divine promises regarding Christ. The famous Father of the Church said: "It was necessary to know the only-begotten Son of God, who was to come among men, to take flesh and become a man through the nature he took on: he was to die, to rise again and to ascend into Heaven, where he was to sit at the right hand of the Father and fulfil all he had promised among the peoples.... All this, therefore, had to be prophesied, had to be foretold, had to be signaled as destined to occur, in order not to give rise to fear by coming like a bolt from the blue, but rather to be anticipated with faith and hope.This Psalm fits into the context of these promises; it foretells in clear and explicit terms the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of whom we cannot have the slightest doubt that he was the Christ proclaimed" (Exposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome, 1976).

6. Let us now address our prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ, the one King and perfect and eternal Priest, so that he may make us a people of priests and prophets of peace and love, a people that praises Christ, King and Priest, who sacrificed himself to reconcile in himself, in one body, the whole of humanity, creating the new man (cf. Eph 2: 15-16)."