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Psalm 118 (119)

Meditation on the word of God in the Law
This is my commandment, that you love each other (Jn 15, 12)
v105 - 112

Your word is a lamp for my steps
  and a light for my path.
I have sworn and have made up my mind
  to obey your decrees.

Lord, I am deeply afflicted;
  by your word give me life.
Accept, Lord, the homage of my lips
  and teach me your decrees.

Though I carry my life in my hands,
  I remember your law.
Though the wicked try to ensnare me,
  I do not stray from your precepts.

Your will is my heritage for ever,
  the joy of my heart.
I set myself to carry out your will
  in fullness, for ever.

v145 - 152

I call with all my heart; Lord, hear me,
  I will keep your commands.
I call upon you, save me
  and I will do your will.

I rise before dawn and cry for help,
  I hope in your word.
My eyes watch through the night
  to ponder your promise.

In your love hear my voice, O Lord;
  give me life by your decrees.
Those who harm me unjustly draw near:
  they are far from your law.

But you, O Lord, are close:
  your commands are truth.
Long have I known that your will
  is established for ever.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 118, v 145-152
General Audience, Wednesday 14 November 2001 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Saturday Week 1 - Promise to observe God's law

"1. What the liturgy of Lauds for Saturday of the first week offers us is a single strophe of Ps 118[119], (the verses 145-152), in the monumental prayer of 22 strophes or stanzas, that correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the order of the strophes follows that of the alphabet. The one we have proclaimed is the 19th strophe (verses 145-152) corresponding to the letter qoph.

This promise, a bit exterior, allows us to better understand the meaning of this hymn in honour of the divine law. It is similar to Eastern music, whose sonorous waves seem never ending, ascending to heaven in a repetition which involves the mind and senses, the spirit and body of the one who prays.

2. In a sequence that goes from "aleph to tav', from the first to the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, we would say from A to Z in our alphabets, the one who prays pours out his thanks for the Law of God, that he adopts as a lamp for his steps in the often dark path of life (cf. v. 105).

It is said that the great philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal recited this fullest of all the psalms every day, while the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, assassinated by the Nazis in 1945, made it become a living and timely prayer when he wrote: "Undoubtedly, Psalm 118 [119] is tedious on account of its length and monotony, but we must proceed very slowly and patiently word by word, phrase by phrase. Then we will discover that the apparent repetitions in reality are new aspects of one and the same reality: love for the Word of God. Since this love is never ending, so are the words that profess it. They can accompany us all our life, and in their simplicity they become the prayer of the youth, the mature man and the venerable old man" (Pray the Psalms with Christ, English translation of the Italian title, Pregare i Salmi con Cristo, Brescia, 1978, 3a edizione, p. 48).

3. The fact of repetition, in addition to helping the memory in the choral chant, is also a good way to foster inner attachment and confident abandonment into the arms of God, who is invoked and loved. Among the repetitions of the Psalm 118 [119], I want to point out an important one. Each of the 176 verses which make up this praise of the Torah, of the divine Law and Word, contains at least one of the eight words used to define the Torah itself: law, word, witness, judgment, saying, decree, precept, and order. We celebrate divine revelation this way because it is the revelation of the mystery of God and the moral guide of the life of the faithful.

In this way God and man are united in a dialogue composed of words and deeds, teaching and listening, truth and life.

4. Now we come to our strophe (cf. vv. 145-152) that is well suited to the spirit of morning Lauds. In fact the scene at the centre of this set of 8 verses is nocturnal, but open to the new day. After a long night of waiting and of prayerful vigil in the Temple, when the dawn appears on the horizon and the liturgy begins, the believer is certain that the Lord will hear the one who spent the night in prayer, hoping and meditating on the divine Word. Fortified by this awareness and facing the day that unfolds before him, he will no longer fear dangers. He knows that he will not be overcome by his persecutors who besiege him with treachery (cf. v. 150) because the Lord is with him.

5. The strophe expresses an intense prayer: "I call with all my heart, Lord; answer me.... I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your word ..." (vv.145.147). In the Book of Lamentations, we read this invitation: "Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands toward him" (Lam 2,19). St Ambrose repeated: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A).

At the same time our strophe is also the exaltation of a certainty: we are not alone because God listens and intervenes. The one who prays, says: "Lord, you are near" (v. 151). The other psalms confirm it: "Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies!" (Ps 68,19); "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps 33,19)."


"I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors here today, especially the pilgrims from the Philippines and the United States of America. I cordially greet the members of the NATO Defence College, confident that in these troubled times you will see your profession as a noble service of peace and the common good. God bless you all!

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française, notamment les anciennes élèves du Sacré-Cœur de Meylan. Que le Christ vous manifeste sa présence et que sa lumière vous apporte paix et joie ! A tous, j’accorde bien volontiers la Bénédiction apostolique.

Das Wort Gottes ist auch uns Stütze und Halt. Mit dieser Zuversicht grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Besonders grüße ich den Initiativkreis Ansgarjahr, der aus dem hohen Norden Deutschlands in den Süden nach Rom gepilgert ist. Gern erteile ich euch, euren Lieben daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, den Apostolischen Segen.

Dou as boas-vindas aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com votos de que, conformando a vida à Palavra de Deus, vos torneis zelosos mensageiros e testemunhas da fé, que viestes afirmar e consolidar nesta vossa romagem que, para todos, desejo rica de graças e consolações celestes ao abençoar-vos, a vós e a quantos vos são queridos.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos venidos de España y de Latinoamérica, especialmente al grupo de Calella. Invito a todos a rezar cada día, tanto personalmente como en vuestras familias y comunidades, para progresar en el camino de la santidad, a la que todos estamos llamados. Muchas gracias.

Van harte groet ik de Nederlandse en Belgische pelgrims, in het bijzonder de pelgrims uit de parochie Sint Pancratius uit Heerlen. Moge uw bedevaart naar de graven van de Apostelen u helpen om Christus te volgen in het nederige alledaagse dienstbetoon, om een licht te zijn in Kerk en wereld. Van harte verleen ik u de Apostolische Zegen. Geloofd zij Jezus Christus!

Draga braćo i sestre, središnja točka Bogosluzja Crkve je Euharistijsko Slavlje. Ono je čin zahvaljivanja i hvale što ga Krist i Crkva prikazuju Ocu; zivi spomen i istinska rtva što u sakramentu posadašnjuje samo jednu rtvu Kristovu na Krizu. Srdačno pozdravljam nazočne hrvatske hodočasnike te svima udjeljujem apostolski blagoslov. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Szeretettel köszöntöm a magyar híveket, különösen azokat, akik a gyôri egyházmegyébôl és Máriazellbôl érkeztek. Isten hozott Benneteket! A magyar szentek közbenjárását kérve, akiknek ünnepét tegnap ültük, szívbôl adom Rátok apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

Srdečne vítam skupinu slovenských pútnikov z Bratislavy. Drahí pútnici, v mesiaci novembri nás Cirkev pozýva k modlitbe za zosnulých. Spomienka na nich nech nás privádza k uvazovaniu o večnosti a nech nasmeruje náš zivot k hodnotám, ktoré sa nepominú. Rád zehnám vás i vaše rodiny. Pochválený bud’ Jeziš Kristus!

[In Russian] Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai fedeli dalla Russia Siberiana. Carissimi, auguro che il vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli accresca il vostro impegno di testimonianza cristiana. Di cuore invoco su di voi e sui vostri cari copiose benedizioni dal cielo.

* * * * *

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, ai membri dell'Associazione professionale "Cuochi italiani", venuti a Roma da tutte le Regioni d'Italia in occasione del loro tradizionale Simposio d'autunno. Carissimi, nel vostro lavoro siate i messaggeri non solo della gioia serena del convivio, ma anche della condivisione fraterna e solidale.

Saluto poi i fedeli di Cisano e di Conscente e, mentre li ringrazio per la loro visita, li esorto a trovare nelle radici della loro storia religiosa e sociale sempre nuovi impulsi per progredire nel cammino della testimonianza cristiana.

Il mio saluto va, ora, ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli.

Celebreremo domani la festa del vescovo sant'Alberto Magno, che si sforzò continuamente di stabilire la pace tra le popolazioni del suo tempo. Il suo esempio sia stimolo per voi, cari giovani, ad essere operatori di giustizia e artefici di riconciliazione. Sia per voi, cari ammalati, incoraggiamento a confidare nel Signore, che mai ci abbandona nel momento della prova. Sia per voi, cari sposi novelli, incitamento a trovare nel Vangelo la gioia di accogliere e servire generosamente la vita, dono incommensurabile di Dio.

My thought embraces the beloved peoples of Algeria, recently struck by floods which have claimed thousands of victims and left many families homeless.

While I entrust to the goodness of a merciful God all those who are tragically missing, I express my spiritual closeness to their families and to all those in distress on account of this disaster. May our brothers, so sorely tried, not lack our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Ps 118 (119), 105-106, 109-112
General Audience, Wednesday 21 July 2004 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1st Vespers (Evening Prayer) Sunday Week 2 - The promise to observe the commandments of God

"1. Let us now continue on our journey through the Psalms proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers. Today we come to the 14th of the 22 strophes that make up Psalm 119[118], a grandiose hymn to the Law of God and an expression of his will. The number of the strophes corresponds to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and suggests fullness; each one is composed of eight verses and of words that begin with the corresponding letter in alphabetical order.

In our case, the first words of the verses we have just heard begin with the Hebrew letter nun. This strophe is illuminated by the shining image in its first line: "Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path" (v. 105). Man ventures on life's often dark journey, but all of a sudden the darkness is dispelled by the splendour of the Word of God.

Psalm 19[18] compares the Law of God to the sun, when it says that "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (19[18]: 9). Then in the Book of Proverbs it is reasserted that "the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light" (6: 23). Christ was also to present himself as a definitive revelation with exactly the same image: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8: 12).

2. The Psalmist then continues his prayer, calling to mind the suffering and danger in the life he has to lead, in which he stands in need of enlightenment and support: "Lord, I am deeply afflicted: by your word give me life.... Though I carry my life in my hands, I remember your law" (Ps 119[118]: 107, 109).

A dark image pervades the strophe: "the wicked try to ensnare me" (v. 110), the person praying again intimates, making use of a hunting image well known to the Psalter. The faithful know that they are advancing on the highways of the world amid danger, anxiety and persecution; they know that trials are lying in wait. Christians, for their part, know that every day they must carry the Cross up the hill of their Calvary (cf. Lk 9: 23)

3. However, the just keep their fidelity intact: "I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees... I remember your law... I do not stray from your precepts" (Ps 119[118]: 106, 109, 110). A conscience at peace is the strength of believers; their constancy in obeying the divine commandments is the source of their serenity.

The final declaration is therefore consistent: "Your will is my heritage for ever, the joy of my heart" (v. 111) It is this that is the most precious reality, the "heritage", the "reward" (cf. v. 112) which the Psalmist cherishes with vigilant and ardent love: the teaching and commandments of the Lord. He wants to be totally faithful to the will of his God. On this path he will find peace of soul and will succeed in getting through the dark tangle of trials and reaching true joy.

4. In this regard, St Augustine's words are enlightening. He begins his commentary on Psalm 119[118] by developing the theme of the happiness that derives from observing the Law of the Lord. "From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to happiness, which, as everyone knows, constitutes the hope of every man. Indeed, could there (was there or will there) ever be anyone who did not desire to be happy? And if this is so, what need is there to invite people to a goal that the human soul spontaneously strives for?... Might not the reason be that although we all aspire to happiness, most of us do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the lesson that is taught by the One who says: "Blessed are those who are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord'. It seems to say: "I know what you desire; I know you are seeking happiness; if, then, you wish to be happy, be undefiled. All seek the former, whereas few trouble about the latter: however, without it, what all wish for cannot be attained. But where can anyone be undefiled, except in the way, which is none other than the Law of the Lord? Hence, it is those who are undefiled in the way, those who walk in the laws of the Lord who are happy! This exhortation is not superfluous but necessary to our spirit" (Esposizioni sui Salmi, III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Let us make our own the conclusion of the great Bishop of Hippo who reaffirms the continual timeliness of the happiness promised to those who strive faithfully to do God's will."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 118, v 145-152
General Audience, Wednesday 15 January 2003 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Lauds, Saturday Week 3 - Promise to observe God's law

"1. In our already long journey through the Psalms that the Liturgy of Lauds presents, we come to one strophe - to be precise, the 19th - of the longest prayer of the Psalter, Psalm 118[119]. It is a part of an immense alphabetical hymn. In a play on style, the Psalmist divides his work into 22 strophes corresponding to the sequence of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each strophe has eight verses and the first word of each verse uses a Hebrew word that begins with the same letter of the alphabet.

The stanza we have just heard is a strophe marked by the Hebrew letter qôf, that portrays the person at prayer who expresses his intense life of faith and prayer to God (cf. vv. 145-152).

2. The invocation of the Lord is relentless because it is a continuing response to the permanent teaching of the Word of God. On the one hand, in fact, the verbs used in prayer are multiplied: "I cry to you", "I call upon you", "I cry for help", "hear my voice". On the other hand, the Psalmist exalts the word of the Lord that proposes decrees, teachings, the word, promises, judgment, the law, the precepts and testimonies of God. Together they form a constellation that is like the polar star of the Psalmist's faith and confidence. Prayer is revealed as a dialogue that begins when it is night before the first gleam of dawn (cf. v. 147), and continues through the day, particularly in the difficult trials of life. In fact, at times the horizon is dark and stormy: "In betrayal my persecutors turn on me, they are far from your law" (v. 150). But the person praying has a steadfast certainty: the closeness of God, with his word and his grace: "But you, O Lord, are close" (v. 151). God does not abandon the just in the hands of persecutors.

3. At this point, having outlined the simple but incisive message of the stanza of Psalm 118[119] - a suitable message for the beginning of the day - we will turn for our meditation to a great Father of the Church, St Ambrose who, in his Commentary on Psalm 118[119], devotes 44 paragraphs to explaining the stanza we have just heard.

Taking up the ideal invitation to sing praise of God from the early hours of the morning, he reflects in particular on verses 147-148: "I rise before dawn and cry for help.... My eyes greet the night watches". From the Psalmist's declaration, St Ambrose intuits the idea of a constant prayer that embraces all the hours of the day: "Whoever calls upon the Lord must act as if he does not know the existence of any special time to be dedicated to implore the Lord, but always remains in that attitude of supplication. Whether we eat or drink, let us proclaim Christ, pray to Christ, think of Christ, speak of Christ! May Christ be ever in our heart and on our lips!" (Commentary on the Psalm 118[119],2: SAEMO 10, p. 297).

Referring to the verses that speak of the specific moment of the morning, and alluding to the expression of the Book of Wisdom that prescribes that we are "to give [the Lord] thanks before the sunrise" (16,28), St Ambrose comments: "It would be serious indeed if the rays of the rising sun were to surprise you lying lazily in bed with insolent impudence and if an even brighter light wounded your sleepy eyes, still sunk in torpor. It is a disgrace for us to spend so long a period of time without even the least devotional practice, without offering a spiritual sacrifice during a night with nothing to do" (ibid., op. cit., p. 303).

4. Then St Ambrose, contemplating the rising sun - as he did in another of his famous hymns, "at the crack of dawn", Aeterne rerum conditor, included in the Liturgy of the Hours, counsels us in this way: "Perhaps, you do not know, O man, that every day you owe to God the first fruits of your heart and voice? The harvest ripens every day; every day the fruit ripens. So run to meet the rising sun.... The sun of justice wishes to be anticipated and does not expect anything else.... If you rise before the sun you will receive Christ as your light. He Himself will be the first light that shines in the secret of your heart. He Himself will be ... who will make the light of dawn shine for you in the hours of the night, if you will meditate on God's Word. While you meditate, the light rises.... Early in the morning hasten to church and in homage take the firstfruits of your devotion. And then, if the affairs of the world call you, nothing will prevent you from saying: "My eyes anticipate the watches of the night to meditate on your promises'; and, with a good conscience, you will betake yourself to your affairs. How beautiful it is to begin the day with hymns and songs, with the beatitudes you read in the Gospel! How promising that the Lord's words should descend on you as a blessing; and that as you sing, you repeat the blessings of the Lord, that you be gripped by the need to practice some virtue, if you also want to perceive within you something that makes you feel worthy of the divine blessing!" (ibid., op. cit., pp. 303.309.311.313).

Let us also respond to St Ambrose's call, and every morning open our eyes to daily life, to its joys and worries, calling on God to be close to us and guide us with his words that ensure serenity and grace."