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Psalm 140 (141)

Prayer in time of danger
"The smoke of incense rose before God with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel" (Apoc 8, 4) .
v 1-9

I have called to you, Lord; hasten to help me!
  Hear my voice when I cry to you.
Let my prayer arise before you like incense,
  the raising of my hands like an evening oblation.

Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth;
  keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips!
Do not turn my heart to things that are wrong,
  to evil deeds with men who are sinners.

Never allow me to share in their feasting.
  If a good man strikes or reproves me it is kindness;
but let the oil of the wicked not anoint my head.
  Let my prayer be ever against their malice.

Their princes were thrown down by the side of the rock:
  then they understood that my words were kind.
As a millstone is shattered to pieces on the ground,
  so their bones were strewn at the mouth of the grave.

To you, Lord God, my eyes are turned:
  in you I take refuge; spare my soul!
From the trap they have laid for me keep me safe:
  keep me from the snares of those who do evil.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Psalm 140 (141)
General Audience, Wednesday 5 November 2003 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Vespers I, Sunday Week 1 - Prayer in danger
v 1-4, 8-9

"1. In previous catecheses, we gave an overall look at the structure and value of the Liturgy of Vespers, the great ecclesiastical prayer of the evening. We now journey into its interior. It will be like making a pilgrimage to that "holy land" made up of the Psalms and Canticles. One by one we will reflect on each of those poetic prayers, which God has sealed with his inspiration. They are invocations which the Lord himself desires should be addressed to him, for he loves to listen to them, hearing in them the heartbeat of his beloved children.

We will begin with Psalm 140, which opens the Sunday Vespers of the first of the four weeks in which, after the Council, the evening prayer of the Church has been articulated.

2. "Let my prayer arise before you like incense, the raising of my hands like an evening oblation." Verse two of this psalm can be considered the distinctive sign of the entire hymn and the apparent justification of the fact that it has been included in the Liturgy of Vespers. The idea expressed reflects the spirit of prophetic theology that intimately unites worship with life, prayer with existence.

The same prayer made with a pure and sincere heart becomes a sacrifice offered to God. The entire being of the person who prays becomes a sacrificial act, a prelude to what St Paul would suggest when he invited Christians to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God: this is the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to him (cf Rom 12, 1).

Hands raised in prayer are a bridge to communication with God, as is the smoke that rises as sweet odour from the victim during the sacrificial rite of the evening.

3. The Psalm continues in a tone of supplication, transmitted to us by a text which in the original Hebrew is unclear and presents certain interpretative difficulties (especially in v 4-7).

The general sense can, however, be identified and transformed into meditation and prayer. Above all else, the person praying supplicates the Lord to prevent his lips (cf v 3) and the feelings of his heart from being attracted and ensnared by evil and being induced to commit "evil deeds" (cf v 4). Words and works are, in fact, the expression of the moral choice of the person. It is easy for evil to exercise such attraction that it pushes even the faithful to taste "the delicious foods" that sinners can offer, sitting down at their table, that is, by participating in their perverse actions.

The psalm acquires almost the flavour of an examination of conscience, which is followed by the commitment always to choose the ways of God.

4. At this point, however, the person praying starts by bursting out with a passionate declaration of refusal of any complicity with the wicked; he does not at all want to be a guest of the wicked, nor allow the perfumed oil reserved for privileged guests (cf Ps 22, 5) attest to his connivance with those who do evil (cf Ps 140, 5). To express
with greater vehemence his radical disassociation from the wicked one, the Psalmist then proclaims an disdainful condemnation in his regard, expressed with the colourful use of images of vehement judgment.

It is one of the typical imprecations of the Psalter (cf Ps 57 and 108), which have the purpose of affirming in a plastic and even picturesque way the hostility to evil, the choice of good and the certainty that God intervenes in history with his judgment of severe condemnation of injustice (cf v 6-7).

5. The Psalm closes with a final invocation of trust (cf v 8-9): it is a song of faith, gratitude and joy, in the certainty that the faithful one will not be engulfed by the hatred that the perverse reserve for him and will not fall into the trap they set for him, after having noted his decisive choice of the good. In this way, the righteous one can overcome every deception unscathed, as is said in another Psalm: "We have been freed like a bird from the hunter's snare; the snare is broken and we have escaped" (Ps 123, 7).

Let us conclude our reading of Psalm 140 by returning to the image at the beginning, that of the evening prayer as a sacrifice pleasing to God. John Cassian, a great spiritual master who lived between the IV and V centuries and, coming from
the East, spent the last part of his life in Southern Gaul, re-read these words in a Christological key: "In them, in fact, one can understand more spiritually an allusion to the evening sacrifice, accomplished by the Lord and Saviour during his Last Supper and consigned to the Apostles, when he sanctioned the beginning of the holy mysteries of the Church, or (one can catch an allusion) to that same sacrifice that he offered of himself the following day in the evening, with the elevation of his own hands, a sacrifice that will continue until the end of the centuries for the salvation of the whole world" (cf Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche , Abbey of Praglia, Padua 1989)."


"I extend a special greeting to the group from the Pontifical Irish College accompanied by Cardinal Connell and other Irish Bishops. I welcome all the English-speaking visitors here today including groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones présents ce matin, en particulier les membres du Mouvement mondial des Travailleurs chrétiens et les pèlerins du diocèse de Coutances. Que votre pèlerinage sur les tombes des Apôtres vous renouvelle dans le désir de la sainteté !

Herzlich grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Besonders heiße ich die Teilnehmer der Leserreise des Osservatore Romano und das Berufskolleg St. Michael willkommen. Heiligt euer Leben durch das Gebet! Gott schenke euch seinen Frieden!

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que porventura aqui se encontrem. Desejo a todos felicidades, paz e graça no Senhor e vos convido a rezarem pelo papa e pelas suas intenções. Com uma propiciadora Bênção Apostólica.

Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los Cofrades del Santísimo Cristo de la Humildad, de Jaén, y de la Santísima Virgen del Rocío, de Murcia. Invito a todos a ofrecer a Dios con corazón puro cada jornada de vuestra vida.

Srdačno pozdravljam upravu, igrače i navijače Hajduka iz Splita te na sve zazivam Božji blagoslov. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

Szeretettel köszöntöm a magyar híveket, különösen is azokat, akik Somlóvásárhelyrôl érkeztek. Isten hozott Benneteket! Ma van Szent Imrének, a magyar ifjúság védôszentjének ünnepe. Az ô közbenjárását kérve, szívesen adom apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

Dzisiaj rozważaliśmy Psalm 140, który odmawiany jest w nieszporach niedzieli pierwszego tygodnia. Natchniony autor prosi w nim Boga o ducha modlitwy. Mówi: "niech moja modlitwa będzie stale przed Tobą jak kadzidło; wzniesienie rąk moich - jak ofiara wieczorna (Ps 141/140/, 2). Z kolei wyraża pragnienie, aby dzięki modlitwie został uchroniony od zła i nieprawości. Niech ten sam duch - duch modlitwy i sprawiedliwości zawsze kształtuje nasze życie.

Serdecznie pozdrawiam pielgrzymów języka polskiego. W sposób szczególny witam pielgrzymów z Gdańska z arcybiskupem Tadeuszem Gocłowskim, z Gniezna z arcybiskupem Henrykiem Muszyńskim oraz z Tarnowa z biskupem Wiktorem Skworcem. Witam zarząd, członków i przyjaciół Fundacji Jana Pawła II. Pozdrawiam delegację z Grudziądza oraz bernardynów z Kalwarii i z Krakowa. Myślą obejmuję wszystkich tu obecnych i z serca błogosławię. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.

Saluto con affetto i missionari e le missionarie che partecipano al corso di formazione organizzato dalla Università Pontificia Salesiana. Con tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, saluto i nuovi Diaconi dell’Arcidiocesi di Milano, i numerosi fedeli della Diocesi di Terni-Narni-Amelia, guidati dal Vescovo Mons. Vincenzo Paglia, come pure il folto gruppo della Parrocchia di San Nicola Vescovo in San Salvo, accompagnati dall’Arcivescovo di Chieti-Vasto Mons. Edoardo Menichelli. Saluto inoltre gli Allievi Ufficiali dell’Accademia Militare, i dirigenti delle Associazioni italiane dei cardiopatici e l’Associazione Italiana Amici del Presepio.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli auguro di sentire sempre viva la presenza di Cristo, per seguirlo con gioia sulla via della santità."