Dialogika

Pope Benedict XVI

General Audience: Psalm 136

Vatican City

[English text:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 136, the subject of this week’s catechesis, is a song of lamentation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile, a heartfelt prayer for liberation and an expression of longing for the Holy City. Its evocation of Babylon as a place of slavery and sorrow can be seen as a symbolic foreshadowing of the horrors of the death camps of the last century, in which the Jewish people were destined to extermination. In their grief, the exiles are no longer able to sing "the songs of the Lord," which can only rise up to God in freedom and in the setting of liturgical prayer. During this Advent season, the Church reads this Psalm, with its plea for liberation and its nostalgic yearning for the Holy City, as an expression of her own prayerful hope for the Lord’s coming. As Saint Augustine tells us, we are called not only to sing this Psalm, but to live it, by lifting up our hearts with profound religious longing for the heavenly Jerusalem.

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[From the French text:]

We contemplate today Psalm 136, which evokes the tragedy lived by the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, 586 years before Jesus Christ, and the exile in Babylon which followed. It is a canticle of pain, a supplication for the Lord to release his faithful from slavery.

The first part of the psalm has its foundation in the earth of exile, the place of sojourn of the deportees. It is almost a symbolic anticipation of the death camps where, in the last century, the Jewish people were sent for an infamous project of death, which remains an indelible shame on the history of humanity.

The second part of the psalm, on the contrary, is permeated by the memory of the love of Zion, the city lost but alive in the midst of the exiled. This psalm expresses well the feelings of hope and waiting with which we began our Advent path.