Pope Benedict XVI met with 20,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during his general audience on Sept. 14. He offered his reflections on Psalm 132, which celebrates King David's solemn transfer of the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God's presence among his people, to its resting place in Jerusalem.
In the psalm, the Pope pointed out, David solemnly vows not to set foot in the royal palace on Jerusalem nor to rest in peace until he finds a resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. “Something must be present at the very center of our life in society that evokes the mystery of our transcendent God,” the Holy Father said. “God and man are journeying together through history and the purpose of the Temple is to be a visible sign of this communion.”
Benedict noted that the joyful celebration depicted in the psalm includes both the assembly of the priests and people in worship and the Lord who is present and at work in their midst, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant. “The heart of the liturgy is found in this intersection between the priests and faithful on one hand and the Lord in his power on the other” he said.
Finally, the Holy Father referred to the psalm's appeal for help for the king and his successors amid life's trials, which our Christian tradition has understood as a prophetic reference to Jesus Christ: “Thus, the psalmist, with great expectation, looks beyond events in the kingdom of Judah to the future, to the perfect ‘Anointed One,’ the Messiah, beloved and blessed by God, who will always be pleasing to God.”
We have heard the first part of Psalm 132, a hymn that is recited at two different times during evening prayer of the Liturgy of Hours. Many scholars think that this song was sung during a solemn celebration when the Lord's ark, sign of the God's presence in the midst of the people of Israel, was transferred to Jerusalem, the new capital that David had chosen.
In the biblical account of this event, we read that King David, “girt with a linen apron, came dancing before the Lord with abandon, as he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and to the sound of the horn” (2 Samuel 6:14-15).
However, other scholars trace Psalm 132 back to a celebration commemorating this ancient event, after worship in the sanctuary at Zion — which was actually David's work — had been instituted.
This hymn seems to take on a liturgical dimension: It was probably used during a procession where the priests and faithful were present along with a choir.
Lord's Dwelling Place
Keeping in line with the Liturgy of the Hours' evening prayer, we will reflect on the first 10 verses of the psalm, which we have just heard. David's solemn oath has been placed at the center of this passage.
Indeed, we are told that, in sharp contrast with King Saul, his predecessor, David “swore an oath to the Lord, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:2). The content of this solemn commitment, found in verses 3-5, is quite clear: The king will not step foot into the royal palace of Jerusalem and will not rest in peace until he has first found a dwelling place for the Lord's ark.
Thus, something must be present at the very center of our life in society that evokes the mystery of our transcendent God. God and man are journeying together through history and the purpose of the temple is to be a visible sign of this communion.
God and Man Together
At this point, David's words have paved the way for a memory from the past, perhaps using words from a liturgical chorus. The rediscovery of the ark in the fields of Jaar in the region of Ephrathah (see verse 6) is recalled. It had remained there for a long time after the Philistines restored it to Israel, which had lost it during a battle (see 1 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 6:2, 11). Therefore, it was taken from the provinces to the future holy city and the passage ends on a note of festive celebration where we see the people in worship (see Psalm 132:7, 9) on one hand — that is, the liturgical assembly — and, on the other hand, the Lord who returns to make himself present at work through the sign of the ark that has been placed in Zion (see verse 8). The heart of the liturgy is found in this intersection between the priests and faithful on one hand and the Lord in his power on the other.
An acclamation in prayer for the kings succeeding David concludes the first part of Psalm 132: “For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed” (verse 10).
The Christian Dimension
It is easy to perceive a Messianic dimension in this prayer, which originally was a plea of help for the Jewish king amid life's trials. In fact, the word “anointed” is the translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Thus, with great expectation, the psalmist looks beyond events in the kingdom of Judah to the future, to the perfect “Anointed One,” the Messiah beloved and blessed by God, who will always be pleasing to God.
This messianic interpretation plays a dominant role in any Christian interpretation and is applied to the entire psalm. For example, the way in which Ezechias of Jerusalem, a priest from the first half of the fifth century applies verse 8 to the Incarnation of Christ in significant.
In his Second Homily on the Mother of God, he addresses the Virgin with the following words: “Of you and of him who was born of you, David does not cease to sing on the harp:
‘Arise, Lord, come to your resting place, you and your majestic ark’ (Psalm 132:8).” Who is ‘the majestic ark’?
Ezechias responds in this way: “Obviously the Virgin, the Mother of God, because, if you are the pearl, she quite rightly is the ark; if you are the sun, the Virgin will necessarily be called heaven;
and if you are the spotless flower, the Virgin will then be the plant of incorruption, the paradise of immortality” (Testi Mariani del Primo Millennio, I, Rome, 1988, pp. 532-533).