In the First Book of Chronicles, we read that David appointed certain Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to celebrate, thank and praise the Lord, the God of Israel... to sing for the first time [certain] praises of the Lord. 1 Chron. 16:4, 7 At the heart of these certain praises was Psalm 96, which continued to be used for centuries in the liturgical assemblies of ancient Israel.

During His life on earth, our Lord as a faithful Jew regularly participated in the Temple liturgies. On His lips, Psalm 96 took on an even deeper meaning. Little did anyone realize that the young Rabbi from Nazareth would be the object of the new song in the eternal Jerusalem: You have redeemed us for God with Your own Blood! Rev. 5:9

In a sense, Psalm 96 was "made" for someone like St. Francis of Assisi. Its characteristic themes were at the heart of the Little Poor Man's prayer and personality: joy, praise, thanksgiving, love of the divine Name, desire to proclaim God's salvation, wonder and exultation before His creation.

But it is in an ancient gloss on the psalmodic text that we find the key to St. Francis' affinity for Psalm 96. Centuries before the Little Poor Man took up the Psalter, an unknown copyist made a significant addition to verse 10: Proclaim to the nations: "The Lord reigns!" With the addition of two words -- from (or, on) the wood -- Psalm 96 was taken up into the redemptive Incarnation. The Lord reigns from the wood! In his Gospel, St. Luke uses the same Greek word to describe both the wood of the Crib and the wood of the Cross. While St. Francis did not know the fine points of Greek, his Christ-centered heart quickly grasped that one could equally (and ecstatically) proclaim of both the Crib and the Cross: The Lord reigns from the wood!

Thus, in his Office of the Passion, the Little Poor Man used Psalm 96 for Christmas and for Holy Week. His poetic intuition had a strong liturgical foundation. Psalm 96 still has an honored place in the Church's liturgy — at Christmas as the responsorial psalm for Midnight Mass, and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross as part of the Office of Readings.

Psalm 96 continues to invite the People of God to celebrate, thank and praise the Lord who pitched His tent among us. It invites us to see the big picture of salvation and to rejoice that the Lord reigns — humble in the manger, hanging on the Cross, hidden in the Eucharist: For the Most Holy Child has been given to us and has been born for us on the way and placed in the manger because He did not have a place in the inn. Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad, let the sea and all within it thunder praise, let the land and all it bears rejoice! 0 sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord, all the earth! Offer your bodies and carry His holy Cross and follow His most holy commands even to the end.
excerpt from the Psalm for Christmastide from the Office of the Passion





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Part 11
The Lord Reigns

Psalm 96

 

O sing a new song to the Lord,

sing to the Lord, all the earth!

 O sing to the Lord,

bless His name.

Proclaim His help day by day,

tell among the nations His glory

and His wonders among all the peoples!

 

The Lord is great and worthy of praise,

to be feared above all gods;

the gods of the heathens are naught.

It was the Lord who made the heavens,

His are majesty and state and power

and splendor in His holy place.

Give the Lord,

 you families of peoples,

give the Lord glory and power!

Give the Lord

the glory of His Name.

Bring an offering

and enter His courts!

Worship the Lord in His temple.

O earth, tremble before Him!

Proclaim to the nations:

“The Lord reigns!”

The world He made firm in its place;

He will judge the peoples in fairness.

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,

let the sea and all within it thunder praise,

let the land and all its bears rejoice!

Let all the trees of the wood shout for joy

at the presence of the Lord for He comes,

He comes to rule the earth.

With justice He will rule the world,

He will judge the peoples with His truth.