Psalm 118 held a prominent place in the liturgies of ancient Israel. It was a priestly psalm, a processional psalm, a Paschal psalm. But on Palm Sunday, it became a psalm fulfilled. Then the Hosannas sounded for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who entered Jerusalem riding a humble ass. The crowd went forward with branches, to the very threshold of the temple, crying out: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! To those who challenged His authority, our Lord, eternal High Priest and true Paschal Victim, would reply using the words of Psalm 118: Have you never read in the Scriptures: It was the stone which the builders rejected [that] has become the cornerstone. This is the work of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.


From the earliest centuries, the Church has taken Psalm 118 into her liturgy. Before the Consecration of every Mass, the faithful sing: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. * The leit-motif of the liturgy of the Easter Octave, dating back to at least the 8th century, likewise comes from Psalm 118: This is the day (Haec dies) the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!


Steeped as he was in the Church's liturgy,St. Francis of Assisi took to himself not only the sentiments, but even the very words of Psalm 118 as part of his life and his prayer. In a collage of texts known as the Exhortation to the Praise of God, Francis placed the verse This is the day at the center of his call to praise. He also included This is the day in the Eastertide Matins psalm for his Office of the Passion.


The Little Poor Man even took Psalm 118 a step further, including the Haec dies in the psalm prayed at every liturgical hour during the Christmas season. The verse the Church long associated with the risen Christ became for Francis the verse which best expressed his joy at the birth of the humble Christ lying in a manger. In one Spirit-filled swoop, the Seraphic Patriarch inextricably linked the mysteries of birth and rebirth, Incarnation and Resurrection, Christmas and Easter.


St. Francis would invite us to take yet another step on this pilgrimage of praise. For him, Psalm 118 was not only an Easter psalm and a Eucharistic psalm. It was a psalm for every day! Faith assures us that every span of 24 hours, with its joys and sorrows, challenges, hopes and sufferings, is a day which the Lord has made. Thus, we too have every reason to rejoice and be glad, for in those graced hours, the enduringly good Lord is working out our eternal salvation.

* The rich and multi-faceted Hebrew word Hosanna has been retained in both the Latin and English translations of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy) of the Mass.  In the current English version of the psalms used for the Liturgy of the Hours Hosanna  is translated: O Lord, grant salvation; O Lord, grant success.





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Psalm 118

 

III

Open to me the gates of holiness;
I will enter and give thanks.
This is the Lord's own gate
where the just may enter.
I will thank You
for You have answered
and You are my savior.
The stone
which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.
This is the day
the Lord has made;
let us rejoice
and be glad.
0 Lord,
grant salvation;
0 Lord,
grant success.
Blessed
is He who comes
in the name of the Lord.
We bless you
from the house of the Lord;
the Lord God is our light.
Go forward in procession with
branches even to the altar.
You are my God,
I thank You.
My God, I praise You.
Give thanks to the Lord
for He is good;
for His love endures forever.

 

This is the Day!
PART 16