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Vol. IX, July 2003

 

"The Heavens Declare His Righteousness" (Ps 50:4-6)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In Psalm 50, we are led towards the "home" of the angels, to their heart. The entire Psalm focuses on the majesty and glory of God, which is their only interest, their life and love. The Psalmist says:

The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes, He does not keep silence, before Him is a devouring fire, round about Him a mighty tempest. (Ps 50:1-3)

The majesty of God is a perspective which is esteemed so much by the angels, that they often speak not just of God, but of the "glory of God" (cf. e.g. Tob 12:12; Rev 4:11; 5:12; but also when the devil tries to deceive and blind even Our Lord by referring to the Father’s glory, Mt 4:8). When there is "before Him a devouring fire, and round about Him a mighty tempest", that is, when the material nature lifts up its "voice" as He passes, can we not believe that the holy angels also accompany God? Saint John has found the holy angels to be so majestic (cf. Rev 10:1 or 19:6,10), that they are somehow a shadow of His glory. But we might already in these two expressions, with St. Paul, read a direct reference to the holy angels, as "He made [His ministers] a fire and flame" (cf. Heb 1:7 and Ps 104:4). They are with Him, even as it were, clothed with Him. They reflect His splendor, His beauty and power. Where He is, there they are; and where they are, there is He.

1. "That is a sacrifice which pleases God, the sacrifice of thanksgiving."

Soon after the announcement of God’s coming, "He calls to the heavens above". These are the angels with whom man has communion through faith and charity (cf. CCC 336). Further, He calls "to the earth, that He may judge His people". His order is to "gather to Me My faithful ones, who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice!" (v. 5). These are the members of the Chosen People, those faithful to the Law of Moses, and in the New Testament, the baptized Christians. Then he says, "The heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge" (Ps 50:4-6).

a) To gather men to God is a special mission of the angels.

Often God calls His angels to gather His people around Him. Especially well known is the call at the end of time, when Jesus will come "on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory…He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Mt 24:31). He will be accompanied by the angels in His coming for the final Judgement (cf. Mt 25:31). "At the close of the age: The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire...and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt 13:43; cf. 13:49-50).

To call man to God was and is and ever will be the special mission of the angels. These messengers of God called the shepherds near Bethlehem to adore the newborn Son of God; they guided the deacon Philip to the non-baptized (cf. Acts 8:26); and the pagan, Cornelius, to Peter, the priest (cf. Acts 10:3). How often the angels call men to prayer and try to gather them together around the altar for the Holy Sacrifice!

b) "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving."

Here, in this Psalm, God is not speaking of the last Judgement. He just wants to call all together to teach them a fundamental lesson about religion. He is correcting the external custom of offering animals to God: "I will accept no bull from your house, nor he-goat from your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills…Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" (vv. 9-11). God wants to elevate His people to a spiritual practice of religion: "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me" (vv. 14-15).

It is an instruction, a correction and purification of a religious attitude, a maturation from the material sacrifice to the spiritual. He calls for a form of worship which is similar to the ever-praising angels and corresponds more perfectly to God as a pure spirit. The angels do not give this instruction, but God Himself. The holy angels, however, can call and enjoy calling the people together for such a lesson because they themselves are a living sacrifice of joy and thanksgiving. Each one is a living flame of God’s glorification, of the acknowledgment of His goodness with them and men.

2. "The heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge!"

To make a declaration means to give an oral or written statement about a fact known first hand. In its most eminent form, someone vouches for the truth of his declaration by offering the pledge of his life. How do these heavenly flames declare God’s righteousness?

a) The proper being of the angels is a proof of His righteousness.

The angels are, in their existential and personal form, witnesses of the righteousness of God. What He does, is well done, and no one can reclaim. This is an indication of their silent being. Being and doing are not identical in the angels. Therefore, the metaphysical principle, agere sequitur esse–doing follows being–applies to them as well. As intense as is their active and constant conformity with God, and as total as is their disposition and selfless obedience in collaboration with God’s plan, so intensely and even more so do they reflect God. They reflect Him clearly in and through their being as their Creator, in His goodness and beauty, in His justice and righteousness.

We are familiar with this kind of "declaration": Is not every child a reflection of its parents? Are not the human Saints, while on earth, already an indication of the trustworthiness and goodness of God? They give testimony first by their charity, then by their deeper way of being, by their calming presence, their controlled and pondered way of walking, their indescribable way of looking, etc.

b) The angels’ Soli Deo is a proof of God’s righteousness.

A second way in which they "declare His righteousness" is by their blissful total surrender; their adherence with intellect and will to God’s wisdom and love; the life, in which they think what God thinks, and love what He loves. But, notwithstanding the angels’ proximity to God and even their beatific vision, God is still for them an inscrutable mystery. For "He dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). There is an infinite abyss between the angels and God, just as infinite as that existing between man and God. However, by the bliss of God’s work and His activities, they know far better than man the "breath and length and height and depth" of God’s work, its origin and all the marvelous interior order and harmony which God has placed into creation. Therefore, they prostrate themselves before His majesty with much more conviction than men. They surrender themselves totally, recognizing His sovereignty and His full rights over them. The holy angels are captivated by the adoration of the Divine Mystery and fulfilled by it.

This explains how they declare in one way the righteousness of God, and at the same time justify that "He is judge". They testify first through their total consecration to God, and then by their happiness in Him and over having chosen "SOLI DEO". Thereby they testify that He is just, righteous and correct, and that no falsehood is found in Him. Their thirst for wisdom is totally quenched in the contemplation of God’s perfection and beauty; their hunger for happiness, the possession of what is good, is completely satisfied by their life in the immediate presence of the Supreme Good which is God alone. In consequence, they seek to convince man with all their being and doing, that God is the great, perfect good; that He is omnipotent and full of love for each and every creature. They want to lead man to the adoration of his Creator. The heavens then, the holy angels, declare God’s righteousness by the splendor of their being and by the happiness of their doing.

3. We form one family with the angels.

Jesus said: "These very works, which I am doing, bear Me witness that the Father has sent Me" (Jn 5:36). But then He said to His disciples, "He who has seen Me", just as I am here with you, "has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). God sent the holy angels to make their declaration at the moment He wanted to perfect the religion of His people, spiritualizing their sacrifices. Were not the flaming fires and the tremendous storm on Mount Sinai at the making of the Covenant an awesome angelic witness to the holiness and justice of God? Having this profound and most perfect declaration of the angels before us, we might understand God’s requests for the sacrifice of thanksgiving in this way: Tell your human brothers, that I wish them to unite with you angels to form one family in praise and thanksgiving of God.

If we look at our priestly mission we can understand this easily. In the depth of our heart, we all know that the key and essential part of our sacerdotal mission is the lived conviction of faith, the lived consecration and love for God, sought in contemplation and adoration of His presence in the tabernacle! This can even be a silent, wordless declaration, yet one that is true and convincing. There is no lack of words today. What is wanting is the testimony of life. Is this not precisely the angelic attitude and the distinctive moment, the secret of the pastoral "success" of Saint John Maria Vianney, the patron of parish priests, and of Saint Padre Pio de Pietrelcino, the shining star among priests of the twentieth century?

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In view of this most honorable petition by God, let us select three points:

God sends His angels out to call His people to Him. Can we not hear Him saying to us, "Be open and vigilant for the invitation of the holy angels. And you too, send the holy angels out to gather the parishioners to the holy Mass!"

God instructs His people about a better way of worshipping Him. We priests should be the principal catechist in the parish, first, by the very witness of our consecrated life as a priest, then from the pulpit, in the school, in the prayer meetings and on other occasions in the parish.

God asks for a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We should gather the faithful and unite ourselves with Our Lady and the holy angels to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Similarly, where opportunity permits, it would be great to say the Liturgy of the Hours together with a confrere. True, it may take a bit more time, but it reflects the mystery of the Church, whose prayer it is. Moreover, did our Lord not promise, "where two or more are gathered in My Name, I am with them". In any case, we can and should always ask our angel to pray with us, and Christ will fulfill his promise.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC