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Psalm 122
The Authorized Version (King James Bible)
(A Song of degrees of David.)
I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the LORD.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel,
to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

The Book of Psalms is the “prayer book” of the Bible. Many of the Psalms, including the one Scott just read, are subtitled “a Song.” It’s an indication that these texts are not originally written prayers, but sung prayers. They are the lyrics to songs that we no longer know the melodies for. In a certain sense, reading the psalms is like reading the Worship hymnals we have in our pews at the Cathedral—we miss out on a lot without the music!  That’s why in the Sunday liturgy, the psalms—whether at Mass or at the Liturgy of the Hours—are sung, while other texts, like the Scriptures and prayers, are usually spoken.
The full subtitle for Psalm 122 is “A song of degrees of David”—the word “degrees” here meaning steps. (Another translation is “Songs of Ascent.”) Where are these steps leading us? To Jerusalem!  The Book of Psalms contains fifteen of these “Songs of Ascent,” Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. They are thought to be songs sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem is set on a hill, you always ascend, you go “up” to Jerusalem, no matter which direction you are coming from.
This psalm has two distinct parts. The first part expresses the joy of the pilgrim. The very idea of going to Jerusalem makes this pilgrim happy:  “I was glad when they said unto me, / Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Just being in Jerusalem is an event; setting foot on that holy ground is an experience in itself, worth taking note of: “our feet are standing within your gates” (NABRE translation). The psalmist marvels at the city, “compact together”—Jerusalem is an image of strength, unity, community. The psalmist recalls the significance of Jerusalem, which is both the religious and the political center of Israel. This is where people of all the tribes of Israel go to give thanks to God, and it is also the place of the “thrones of judgment,” the government of the nation.
In the second part of the psalm, there is an invitation to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The very name “Jerusalem” means city of “shalom,” city of peace. The psalmist prays for peace and prosperity for the city and those who dwell there. In her commentary on this Psalm, Sister Dianne Bergant CSA has written, “These prayers are for peace in the broadest sense, not merely for the absence of conflict. Such peace is really a state of wholeness and contentment, of fulfillment and prosperity. Jerusalem, chosen and blessed by God, was a symbol of this all-encompassing peace and a sign of promise for all those who traveled to it on religious pilgrimage.” (New Collegeville Bible Commentary)
At the end of the psalm, the pilgrim broadens this prayer to include all the relatives and friends of the pilgrim: “For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. / Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.” To quote Bergant again, this last prayer “may refer to those unable to make the pilgrimage.” The pilgrim, overjoyed to be standing, at last, in Jerusalem, does not forget those who cannot be present, but brings them along in prayer. The spiritual benefit of the pilgrimage to this holy city overflows from the pilgrim, all the way home.
Later this month, more than 100 pilgrims from the Cathedral parish will travel to the Holy Land. The high point—geographically and spiritually!—will be the journey “up” to Jerusalem, to trace the footsteps of Jesus from the Temple Mount, to Gethsemane, to the Holy Sepulchre, which encloses the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection. As in Psalm 122, there will be joy in beholding Jerusalem’s walls, and simply being in the holy places. But pilgrims, unlike tourists, have a job to do—and that is to pray. Like the psalmist of old, each of our pilgrims will bring with them all their family and friends, all who have asked for prayers, all who cannot make the journey. “For love of my kindred and friends I say ‘Peace upon you!’ / For love of the house of the Lord, I will ask for your good.”
We tend to think of pilgrimage as an individual journey—but as Psalm 122 reminds us, a pilgrimage is always a community event. So, whether you are traveling to Israel or not, we will be with you, in Jerusalem.

Corinna Laughlin





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