Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13
The responsorial psalm for Midnight Mass comes from Psalm 96, a hymn inviting all of humanity to praise God for his wonderful deeds. We use it in our celebration tonight to glorify the Lord for the salvation that has come to pass.
This psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with Isaiah 40-55, as does Psalm 98. Another version of the psalm is found in 1 Chronicles 16:23-33.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
Three times the psalmist calls for a song of praise, each time highlighting a different aspect of the song.
First, the song is to be a new one. This is only appropriate since their salvation has transformed them into a new people. No longer will laments be acceptable — the only kind of song worthy of the event of salvation that has unfolded before their very eyes is a hymn of praise.
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Second, the song is to be directed to all the earth or all the lands. There is a note of universality here: not just Israel, but all the earth is called upon to sing this hymn of praise.
While the primary meaning of the word ’eres designates the earth in a cosmological sense, a second and equally significant sense denotes a particular territory. One can conclude that in this psalm both the natural world and the human society within it are called to praise God.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
Finally, along with the call to sing is a summons to bless the name of the LORD. Since a name was thought to contain part of the very essence of the person, a call to bless God’s name is really a summons to give praise to some aspect of God’s character.
Announce his salvation, day after day. Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
The aspect of God’s character to be praised is the salvation he has brought about for the sake of Israel. All the earth is called to announce the good news of this salvation and to announce it unceasingly, day after day.
The glory (kābôd) of God refers to the visible manifestation of God’s splendor. While it is usually revealed in the Temple, here it is also associated with the wondrous deeds God has accomplished.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them! Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
The wondrous deeds of God lead the psalmist to invite all creation, even inanimate things, to rejoice.
The heavens are clearly regarded here as merely an element of natural creation; as such, they join in honoring their Creator. The inclusion of the sea, however, is interesting — the sea was traditionally regarded as a mythological force of chaos and evil. That it is portrayed here as merely a creation of God is quite significant, a poignant reference to God’s universal power.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
All the rejoicing is focused on an upcoming event, the advent of the LORD.
for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
The rejoicing itself does not overshadow the reason for the LORD’s coming, which is judgment. God will rule (also translated as “govern” or “judge”) the earth. As harsh as the notion of judgment may be, he does so with justice and faithfulness. God is indeed powerful, but he is also trustworthy.
Divine judgment is less a question of power than one of harmony and right order, and God’s rule is one of right order. Salvation itself, then, is really a return to this order. The judgment of God is really the establishment of harmony, the establishment of peace.