Pilgrimage Psalms – Journeying to the Temple of the Lord

Pilgrimage psalms or Songs of Ascent are recited by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage feasts or hag. Four levels of this going up to Jerusalem can be discerned: the physical journey, the reliving of the first ascent from Egypt at the Exodus, the ascent from Babylon at the return from the exile, the anticipation of the final ascent of all nations at the end of time.

Jun 19, 2021


By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam

Pilgrimage psalms or Songs of Ascent are recited by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage feasts or hag. Four  levels of this going up to Jerusalem can be discerned: the physical journey, the reliving of the first ascent from Egypt at the Exodus, the ascent from Babylon at the return  from the exile, the anticipation of the final  ascent of all nations at the end of time. 

Songs of Ascent (2) Ps 121 (122) DO  (Everyday Prayer) Wk 4 Sun Ev Pr. I pg 605; Dedication of a Church – pg 978;  Common of the BVM pg 992. 

The pilgrims have reached Jerusalem  after a hazardous journey. Imagine these  villagers or farmers coming to the gates  of the city, gazing at the buildings, the  palace, the streets and the Temple in the  middle. They are spellbound as they see a  city “strongly compact” (in Hebrew “well  united together”). They are filled with joy, for here is where the Temple is, the house  of the Lord. This is where God dwells. The psalmist plays on words like ‘shalom’ and ‘Jerushalaim’ = City of Peace. The city is the place where unity (“strongly compact”), peace (“shalom”), “law” and “judgement” are found. The scattered tribes will be reunited in peace and harmony. We can understand why Jerusalem  was so important for the Jews. It will be the symbol of a reunited Israel.

For his part, Jesus loved the Father’s  house, the Temple. Even at the age of  twelve he stayed back leaving his parents searching anxiously. We can picture  him going up to Jerusalem every year and  singing these psalms of ascent. He cried  over that city. He wanted them to repent  in unity and peace – a city that had killed  its prophets. He will enter the city as a  King, and here he will institute the Blessed  Eucharist, he will die and rise again. It is  here that the Church will blossom out with  Pentecost.

We pray this psalm on Saturday evening as we prepare for the Sunday Eucharist  where we will gather as one united body  greeting each other with ‘Shalom’. The  Church also uses this psalm during the  Dedication of a Church. This is because  Jerusalem and the Temple are now the  Church. The Church is also the symbol of  the Heavenly Jerusalem at the end of time.  For the Anniversary of the Dedication of  the Church, the prayer after communion  reads, “O God, who chose to foreshadow  for us the heavenly Jerusalem through the  sign of your Church on earth...” We pray  that the Church will be instrumental in  bringing about the unity, joy and peace  that was the longing of the Eternal King of  Peace, the Messiah. We recite this psalm  for the love of all the peoples of the world  (“my brethren, my friends”), as we pray  for peace. 

And finally, let us also remember that  the Church prays this psalm on the feasts  of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why? Because she is the Mother of the Church. The biblical title ‘Daughter of Jerusalem  (Sion)’ will later be applied to her in the  liturgy. Mary, like the Church, thus symbolizes Jerusalem. Another pilgrimage  psalm 126 (127) has an antiphon in the  Evening Prayer II (DO. pg 952) on the  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception,  “You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are  the joy of Israel! You are the highest honour of our race.” Read Ps 121(122) again  seeing Jerusalem as a physical reality, as a symbol of the heavenly throne of God and  a symbol of the Church and of Mary.

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