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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Esther 4,5-17

Esther then summoned Hathach, an officer whom the king had appointed to wait on her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai and enquire what the matter was and why he was acting in this way.

Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the Chancellery,

and Mordecai told him what had happened to him personally, and also about the sum of money which Haman had offered to pay into the royal treasury to procure the destruction of the Jews.

He also gave him a copy of the edict of extermination published in Susa for him to show Esther for her information, with the message that she was to go to the king and implore his favour and plead with him for the race to which she belonged. (a) 'Remember your humbler circumstances,' he said, 'when you were fed by my hand. Since Haman, the second person in the realm, has petitioned the king for our deaths, (b) invoke the Lord, speak to the king for us and save us from death!'

Hathach came back and told Esther what Mordecai had said;

and she replied with the following message for Mordecai,

'Royal officials and people living in the provinces alike all know that for anyone, man or woman, who approaches the king in the private apartments without having been summoned there, there is only one law: he must die, unless the king, by pointing his golden sceptre towards him, grants him his life. And I have not been summoned to the king for the last thirty days.'

These words of Esther were reported to Mordecai,

who sent back the following reply, 'Do not suppose that, because you are in the king's palace, you are going to be the one Jew to escape.

No; if you persist in remaining silent at such a time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, but both you and your father's whole family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to the throne for just such a time as this.'

Whereupon Esther sent this reply to Mordecai,

'Go and assemble all the Jews now in Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink day or night for three days. For my part, I and my waiting-women shall keep the same fast, after which I shall go to the king in spite of the law; and if I perish, I perish.'

Mordecai went away and carried out Esther's instructions. (a) Then calling to mind all the wonderful works of the Lord, he offered this prayer: (b) Lord, Lord, Almighty King, everything is subject to your power, and there is no one who can withstand you in your determination to save Israel. (c) You have made heaven and earth, and all the marvels that are under heaven. You are the Master of the universe and no one can resist you, Lord. (d) You know all things, you, Lord, know that neither pride, self-esteem nor vainglory prompted me to do what I have done: to refuse to prostrate myself before proud Haman. Gladly would I have kissed the soles of his feet, had this assured the safety of Israel. (e) But what I have done, I have done, rather than place the glory of a man above the glory of God; and I shall not prostrate myself to anyone except, Lord, to you, and, in so doing, I shall not be acting in pride. (f) And now, Lord God, King, God of Abraham spare your people! For our ruin is being plotted, there are plans to destroy your ancient heritage. (g) Do not overlook your inheritance, which you redeemed from Egypt to be yours. (h) Hear my supplication, have mercy on your heritage, and turn our grief into rejoicing, so that we may live, Lord, to hymn your name. Do not suffer the mouths of those who praise you to perish. (i) And all Israel cried out with all their might, since death was staring them in the face. (k) Queen Esther also took refuge with the Lord in the mortal peril which had overtaken her. She took off her sumptuous robes and put on sorrowful mourning. Instead of expensive perfumes, she covered her head with ashes and dung. She mortified her body severely, and the former scenes of her happiness and elegance were now littered with tresses torn from her hair. She besought the Lord God of Israel in these words: (l) My Lord, our King, the Only One, come to my help, for I am alone and have no helper but you and am about to take my life in my hands. (m) I have been taught from infancy in the bosom of my family that you, Lord, have chosen Israel out of all the nations and our ancestors out of all before them, to be your heritage for ever; and that you have treated them as you promised. (n) But we have sinned against you and you have handed us over to our enemies for paying honour to their gods. Lord, you are upright. (o) But they are not satisfied with the bitterness of our slavery: they have pledged themselves to their idols to abolish the decree that your own lips have uttered, to blot out your heritage, to stop the mouths of those who praise you, to quench your altar and the glory of your House, (p) and instead to open the mouths of the heathen, to sing the praise of worthless idols and for ever to idolise a king of flesh. (q) Do not yield your sceptre, Lord, to what does not exist. Never let our ruin be matter for laughter. Turn these plots against their authors, and make an example of the man who leads the attack on us. (r) Remember, Lord; reveal yourself in the time of our distress. As for me, give me courage, King of gods and Master of all powers! (s) Put persuasive words into my mouth when I face the lion; change his feeling into hatred for our enemy, so that he may meet his end, and all those like him! (t) As for ourselves, save us by your hand, and come to my help, for I am alone and have no one but you, Lord. (u) You have knowledge of all things, and you know that I hate honours from the godless, that I loathe the bed of the uncircumcised, of any foreigner whatever. (w) You know I am under constraint, that I loathe the symbol of my high position bound round my brow when I appear at court; I loathe it as if it were a filthy rag and do not wear it on my days of leisure. (x) Your servant has not eaten at Haman's table, nor taken pleasure in the royal banquets, nor drunk the wine of libations. (y) Nor has your servant found pleasure from the day of her promotion until now except in you, Lord, God of Abraham. (z) O God, whose strength prevails over all, listen to the voice of the desperate, save us from the hand of the wicked, and free me from my fear!


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Haman - as he had decided after Mordecai’s slight in his regard - carries forward his plan of destroying the Jewish people. He depicts the people of Israel to the king as a danger for the unity of the kingdom, and he obtains a decree to destroy them. Haman resorts to the practice of casting lots in order to decide the day of the massacre, and the drawing indicates the month of Passover, with all that this means for the Jews. This is a long way off - almost a year - however. Meanwhile, the leaders, after having decreed the extermination, revel in tranquillity while the people are "thrown into confusion" (3:15). When the decree is known (in its Greek version it is a masterpiece of anti-Semitism!), the Jews are desolate and weeping, fasting and mourning; the first among them is Mordecai. Esther is shut up in the harem and learns only of the mourning; she therefore sends clothes so that Mordecai can go out and inform her of what is happening. However Mordecai doesn’t accept them and asks that Esther present herself to the king in order to prevent the destruction of their people. Esther informs him that the law of the place prohibits anyone to come to the presence of the king without having been called, under penalty of death, unless the king extends his sceptre toward him or her; moreover, the king has not called for her in a month, so she has no opportunity to do what she has been asked without violating the law. Mordecai then reminds her of her responsibility for the whole Jewish people - she cannot think only of her own salvation. The temptation to save oneself is an old as mankind, and it is part of an instinct that often continues to govern our life. But the biblical events insert into human history the love for the Lord and for his people as the culmination of the law. Mordecai makes Esther understand that she cannot save herself by herself. If she continues to be silent about her origins, she will perish like everyone else. In truth, the Lord guided the king’s choice of Esther as his queen, and now her vocation is revealed: to be the instrument of salvation for her people. Esther understands her "royal" responsibility and takes the initiative of proclaiming a fast for three days with the whole of the Jewish people, and decides to go before the king to defend the Jewish people against destruction.

Memory of the Poor