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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

1 Maccabees 4, 36-61

Judas and his brothers then said, 'Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it.'

So they marshalled the whole army, and went up to Mount Zion.

There they found the sanctuary deserted, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt down, and vegetation growing in the courts as it might in a wood or on some mountain, while the storerooms were in ruins.

They tore their garments and mourned bitterly, putting dust on their heads.

They prostrated themselves on the ground, and when the trumpets gave the signal they cried aloud to Heaven.

Judas then ordered his men to keep the Citadel garrison engaged until he had purified the sanctuary.

Next, he selected priests who were blameless and zealous for the Law

to purify the sanctuary and remove the stones of the 'Pollution' to some unclean place.

They discussed what should be done about the altar of burnt offering which had been profaned,

and very properly decided to pull it down, rather than later be embarrassed about it since it had been defiled by the gentiles. They therefore demolished it

and deposited the stones in a suitable place on the hill of the Dwelling to await the appearance of a prophet who should give a ruling about them.

They took unhewn stones, as the Law prescribed, and built a new altar on the lines of the old one.

They restored the Holy Place and the interior of the Dwelling, and purified the courts.

They made new sacred vessels, and brought the lamp-stand, the altar of incense, and the table into the Temple.

They burned incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lamp-stand, and these shone inside the Temple.

They placed the loaves on the table and hung the curtains and completed all the tasks they had undertaken.

On the twenty-fifth of the ninth month, Chislev, in the year 148 they rose at dawn

and offered a lawful sacrifice on the new altar of burnt offering which they had made.

The altar was dedicated, to the sound of hymns, zithers, lyres and cymbals, at the same time of year and on the same day on which the gentiles had originally profaned it.

The whole people fell prostrate in adoration and then praised Heaven who had granted them success.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering burnt offerings, communion and thanksgiving sacrifices.

They ornamented the front of the Temple with crowns and bosses of gold, renovated the gates and storerooms, providing the latter with doors.

There was no end to the rejoicing among the people, since the disgrace inflicted by the gentiles had been effaced.

Judas, with his brothers and the whole assembly of Israel, made it a law that the days of the dedication of the altar should be celebrated yearly at the proper season, for eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of the month of Chislev, with rejoicing and gladness.

They then proceeded to build high walls with strong towers round Mount Zion, to prevent the gentiles from coming and riding roughshod over it as in the past.

Judas stationed a garrison there to guard it; he also fortified Beth-Zur, so that the people would have a fortress confronting Idumaea.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

After the victory over the Syrian army led by Lysias, Judas and his people went to Jerusalem. Once they entered the city they went towards the temple and a dramatic scene stood before their eyes: “There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins” (v. 38). The sacred author mentions the sorrow and grief of all the people of Judah for that which they saw. It is written in the text, “Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven” (vv. 39-40). Judas decided that a group of his should hold in check the Syrian garrison that was barricaded in the Akra [citadel] of the city, while he would provide for the purification of the temple and the restoration of worship. First he had the altar that the pagans had transformed and utilized to celebrate the “desolating sacrilege” (1:54) destroyed. The stones that had been profaned were put in a secluded spot awaiting the rise of a prophet who could clarify their placing. It is not always clear what needs to be done and it can be wise to wait for the Lord to inspire appropriate words. In any case, it was urgent to rebuild the sanctuary. So, they immediately began to work to reconstruct the altar, “according to the law”, that is, with unhewn stones, not touched by iron, because that would desecrate the stone, as the law of Moses directs (Ex 20:25). According to Jewish tradition, also the Torah could not be written with a metal pen, the material used to make instruments of war. The story of the construction of the altar and its consecration reveals the centrality that the worship to the Lord assumes for the religiousness that Judas affirms in his people. The celebration took place in the year 164 BC, exactly three years after Antiochus had begun to offer sacrifices to idols (1:59). The celebration lasted eight days, the same as the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 K 8:65-66) and the Feast of Booths. The author confirms that the sacrifice was celebrated “according to the Law.” This is to say that the true worship of the Lord was restored, and all the people could express their joy that repaid them for the pain they had felt before, when they saw the desecration of the altar. On this occasion it was not simply a restoration of the stones, but a recovery of the covenant which was to be lived with fidelity by all the people of Israel. This is why the festival of the Dedication was established to be celebrated every year in the month of December. It is a celebration that the evangelist John remembers with the Greek name Encaenia (10:22) and is still celebrated today by the Jews with the name of Hanukkah, which means precisely “dedication.”

Prayer for peace