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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

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Song of Songs 1, 5-6

BELOVED: I am black but lovely, daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the pavilions of Salmah.

Take no notice of my dark colouring, it is the sun that has burnt me. My mother's sons turned their anger on me, they made me look after the vineyards. My own vineyard I had not looked after!


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

These few verses bring back the voice of the woman who says to the "daughters of Jerusalem", the aristocratic women of the city, "I am black and beautiful." For most of the society of that time, tanned skin was considered a sign of lower social status because it meant that one worked in the fields. The aristocratic "daughters of Jerusalem," the ladies of aristocracy seem to reproach her for her condition and belittle her claim of love as being too lofty. Instead of resigning to their judgement, she defends herself, "I am black and beautiful". Moreover, she says that her brothers (in the Middle Eastern societies, brothers administered discipline on their sisters) had found fault with her (perhaps for her infidelity as would suggest the following admission: "my own vineyard, I have not kept!") and made her work in the family vineyards. Her tanned skin is therefore indicative of an offence and not of social status. Nevertheless, while their negative judgement weighs her down, it does not stop her. Indeed, she does not resign herself to ideals of beauty established by the majority. The extraordinary love that she has for her lover enables her to overcome every obstacle. She does not accept their judgement and proudly affirms that her punishment does not diminish her beauty. On the contrary, she is beautiful because she is black: her punishment has made her even more beautiful. Clearly, she extols a conception of beauty that is far from that of the aristocratic women of Jerusalem. The comparisons that she makes on the one hand seem disconcerting and on the other, enable us to intuit the criteria of beauty that she extols: she boasts of her darkened skin by comparing it to the tents of the nomadic tribe of "Chedar" and to the curtains of Solomon. The woman undoubtedly evokes the tent of that nomadic tribe but also evokes the "tent" in the desert in the presence of God. The reference to the curtains of the temple of Solomon leads us to think also of God’s dwelling. Yes, beauty for this woman is the bond with the king, that is, the Lord. Her beauty consists in the passionate desire to be embraced by the Lord. The desire for God overcomes every weakness and infidelity; even more than passionate love transforms everything into something beautiful and salvific. The Targum paraphrases with these words in verse 5, "When the people of the house of Israel made the calf, their faces turned black like the sons of Cush who dwell in the tent of Chedar but when they repented and were pardoned, the splendid glory of their faces became like those of the angels since they made their tents for the tabernacle and the Shekinah came to dwell with them." We can conclude by saying that beauty is found not in riches and satisfaction but in the poverty that welcomes the Lord. When visited by God, our weakness becomes strength; when God dwells in us, our ugliness caused by sin is transformed into beauty. Our salvation is raised up by the Lord, from the dust to the heights of heaven.

Memory of the Mother of the Lord

Calendar of the week
Sunday, 22 October
Liturgy of the Sunday
Monday, 23 October
Memory of the Poor
Tuesday, 24 October
Memory of the Mother of the Lord
Wednesday, 25 October
Memory of the Saints and the Prophets
Thursday, 26 October
Memory of the Church
Friday, 27 October
Memory of Jesus crucified
Saturday, 28 October
Memory of the Apostles
Sunday, 29 October
Liturgy of the Sunday