Msgr. Beaulieu – The Beatitudes

Twice in the liturgical year – the 4th Sunday in Year A and again on All Saints Day—the Gospel selected for those observances begins and will eventually include the setting of the entire Matthean discourse on the Mount by highlighting its opening section, universally known as the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12a). The Beatitudes serve as a sort of preamble to the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-7:29). The title “beatitude” comes from the Latin beatitudino or beatus, because the first word of each statement in the Latin Vulgate is beati, which translates the Matthean Greek word makarios (Gk. μακαριός) traditionally rendered in English as “blessed”. A beatitude (Latin) or makarism (Greek) is a statement in the indicative mood beginning with the adjective makarios, declaring certain people to be in a privileged state marked by fortunate circumstances. Some recent English versions translate makarios as “happy” or “fortunate”, which might seem more contemporary, but unfortunately places the verbal emphasis on feelings and not on states of being.

Eight primary statements of blessing make up the Beatitudes, with the ninth statement of blessing (5:11–12) usually considered to be an extension and personalization of the eighth beatitude for Jesus’ disciples who experience persecution. In their use, the beatitudes reflect the fact of their Jewish provenance and setting, namely, wisdom literature and prophecy. In the wisdom setting a beatitude declares the unmerited blessings of those in fortunate circumstances, based on observation and experience (e.g. Sir 25:7-9) and, then, a wisdom-inspired beatitude announces their present reward and happiness for whatever the corresponding situation they are in. In the prophetic setting, beatitudes declare present and future blessings for those who are currently in dire circumstances, but who will be vindicated at the coming of God’s kingdom.

These eight sayings declare an objective reality to be the result of a divine act (blessed) and not the subjective feeling of a person (happy). In covenantal language the opposite of “blessed” is not “unhappy,” but “cursed” (Mt 25:31-46). Moreover, these declarations are in the indicative mood so that the accompanying blessedness is the direct result of those who are committed to the future reality of the Kingdom of God. Each beatitude, like any prophetic word in Scripture, effects what it says, bringing into being what it succinctly identifies. Since these eight aphorisms are announced by Jesus, truly being based upon His authority, they incorporate an implicit claim in regard to who Jesus really is or denote an aspect of His divine nature. Since they also begin and end with a reference to heaven, the beatitudes are eschatological in their nature and, so, they are related to the ultimate questions of life, death, and eternal salvation. When taken together, these are declarations about the blessedness (Gk. μακαριότητα) of the community of disciples who are living in anticipation of God’s reign.

Matthew 5:2-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Luke 6:20-26

Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and

insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!

Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

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