Title: The First of the Sabbath, a Psalm of David.
Tomasi. That Christ sets the Church redeemed by His Blood above the waves of the sea. The voice of the Church after baptism. Concerning the beginning of the Church in which the princes of idols are excluded, and the kings of the same Church enter therein, and of the confirmation of the believing people. The gates of which he speaks are sins, or the gates of hell.
Venerable Bede. The first of the Sabbath signifies the Lord's Day, which is the first day after the Sabbath, on which day the Lord arose from the dead. And because the whole Psalm is sung after the Resurrection, therefore this title is well fitted to admonish the hearts of the faithful. After the Resurrection of the Lord the Prophet becomes more joyful; addresses the human race then labouring with various superstitions ; defining in the first part that the whole of the universe is the Lord's and, as no one was excepted from His empire, so none should believe anything opposed to His faith. In the second place, he determines with what virtues they are endued who are set in His Church. Thirdly, he speaks lovingly to the heathen, that turning to the service of the true God they depart from their harmful perversity.
(1) The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof: the compass of the world and all that dwell therein.
Whether or not this psalm was composed, as is probable, for the feast of bringing up the Ark from the house of Obed Edom to Mount Sion, at all events it was appropriated by the Jews to the first day of the week, and for many centuries has been used by the Church in the Sunday matins. St. Paul uses this verse to settle the controversy regarding meat offered to idols [I Cor. x. 26.], which, like everything else, belongs to God, and could not really be affected by its pretended dedication to the idols that are nothing in the world. It is used in a very beautiful sense by the Greeks in the funeral service at the moment when the coffin is let down into the grave, that is, of the multitude of the bodies of the faithful who there are awaiting His Second Coming ; Innocent III. made use of it as an argument for the paying of tithes ; as if it were not much for man to return the tenth of that which belongs to God entirely.
And all that is therein. Notice the difference between the blessing of Jacob and Esau, which at first sight seems precisely the same. God, says Isaac to Jacob, give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine [Gen. xxvii.] ; while that of Esau was : Behold thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. [Ibid. 39. ], The difference consists in this : in one, heaven is put first, as imparting a true benediction to earth ; in the other it is mentioned last, as having no real lot or portion in the matter. Origen observes that till the time of our Lord's Advent the earth's fulness was not as yet; as it is written : Of His fulness have we all received [John i. 16.].
The compass of the world, or the round world as it is called in another psalm. Albert the Great remarks that this shows that the Church is not now, as of old, confined to one land and to one nation, but spread abroad over the whole face of the earth. The earth is the Lord's. And yet, says Gerohus, the devil, the father of lies, ventured to say to its rightful owner : All this will I give Thee and the glory of it, for that is delivered unto me and unto whomsoever I will give it [Luke iv. 6.]. Be, then, says the commentator, like Him Who did not say in return: The earth is Mine and the fulness thereof! and not like the great dragon, which said : My river is mine own and I made it for myself [Ezek. xxix. 3.]. And notice the different way in which our Lord met two false claims of possession, Satan's and Pilate's. Satan's boast—This is mine—was only answered by a dismissal : Get thee hence, Satan. Pilate's speech— Knowest Thou not that I have power? —was met with an argument : Thou couldst have no power at all against Me except it were given thee [John xix. 10, II.]. Satan, to whom no place was left for repentance, was not thought worthy of a reply ; Pilate, who might yet have been saved, was. The earth is the Lord's, and therefore it was well and wisely ordered that, just before her Lord and Possessor came to visit her, There went out a decree from Ccesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed [Luke ii. 1.].
(2) For He hath founded it upon the seas and prepared it upon the floods.
The literal sense of this verse is much disputed, but two explanations stand prominent above the rest. The one, St. Augustine's, is that since, by the Lord's command, the waters were gathered together in one place, in order that the dry land might appear, so, in a certain sense, the earth may be said to be formed by, or founded upon, this gathering together of the waters. The other explanation, which the Greek fathers adopt, is that of. the earth being founded on, or fashioned by, the admixture of water, without which they say it would become dust and crumble away. But in the mystical sense, the seas may be taken for troubles and temptations, in which the earth, that is, the Church dispersed throughout the world, is founded ; while the floods signify the effusion of God's grace, by which also She is established. The bitter water and the sweet water, says Albert the Great, are both equally necessary for her : The waves of the sea that are mighty and rage horribly [Ps. xciii. 3.] on the one side ; the rivers of the flood that make glad the City of God [Cf. Ps. xlv. 4.] on the other. St. Ambrose understands both the seas and the floods of one and the same thing, namely, tribulation. In tribulation, says he, the Church is founded, in tempests and storms, in anxieties and griefs ; and it is prepared in the floods of adversities.
(3) Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord ? and who shall stand in His holy place ?
It is, says Gerohus, as if we, yet tossed about by the waves and storms of this world, these waves in which the Church is founded, were asking the way to that Mountain of heavenly peace, whither our Lord has already ascended as of old time, to pray for us. It is the same thing that is written : Come ye and let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob [Isa. ii. 3.]. Many will say, let us go up, but here the prophets ask : who, of all that number, shall ascend ? seeing that many are called but few are chosen [Matt. xx. 16. ]. And having gone up, who shall stand in that holy place ? But the interpretations of this hill are endless. Some take it for the Church militant; some the Church triumphant; some understand it of Christ Himself, in which they are authorised by that prophecy of Daniel when Nebuchodonosor beheld the stone cut out without hands which became a great mountain and filled the whole earth [Dan. ii. 34.]. Others, strangely enough, explain it of Satan; some of the state of perfection; and some of the Cross. But the explanation which sees in it the heavenly mountain— the mount of God, the rich mountain [Ps.Ixvii. 15.], Mount Sion, the City of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [Heb. xii. 22.], as the Apostle writes, is by far the best and the truest. And no doubt there is an allusion to those mountains into which Moses, Lot, Aaron and Elias were commanded by God to go.
(4) Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart, that hath not lifted up his mind to vanity nor sworn to deceive his neighbour.
Now we come to the four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible : (1) He that hath clean hands —abstinence from evil-doing; (2) and a pure heart —abstinence from evil thought; (3) that hath not lifted up his mind to vanity — who does that duty he is sent into the world to do : Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is all man [Eccle. xii. 13.] ; (4) nor sworn to deceive —and remember the vows by which he is bound to God. Father Lorin remarks, that as in the fullest sense there was but One in Whom all these things were fulfilled, so, in reply to the question : Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord, he might well answer : No man hath ascended up into heaven save He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man Who is in heaven [John iii. 13.]. Therefore it is well written, says St. Bernard, that such a high priest became us ; because He knows the difficulties of the ascent to the heavenly mountain. He knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.
He that hath clean hands. So clean that they cleansed the leprosy ; so clean that they not only healed all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, but were stretched out to pardon sin ; so clean that the streams which poured from them on the Cross are to the cleansing of all evil deeds till the world's end. Thus Gerohus.
And a pure heart. Who, says St. Bernard, can conceive, much more express, the purity of that shrine, that Heart, where purity strove with love, which should have the pre-eminence, in a most sweet and tender contest—never to be decided ; that Heart, which, being opened by the spear, gave access to all guilty, all polluted creatures; offered a hiding-place in the Rock from the anger that consumed a corrupted world.
That hath not lifted up his mind to vanity. No, for being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with
God [Phil. ii. 6.], He yet made Himself a worm and no man [Ps. xxi. 7.]. Nor sworn to deceive his neighbour. That promise to redeem man, that declaration that the Woman should bruise the serpent's head [Gen. iii. 15.] was, as St. Paul says, a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. And therefore that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible that God should lie, we may have strong consolation [Heb. vi. 18.].
(5) He shall receive the blessing from the Lord : and mercy from the God of his salvation.
Whether like Abraham entertaining angels unawares, or like miserable Lazarus, carried by the same angels into Abraham's bosom, he shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness, that is, love and mercy, so called, because faithfully promised, and therefore righteously bestowed. So Gerohus.
Of his salvation. And notice here, again, the appropriating pronoun ; the God of the salvation of all men is spoken of as the God of his salvation only who is thus blessed. Thus Father Lorin.
Mercy. And yet St. Augustine, commenting on such passages as this and those others which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give in that day [2 Tim. iv. 8.], That they may have a right to the Tree of Life [Apoc. xxii. 14.], and the like, says beautifully : He, O Lord, that enumerates to Thee his true merits, what else does he count up but Thy gifts ? And in another place: When God crowns our own merits He only crowns His own gifts. Yet it is better to see in this and the following verse the connection of the Head with the members, of the Captain with His soldiers, of the King with His people. He, that is, our Lord and Saviour, shall receive the blessing; and not only He but faithful people with Him ; for it is written :—
(6) This is the generation of them that seek Him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Because this mountain is so difficult to climb, because this Law of God is so hard for unaided nature to keep, therefore it might well be thought that only two or three in an age, nay, perhaps only He Who is righteous, had been able to ascend it. This verse, Albert the Great remarks, shows how mistaken such an idea is. St. Bernard distinguishes these generations : The first, those who remain yet unbaptised, who neither seek nor are sought by God ; the second, those who are sought by God in baptismal regeneration, but who seek Him not because not crucifying and utterly abolishing the whole body of sin ; the third, those who both seek and are sought, having been found by Him in baptism, and finding Him every day in earnest prayer and holy life; the fourth, those who seek Him in a more special sense as having entirely given themselves up to Him in the religious life.
That seek the face of the God of Jacob. He Whom we seek is called the God of Jacob to signify that we also must struggle and wrestle as did that patriarch until the breaking of the day [Gen. xxxii. 24.], if we would attain Him ; according to Jacob's words : I will not let Thee go till Thou hast blessed me [Ibid. v. 26.] ; which lesson in earnestness of prayer is also taught by the double repetition : Them that seek Him; even of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob. On which says Venerable Bede : That seek Thy face ! But what shall it be when the seeking shall have passed and the finding shall have begun ? When we shall not only behold the goodly pearl, but, having sold all we had, merit to purchase it; when the time of prayer is over and that of praise shall have begun
St. Bernard says :
["Jesu, the hope of souls forlorn,
How good to them for sin that mourn !
To them that seek Thee O how kind,
But what art Thou to them that find ?"
Jesu dulcis memoria.].
(7) Lift up your gates O ye princes and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors ; and the King of Glory shall come in.
There are six principal meanings of this verse. The first applies to Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday after His many wanderings, even as the Ark finally rested on Mount Sion. The second, adopted by St. Gregory the Great, refers it to our Lord's descent into hell, His bursting the gates of brass, and smiting the bars of iron in sunder [Isaias xlv. 2.]. St. Epiphanius (536) has, in one of his sermons, a magnificent passage in which he represents our Lord attended by an army of angels, Michael and Gabriel in the fore-ranks, demanding admission at hell-gate, bursting open the unwilling doors, tearing them from their hinges, casting them forth into the abyss, commanding that they shall never be raised any more. Christ, he exclaims, Christ the Door is present; unto God the Lord belong the issues of death [Migne, P. L., xliii. p. 458 (Inter dubia).]. The third signification would see in this verse the exclamation of the angels attending our ascending Lord. O faith, exclaims Gerohus, O eternal gate by whose present vision thou art perfected and exalted ! And thou, O hope of the elect, which fixed on eternal blessings canst never disappoint, now exult, now rejoice, for lo, the King of Glory is about to enter in, to disappoint His servants of no part of the blessings which have been promised by thee. The fourth meaning, St. Augustine's, is that the princes are the kings of the world who are called, by accepting the Gospel, to permit the King of Glory to enter into their several territories. This would give to the verse the idea of a prayer for the Propagation of the Faith that the earth which is the Lord's might be His by faith, hope, and charity. The fifth meaning sees in the verse a prophecy of the Incarnation ; and on this account it forms the offertory in the Mass for the Vigil of Christmas. This sense is adopted by St. Jerome, though here also he would find a spiritual reference to the virtual opening of the gates of heaven by the fact of our Lord taking flesh. The sixth interpretation is in this wise : Ye who were once the sharers of sin, but are now not only free, but princes, as gods, kings, and priests, lift up your gates, removing the barriers which sin puts between you and God, and those once gone be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors of virtue and holiness which cannot pass away, and then the King of Glory shall enter His palace of the believing soul. So St. Bruno, and Richard Rolle [Richard Rolle of Hampoole (1290-1349) was a Yorkshire hermit and mystical
writer of great piety. He is sometimes called the English Bonaventura.], after Origen.
(8) Who is this King of Glory ? The Lord strong and mighty ; the Lord mighty in battle.
The explanation of this must, of course, depend on the meaning we have attached to the previous verse. If that demand was addressed to the spirits of darkness, then the attendant angels may well speak of the victories won by the Lord in former days ; now for His people Israel when He overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea ; when the walls of Jericho fell down at the blast of the trumpet; when the seven nations were cast out before the chosen tribes ; the victories over their enemies from the possession of the Holy Land till the overthrow of Antiochus. If we see in the demand the voice of the triumphant angels at the Ascension, well may they speak of the Lord mighty in battle, when Satan and all his hosts, when sin, and death, and hell have first been utterly routed. The words of Vieira are well worth notice : When Christ ascended in triumph to heaven the angels who accompanied Him said to those who kept guard : Lift up, 0 ye Princes, your gates, and the King of Glory shall come in. They think the term strange ; and before opening the portal they enquire : Who is the King of Glory ? To the one and for the other band St. Augustine replies with these noble words : The heavenly spirits beheld Christ all glorious with His wounds ; and bursting into admiration at those glittering standards of divine virtue, they poured forth the hymn, Who is this King of Glory ? Wonderful saying ! Christ our Lord in the day of His Ascension went arrayed with glorious gifts like the blessed One that He was ; but the angels call Him not the King of Glory because they saw Him glorious, but because they saw Him wounded. Far greater glory for Christ and for the angels were those marks of His passion than the endowments of His blessedness. Or again, if we refer the former verse to the Annunciation, the question here is only that of our ever dear and blessed Lady. Who is the King of Glory? And herein we adore with her the greatness of His love, that the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, did not abhor the Virgin's Womb and vouchsafed to dwell there till her days were accomplished [Luke ii. 6.].
(9) Lift up, O ye princes, your gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.
(10) Who is the King of Glory ? Even the Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
Only one observation remains upon the repeated demand and reply. In the first, according to St. Augustine, the Lord victorious over the grave, was ascending into heaven alone, so far as human nature was concerned; alone, so far as regards His faithful servants, bearing the burthen and heat of the day, while He was entering into rest. But now in this verse we look forward to the end of the world. And behold, He re-ascends, not now by Himself, but with all the multitude of the Redeemed, with all His saints from the beginning of the world to the last whose name is written in the Book of Life. Fitting, then, is the reply to the first question, The Lord strong and mighty; for what greater proof of might than the overthrow of death and hell ? And with equal force the second reply is, The Lord of Hosts. For not as a single warrior in triumph does He come, but as a mighty Chief, followed by the throng of His victorious soldiers. And may the Lord of Hosts, so an old preacher concludes a sermon on this subject, the true David, the Victor over the spiritual Goliath, the Founder of the everlasting City and Mount Sion, be to us the pacific Solomon, the Lord, yet in another sense of Hosts, and introduce us one day into that Land where Juda and Israel shall be in multitude as many as the sand which is by the sea, eating and drinking and making merry [Cf. I Kings iv. 20.].
Glory be to the Father Whose is the earth and all that is therein ; and to the Son, the King of Glory; and to the Holy Ghost the Righteousness of the God of our salvation.
VERSICLE AND RESPONSE.
Grace is poured forth on thy lips.
Wherefore hath God blessed thee for ever.
This versicle is taken from the following psalm. Applied here to our ever dear and blessed Lady, it turns back our thoughts to the Annunciation, to that grace on her lips which showed itself in that wonderful casting of herself at the feet of her Maker, and abandoning herself entirely to His will: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Thy word [Luke i. 38.]. This was the grace of God, His mighty favour that chose her to be His mother. With this choice she had nothing to do; but when the hour came, grace was poured forth on her lips to enlighten her intellect and assist her will to make the voluntary act of submission. It was by this willing consent that she merited that He should bless her for ever. In the three preceding psalms we have had suggested to us, Mary, the work of God's hands, crowned with glory and honour, sanctified as the divine tabernacle, pure and clean of heart receiving blessings from God, her salvation; or, in other words, our ever dear and blessed Lady as Daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Ghost. And now the Versicle and Response come to tell us the reason of it all was her full consent, foreseen from all ages, to be the Mother of the Word made flesh.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907