Title. —A Psalm of David when he was in the Wilderness of Idumea.
Tomasi : That Christ is He on Whom we should direct the brightness of the mind in the morning thoughts. The voice of the Church concerning Christ; or that of anyone withdrawing from darkness and longing for Him.
Venerable Bede : Psalm and David often denote Christ the Lord, often the Church ; because Christ is in His members and the members are contained in their Head. Wherefore words which signify the Lord our Saviour are fitly ascribed to the Church, which is to speak in this Psalm. She therefore dwells in the desert of Idumea, that is, a dryness of this world, where she thirsts and longs for Christ. Whence also Idumea, where David was in exile, is interpreted, "earthly." In the first part she longs after the power of the Lord, desiring to be filled with the fulness of all good things, that she may be found worthy of His praises. In the second part she gives thanks, because under the shadow of the Lord's wings she has escaped the storms of the world.
(1) O God, my God : from daybreak do I watch unto Thee.
My God. The repetition of the name of God and the claiming Him for the Psalmist's very own denote, observes St. John Chrysostom, deep love and eager pressing towards God, to the neglect of all earthly things. It is therefore taken chiefly of Him Who alone could, with truth, call God His Own, as being One with Him, consubstantial, co-eternal. Jesus did use these words, My God, in that mysterious cry from the cross: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ? [Matt, xxvii. 46.].
From day-break do I watch unto Thee. He Who made the Light rose with it on the first Easter morning. The words are spoken of the faithful soul which turns eagerly to the first rays of the light and opens its powers to the Sun of Righteousness, to work for Him and to be filled with His warmth. There is, says St. Augustine, a sleep of the soul as there is a sleep of the body. This last we all ought to have ; but let us take care that our soul sleep not, for sin is the sleep of the soul. Good for the body is sleep, which serves for the health thereof ; but the soul's sleep is forgetfulness of its Maker. Therefore doth the Apostle say : Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead ; and Christ shall give thee light [Eph. v. 14.]. Was the Apostle waking up one oppressed with bodily sleep ? Nay, but he was waking up a soul sleeping, in order that she might be enlightened by Christ. And therefore doth the Spouse in the Canticles answer to this appeal: I sleep, but my heart is waking [Cant. v. 2.], Sleep, says St. Gregory the Great, free from all temporal anxiety, waketh to the contemplation of God.
(2) My soul thirsteth for Thee: my flesh also for Thee, in how many ways!
This is the cry of David, cut off from the public worship of God, when he was hiding from Saul in the desert.
My soul thirsteth for Thee, the fountain of living water. He does not thirst for any gifts in this wilderness, but for everlasting blessedness, which are nowhere to be found save in Thee.
My flesh also. Much more, in one sense, than even the soul; for the soul is immortal, while the body is pressed down with the weight of its mortality, and therefore is in more need. It longs for the resurrection, and says : In my flesh I shall see God [Job. xix. 26.]. Wherefore St. Bernard observes : The Prophet desired the first Coming, whereby he knew that he should be redeemed; but more did his flesh desire the second Coming, which will bring his glorification.
(3) In a barren land and pathless and where no water is : So have I appeared to Thee in the holy place, that I might behold Thy Power and Thy glory.
In a barren land and pathless and where no water is. The world is barren, because the saints dwell not therein, since they are not of it; it is pathless, because it knows not Christ Who is the Way; it hath no water, for the fountain of grace is not there. So the Carmelite. Evil is the desert, says St. Augustine, very horrible and greatly to be feared ; and, nevertheless, God, in pity, hath made a way in the desert, Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, and hath given us a consolation in the desert, sending preachers of His Word ; He giveth unto us water in the desert, by fulfilling with His Holy Spirit His preachers, in order that there might be created in them a well of water springing up to life everlasting. And lo, we have here all things ; but they are not of the desert.
So have I appeared to Thee in the holy place. This seems to refer to the longing of David to appear once more in the tabernacle. It may then be taken of our Lord, in the desert of this world, speaking of the glory He had with the Father before the world was, and ere He emptied Himself of that glory, taking the form of a servant. And mystically of His servants, it tells us of the longing to depart and be with Christ, to be free from sin, to enjoy the Vision of God, no more as in a glass darkly, but face to face, where note, says the Carmelite, that we are taught in Exodus how to appear before God. Thrice in a year should all males come into Him [Exod. xxxiv. 23.]; so we also, thrice in our year of mortal life, should do the same. In the past, by recalling with grief our former sins and repenting of them; in the present, by doing good works while there is yet time; in the future, by a firm resolve to preserve a holiness, saying with Job : Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness which I have begun to hold fast I will not let it go [Job xxvii. 5.]. In these three periods of the year, then, every male, that is, every perfect man, ought to appear before God ; which if he do, then will God appear to him ; so that he will see God, even as he is seen by God, and behold His power and glory.
(4) For Thy mercy is better than lives : my lips shall praise Thee.
Better than all the lives we men choose for ourselves, however various they may be; better than all the lives we plan out for ourselves and in which we think we could have done so much better. The mercy God shows to us is the very best for us ; of this we may be sure, He never leaves us, but awaits us at every turn, and goes before our every action : Thy mercy hath followed me all the days of my life [Ps. xxii. 8.]. It was this strong sense of God's mercy, that unfathomed abyss, which made the martyrs trust it, rather than the specious promises of earthly tyrants. Their lips sang songs of praise to God in Whom they trusted. And now their lips praise His mercy for ever.
(5) So shall I bless Thee all my life : and lift up my hands in Thy Name.
Not only by constant praise and thanksgiving, as it is written : Bless God at all times [Tobias iv. 20.] ; but my whole life shall be blessing Thy Name, for it shall be directed to the honour, praise and glory of that Name. For God is blessed by a righteous life as by a clear voice.
And lift up my hands in Thy Name. The reference is to Moses during the battle with the Amalakites. Jeremias counsels us : Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens [Lam. iii. 41.]; St. Paul also directs, adding that the hands should be holy [I Tim. ii. 8.]. The great lifting up of hands is in the Mass, the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, where the priest prays with hands uplifted, becoming thus a living image of the Crucified One, the likeness of the great High Priest, Whose Person he bears. Almsgiving is also a lifting up of the hands in God's Name. So also are zeal and steadfastness in well-doing, in fulfilment of the Apostle's order : That ye study to work with your own hands [I Thess. iv. II.],
(6) My soul shall be filled as it were with marrow and fatness : and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips.
Union with God cheers the soul in her exile. Thoughts of the Banquet spread in the desert, of the Bread coming down from heaven, containing in itself all sweetness, are indeed blissful.
The marrow and fatness may be taken of the Blessed Sacrament, wherein the Church makes her glad offering to God, truly a feast of fat things, a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined [Is. xxv. 6.]. So on the feast of Corpus Christi she sings an Antiphon which is taken from Jacob's blessing of Aser : The bread of Christ is fat and He shall yield royal dainties [Gen. xlix. 20.]. The marrow is the innermost part; so is the Blessed Eucharist. Hidden, indeed, by the sacramental veils from mortal sight, it is the innermost part which is the delight and satisfaction of our soul. The Carmelite points out a meaning of this verse in those graces wherewith God cherishes the soul with warmth, and especially those typified by chrism or unction ; because fat gives heat to the body ; and therefore is it written in the Law : All the fat is the Lord's [Lev. iii. 16.], whereby we learn that all good desires come from Him and to Him must return. And as the fat is parted from the flesh in sacrifice, so the saints are severed from sinners; as it is written : As the fat is taken away from the peace-offering, so was David chosen out of the children of Israel [Eccles. xlvii.] Finally, the verse tells of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and of the guests concerning whom St. Peter Damian tells us :—
" Ever full but hungry ever ; What they have they still desire ; Never suffer surfeit's loathing, Nor yet famine's torments dire : Hungering still they eat, and eating, Still the Sacred Food require."
(7) If I have remembered Thee in my bed, and in the mornings have thought upon Thee: because Thou hast been my Helper.
In my bed, that is, as St. Bernard teaches, in the peaceful quiet of a pure conscience ; and as the English mystic, Richard Rolle, of Hampole, wisely adds, also in the time and place of sickness and pain. Yet again, notes Albert the Great, the ease and quiet of the bed denote a time of temporal prosperity, when it specially behoves the Christian to think on his God. Now rising from the servant to the Master, let us hear the Carthusian : On the Cross where I hung weak and dying, I remembered Thee, O my Father, saying ; Why hast Thou forsaken me ? [Matt, xxvii. 46.] and Father, forgive them [Luke xxiii. 34.] ; and yet again, Father, into Thy hand I commend My spirit [Ibid. 46.] : and thought of Thee in the morning of the Resurrection, because Thou hast been my Helper. We need God's help at all times ; in the mornings when we work, in the night when we rest. And at all times He is ready to aid us.
(8) And under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice, my soul hath clung after Thee; Thy right hand hath upholden me.
St. Augustine remarks that we are as chickens under the hen's wings, but with this difference : her young do not need her protection when they are full grown; but we, the more we advance in years, the more need have we of the sheltering wing of the Most High.
Will I rejoice. So the Spouse : I sat down beneath His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste [Cant. ii. 3.],
My soul hath clung after Thee, or rather, sticketh as with glue. And this makes St. Augustine ask what is it that " glues " our soul to God ? and he answers, Love, which fastens us behind God that we may follow Him. And St. John Chrysostom compares this close and binding union to the nails of the Cross, or to the roots of a tree set fast in the earth.
Thy right hand: the symbol of power and of victory. We may also see here a reference to the power of the Holy Ghost, the finger of God's right hand, through Whose grace we cling to our Maker and Whose might upholds us at all times.
(9) In vain have they sought after my soul, they shall go down into the lower parts of the earth : let them fall upon the edge of the sword that they may be a portion for foxes.
They shall go into. Not merely falling to the ground, as Christ's enemies did in the Garden, but going into it, into the grave of the Second Death. It was fulfilled, says St. Augustine, even in this life. Earth they were unwilling to lose when they crucified Christ; they have gone into the lower parts of the earth. What are the lower parts of the earth f Earthly lusts ; for every one that desireth earthly things, to the hurt of his soul, is under the earth ; because he has put earth before him, and upon him, and hath laid beneath it. Fearing to lose earth, the Jews said of the Lord Jesus : If we let Him alone the Romans will come and will take away our place and nation [John xi. 48.]. Behold, they have lost at the hands of the Romans the place, because they slew Christ.
Let them fall upon the edge of the sword : the earthly sword or the two-edged sword of judgment to come proceeding out of the mouth of Christ.
That they may be a portion for foxes. They would not have the Lamb for King, and therefore they have been given up to the will of crafty and worldly princes, like that Herod whom the Lord called a fox [Luke xiii. 32.]. Nay, more, they themselves have fallen in character, and become wily and deceitful, and thus have had their portion with foxes.
(10) But the King shall rejoice in God; all they that swear by Him shall be praised : for the mouth of them that speak evil shall be stopped.
That King Whose kingdom, though it be not of this world, is yet in this world as it is in heaven, Christ, the King, Who hath written on His vesture and on His thigh a Name, King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Apoc. xix. 16.], Who reigneth over the house of Jacob for ever, and of Whose kingdom there shall be no end [Luke i. 33.]. This King, in the days of mortal pilgrimage, was crowned with thorns and made sorrowful even unto death. But now raised from the dead, like David returned from exile, He shall rejoice in God, for in that He liveth, He liveth unto God, and is Himself God in God; as He hath said : I am in the Father and the Father in Me [John xiv. 10.].
All they that swear by Him shall be praised, who shall bind themselves to Him by the Sacraments [Sacramentum was the military oath of fidelity.] to be faithful soldiers and servants. And so it is written : And all Juda rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with all their hearts and sought Him with all their desire, and He was found of them, and the Lord gave them rest round about [2 Paralip. xv. 15.].
For the mouth of them that speak evil shall be stopped. Even in this world, when they see the glory of the saints, they will have nothing to allege against the truth of God, or the pure lives of His servants ; but envious tongues will not be silenced till evil is overcome in the Final Triumph of Christ when He shuts the gates of the Holy City against whosoever loveth and maketh a lie [Apoc. xxii. 15.].
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907