PSALM LXXXIV. [This is one of the Psalms used as a preparation for Mass.]
Title.—Unto the end, for the Sons of Core.
Tomasi : That Christ vouchsafed to show us His mercy by coming in the flesh. The voice of the Prophet to the Son. The Apostolic voice to the New People, redeemed by the Lord.
Venerable Bede : This Psalm, about to speak of the Lord's first Coming, is suited to the persons of them who have believed in Him with sincere minds. In the first part the Prophet gives thanks to the Lord, because from the old time of the Jewish nation the people have come to the worship of the Lord. The second treats of God's merciful dealings with His people, and looks for the Coming of Christ. In the third he turns to himself and foretells the Incarnation.
(1) Thou hast blessed, 0 Lord,Thy land : Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
The Son of God hath healed all things, filling the earth with blessings through the fertilising stream of His precious Blood. The Lord hath blessed the land, that is, says St. Bruno, the whole of mankind, by taking earth to Himself and making of it His Holy Flesh ; and, as our English mystic, Richard Rolle, says, He has especially blessed one part of it, that garden enclosed, His Own most blessed Maiden-mother, who brought forth the Fruit of Salvation. Cardinal Hugo remarks : He blesses every faithful soul which yields itself to His care ; for the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God [Heb. vi. 7.]. That captivity is the bondage of Original Sin, whereby men lay fettered in the chains of the devil; but now, saith the Lord of Hosts, He shall let go My captives but not for price or reward [Is. xlv. 13.]; for Christ hath turned away the captivity. But, as St. Augustine says, not, however, of all, but only of Jacob ; that is, of the younger people of all who by faith descend from Abraham ; of all who, like Jacob, do not remain in slumber, but rise up and wrestle against their sins. How specially true this is of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, in which mystery the captivity of Original Sin is turned away, is too clear to need further comment.
(2) Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of Thy people: Thou hast covered all their sins.
This, says St. Augustine, is the true explanation of the previous verse. It teaches us that Sin is the hardest of all captivity, and that God's Law is the most perfect of all freedom. Cassiodorus observes that the word forgiven denotes the bounty of God's grace. He is not spoken of as accepting payment of our debts, but as remitting it freely.
And covered all their sins by plunging them beneath the waters of Baptism and Penance. He does not merely cover them, leaving them still there, He takes them away altogether, as fire covers the blackness of coal when it has once made its way into the substance of the coal, and destroys it in the very act of so doing. So the fire which the Lord came to send upon the earth takes away that sin which causes it to be said of sinners : Their visage is blacker than the coal [Lam. iv. 8.], Thus Albert the Great. This, then, is His tender love, that Charity which covereth a multitude of sins [I Peter iv. 8.]. Lorin takes the forgiveness as applying to Mortal, and the covering as referring to Venial, offences.
(3) Thou hast taken away all Thy displeasure : Thou hast turned away from the anger of Thy wrath.
Mitigated. Haymo says : God in this life punishes us for our sin, but gently, and not beyond our endurance; and that He does not give us everything here, so that we may have somewhat better to look for hereafter. And whereas it is said all Thy displeasure, we are to understand on the one hand God's wrath against both original and actual sin, and on the other His temporal and eternal punishments, on account of the infinite value of the Divine Victim of propitiation, so no penalty will remain in such who make full use of the salvation He offers to all. For, says the Carmelite, He stands before His Father as our High Priest, and pleads on our behalf with an intercession which must prevail, as He says by His Prophet : Remember that I stood before Thee to speak good for them, and to turn away Thy wrath from them [Jer. xviii. 20.]. Albert the Great points out that in these three verses we have six blessings of God set forth in as many words : Thou hast blessed Thy land, Lord Jesus, by Thy birth ; Thou hast turned away the captivity by Thy preaching; Thou hast forgiven our offence by Thy dying ; Thou hast covered all our sins by Thy resurrection ; Thou hast taken away Thy displeasure by sending the Holy Ghost; Thou hast turned away our sins by leading us to heaven and averting the terrors of the Doom.
(4) Turn us,O God, our Saviour ; and turn away Thine anger from us.
These words are used at the beginning of Compline. Cassiodorus understands the Prophet, after giving God thanks for the promised Incarnation, to look forward and see the Rejection and Crucifixion ; and so he here prays that these new sins also may be pardoned.
Turn us, too, says St. Bruno, who have so ill-requited Thy bounty, turn us from captivity to freedom, from cursing to blessing, from sinfulness to forgiveness.
Turn away Thine anger from us. How is it that the weight of God's wrath is kept from falling on the sinful world ? It is the power of the Mass which stays His hand. It is also those hidden lives of sacrifice, of penance, of prayer, which, unknown to the world, are passed in the cloister, and, through the merits of the Reedemer, go far to appease the anger of the Lord.
(5) Wilt Thou be angry with us for ever? And wilt Thou stretch out Thy wrath from one generation to another ?
Not for ever, says St. Augustine, as God's displeasure means the punishment He inflicts upon us here below for our sins. He made us therefore in Adam, mortal and capable of suffering, but renews us in Christ, giving us a share in His immortality and impassibility. He has thus shown that His displeasure will pass away according to that saying : For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive [I Cor. xv. 22.],
From one generation to another. We may feel a doubt as to His entire good-will towards us and fear lest He should visit the sin of the fathers upon the children ; but we have His word spoken by His Prophet : The son shall not bear the iniquity of his father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son [Ezek. xviii. 20.]. From this we learn that the guilt of sin is always personal to him who commits it; and that what we often regard as the punishments of sin are not so in fact. They are but God's way of working out the good He has in view. Again, we may take the two generations to refer to the two great dates in man's spiritual history ; from Adam to Christ, and from Christ to Doom ; the generation of the Law, and the generation of the Gospel. We therefore beseech God not to be angry with us as He was with the former generation, because we, though liable to fall into sin, desire to wash away its stains by the sacraments of reconciliation.
(6) Thou, O God, being turned, wilt quicken us : and Thy people shall rejoice in Thee.
Says the Carmelite: When a man is turned from us we see not his face, and cannot recognise him surely; but when he turns round and shows it, then we know him at once. So before the Incarnation God was, as it were, turned away from men : For no man hath seen God at any time [John i. 18.] ; but He turned His face towards us in that Mystery which is the cause of our justification, whereby we are quickened. Thus when St. Peter fell he continued in his denial till the Lord turned and looked on him [Luke xxii. 6l.], and that one look quickened the hardened heart and brought a flood of penitential tears from the Rock. And thus, too, does He deal with all other sinners who do not keep their faces obstinately averted from Him ; so that, as St. Bruno says, they rejoice at last in Him, no longer in the world and in their sins. He does not confine His mercy to this. But He will turn again and show us Himself in glory at the Last Day, and quicken us in the Resurrection and make us rejoice in immortality and blessedness.
(7) Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy : and grant us Thy Salvation.
These words, together with the preceding verse, are used in the beginning of the Mass. Thy mercy is Jesus. The fathers universally interpret this verse as a prayer for the Coming of Christ Who is the Mercy of God visiting us from on high. The Carthusian explains these words in this way : Show us O Lord Thy mercy, that is, show forth clearly and plenteously in us the working of Thy loving kindness ; and grant us Thy salvation, that is, Thy healing redemption, or even Christ Himself, by giving Him to us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar, and by His spiritual coming to dwell in us, as it is written of Him, under the name of Wisdom : Give me Wisdom that sitteth by Thy Throne [Wisdom ix. 4.]. Give us Thy Christ, says St. Augustine, let us know Thy Christ, let us behold Thy Christ. Not as the Jews beheld Him and crucified Him; but as the Angels behold Him and rejoice. Bellarmine explains the verse of the perfect salvation which is completed in the final Resurrection ; for then God will show us the fulness of His mercy so that we may see it and, as it were, touch it; when He shall crown us with His loving-kindness, and heal all our infirmities, and satisfy our desire with good things, and renew our youth as the eagle [Cf. Ps. civ. 3-5.]. And He will then give us His Salvation for an everlasting possession when He shall manifest Himself to us. We ask first for mercy and then for salvation. The first is the cause, and the second the effect. Mercy is grace, and salvation is glory.
(8) I will hear what the Lord God will say in me : For He shall speak peace unto His people.
(9) And unto His saints and unto them who are converted at heart.
In me. The Prophet Habacuc saith : I will watch and see what He will say in me [ii. I.]; and the Apostle : Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me [2 Cor. xiii. 3.]. St. Augustine observes that when Christ speaks in a man, He speaks to him ; and what He speaks on this occasion is that peace which surpasseth all understanding, and which is bestowed on all who render unto God that which is God's, and are truly His saints because they are converted to Him, not feignedly, but from the depths of their heart. The Psalmist says, I will hearken, because the roar and tumult of the world is all around him and he must close his ears to it if he would hear the voice of God. St. Bernard says : When evil thoughts arise within us, we speak ourselves ; when good ones, it is God Who speaks within us : our heart utters the first and hearkens to the second. The Peace which God speaks, the Word He utters, is our Lord Jesus Himself, the Prince of Peace. He spoke this Word to His people and to His saints, that is, to all Jews and to those who believed and loved Him—such as the Apostles.
Unto them who are converted in heart. These form a third class, to wit, the Gentiles. Cardinal Hugo applies the whole verse to Christians. He takes the people as the laity; the saints, the clergy, and those converted at heart, as the religious orders. He likewise remarks that peace is threefold : Peace with God, as it is written : He shall make peace with me [Is. xxvii. 5.] ; Peace with ourselves, according to our Lord's words : These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace [John xvi. 33.]; and Peace with our neighbour, as the Apostle says : As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men [Rom. xii. 18.].
(10) For His salvation is nigh unto them that fear Him : that glory may dwell in our land.
Therefore did He appear first among the Jews where there were some, at least, to fear Him. Yet even, as St. Augustine says, this fear was a carnal one, a dread of temporal punishments and loss. The Jews asked for just the same things as the Pagans did. There was only this difference—they asked of the true God. Nevertheless, even this imperfect knowledge and service was so far rewarded that Glory did dwell in the land. For they had the Patriarchs and Prophets, they had the Temple, the centre of worship; with them dwelt the Maiden who bore Her Lord ; then in their midst was He Himself born and held converse among men, wrought His miracles, founded His Church, and finished our Redemption. His salvation is nigh unto them that fear Him; in that they are careful to watch lest they should fall, that at the end of their trial glory, the glory of immortality, may dwell in that earth of their now mortal bodies. He makes another glory, a good conscience, dwell within His servants, as St. Paul says : For our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience [2 Cor. i. 12.], Again, in the Blessed Eucharist: His salvation is nigh to all that fear Him ; for in this Sacrament of the Altar He has given food to those that fear Him [Ps. cx. 4.]. Wherefore it is written : The Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart [Deut. xxx. 14.]. And lastly, the glory of holiness and good works done by the saints dwells in our land, and so shines before men that they glorify our Father Who is in heaven.
(11) Mercy and Truth are met together : and Justice and Peace have kissed.
Man, says St. Bernard, lost Justice when Eve obeyed the serpent's voice, and Adam the woman's rather than the Divine One. He lost Mercy, in that Eve, to satisfy her desires, spared neither herself, her husband, nor posterity, but bound all alike under the curse : and Adam, in that he exposed the woman, for whom he had sinned, to the Divine Wrath, trying to shun the arrow, as it were, behind her back. Woman and Man lost Truth, the first by perverting the warning, Thou shall surely die [Gen. ii. 17.], into the milder, Lest ye die [Ibid. iii. 3.] ; while Adam offered a vain and false excuse. And lastly, they lost Peace, for saith the Lord : There is no peace to the wicked [Is. xlviii. 22.]. Hence, after the Fall there was, as it were, a serious conflict between the four virtues ; for Truth and Justice were for punishing the wretched sinner, while Peace and Mercy were for sparing him. How these four virtues, parted in the First Man, met again in the Second, we may readily learn. For Christ showed Mercy in healing the sick ; Truth in teaching and speaking; Justice when He reproved sinners, and praised the godly; and Peace in His meekness and gentleness. Further, the Divine Nature of Christ may be called Mercy, for it forgives sins; and His Human Nature Truth, because no guile was found in Him.
They met together, that is, they were united in the Hypo-static Union. Justice also is taken for the Divine Nature; for God alone is the righteous Judge. Peace, on the other hand, stands for the Human Nature, on account of our Lord's noble and innate meekness. Again, Mercy and Truth met together in the Incarnation, because it was Mercy which drew the Lord down to His creatures, that the Truth of the promises might be fulfilled, that Justice might be satisfied by a Divine Victim, and that Peace might be re-established between God and Man. If we lay stress on the words met and kissed, they will denote that the union of persons coming from opposite directions is expressed ; we may therefore take the verses as signifying the reconciliation of God and Man.
God's Mercy encourages man to confess his sins, and so to meet Mercy with Truth. God's Justice in fulfilling His promises gives the comfort of Peace to the conscience of His people.
(12) Truth hath sprung from the earth : and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.
The very Truth, the Son of God, hath sprung out of the earth, being born of His Maiden-mother. Righteousness looked down from heaven when the Eternal Word stooped from His Throne of Glory and united Himself in hypostatic union to the Nature of Man. Thus was fulfilled that prayer : Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the clouds pour down the Righteous One : Let the earth open and let it bring forth a Saviour [Is. xlv. 8.]. There is another sense, says St. Augustine, for these words : Now that man has been brought near to God, he is moved to confession of his sins, so that the truth springs up in frank acknowledgment of transgressions from the sinner who is but earth, and righteousness then looks down from heaven to pardon and wash away the offences.
(13) Yea, the Lord shall show loving-kindness: and our land shall give its Fruit.
The Psalmist proceeds to explain the mystery of the Incarnation, and shows that Truth will spring out of the earth, not in the manner that fruits spring out of the ground ploughed and sown by the labour of man, but as flowers spring up in the open plains without human culture, by the rain from heaven and the sunshine that falls upon them. For, saith he, the Lord shall give His loving-kindness, that is, shall send His Holy Spirit from heaven to overshadow the Maiden ; and so our land, untilled, unsown, and altogether virginal, shall give her Fruit. Wherefore He saith of Himself in the Canticles : I am the Flower of the field and the Lily of the valley [ii. I.] ; or again, the Divine Nature of Christ is the loving-kindness of God ; His Human Nature the Fruit of our land. Thus Bellarmine.
Some of the earlier commentators see, in these words, the result of our Lord's Coming in the fruits of penance and good works put forth by men under the genial rays of the Sun of Righteousness, when the rain of tears poured forth in sorrow for sin has caused the good seed sown in their hearts by the Sower to spring up and yield increase. Thus St. Augustine.
(14) Righteousness shall walk before Him : and He shall set His steps in the way.
That is, righteousness shall go behind Him as well as before, deepening, as it were, His track, that they who follow may not miss it. Observe, says Arnobius [He flourished in France at the latter part of the fifth century, and wrote a Commentary on the whole Psalter.], that where righteousness goes first, God steadily follows. Others take it that when righteousness hath so prepared the way for Christ, then will He Himself set His feet upon the road and come to visit those who have thus made ready for His coming. Says the Carmelite : He makes this road henceforth a way for all those who would follow Him ; and, even in the works of penance, He Who did no sin was not content to be a preacher only, but gave us example of His vigils, fasts, journeyings, and other bodily toils. Again, Righteousness goes before the people of Christ to show them the way to Him, and to set their feet in it that they may not err.
Glory be to the Father Who speaketh Peace unto His saints. Glory to the Son in Whom Mercy and Truth are met together. Glory to the Holy Ghost the Loving-kindness of the Lord.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907