Title. —A Song of Degrees.
Tomasi : That Christ unsleeping overshadows and guards Jerusalem. The voice of the Church to the Apostles. The voice of the Church to Christ concerning the Prophets or the peoples.
Venerable Bede : At the first step (of the Gradual Psalms) the Prophet, yet in trouble, sought that he might be delivered from unrighteous lips and a deceitful tongue. But now taking breath on the second step he lifted up his eyes unto the hills, that is, to the interceding saints, by whose prayers he hoped to attain heavenly gifts. The Prophet ascending to the heavenly Jerusalem in the first clause says he has lifted up his eyes to the merits of the saints, that he might be helped by their prayers, lest his soul should give way to the attack of the enemy. In the second place he promises himself what he knows to be asked for fittingly, teaching us that the good we pray for with a steady heart we are to believe without doubt will be given us.
(1) I have lifted mine eyes to the mountains : whence cometh help to me.
(2) My help is from the Lord: Who made heaven and earth.
This Psalm, as already noted, is a song for the pilgrims to Jerusalem, as they lift their eyes from the plains of Babylon to the mountain ranges which gird their native land, and to that Mount Sion, the holy spot where dwelt the Presence of the Lord. What are these mountains ? The mountains in which the Lord is pleased to dwell [Ps. Ixvii. 17.] ; the fat mountains, the curdled mountains [Ibid. 16.], which are the saints. They are our intercessors ; but the help that comes in answer to our prayers is a help from the Lord. Our hope in the saints is only a hope of intercession. The Lord, Himself, is the Mountain of mountains, from Whom alone comes the light which shines on those lofty summits, dark without Him, the true Light enlightening every man that cometh into the world. St. Hilary says that the mountains are the two Testaments with their lofty and difficult secrets admirably fitted to raise the soul from earth, and full of rich veins of spiritual wealth. St. Augustine takes the mountains as the Apostles, and explains that by means of their preaching of the word of God help did come from them on whom the light of heaven shone forth to those in the valley below. He made those Apostles heavens themselves whence the refreshing rains of doctrine came down upon the parched and sterile earth of the Gentile world below, as St. Bruno remarks.
(3) He will not suffer thy foot to be moved : and He that keepeth thee will not sleep.
(4) Behold He that watches over Israel: slumbers not, nor sleeps.
As the foot is that member of the body which carries it about to the scenes of its actions, so its spiritual meaning is the motion and advances of the mind. Pride was the motion of the soul which drove Lucifer from heaven and Man from Paradise. God keeps the foot of His saints safe from this, but gives them the motion of love ; that instead of falling, they may walk, advance, and go up in the right way. Thus St. Augustine. The Carmelite points out that He so kept the foot of His Apostles that no toils or terrors might daunt them from preaching the Gospel in all lands.
He that keepeth thee will not sleep. This probably in the literal sense refers to the night-watch round about the pilgrims on their way to the Holy City. In the mystical sense God does not slumber as one fatigued, nor sleep as needing repose. It is necessary, says St. Bernard, that He Who keepeth Israel should neither slumber nor sleep, for he who assails Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. And as the first seeks our safety, so the other desires to slay and destroy us, and his only care is that the man once turned aside may never come back. There is, remarks the Carthusian, a stress on Israel, to whom alone this unceasing ward is given ; teaching us thereby that it is he who sees God, and wrestles with Him in prayer, who may surely look for His protection. Other commentators, in a beautiful sense, take the verse of the Resurrection. Jesus, the true Keeper of Israel, did indeed sleep in the grave, according to His human nature. But the ever-wakeful Godhead slumbered not, but kept the watch over Israel, which, in those hours of desolation, was only to be found in Mary's heart. Others take this verse of the religious orders who, by the Office, never cease, as a body, their watch over the Christian Israel, according to the words of Isaias : I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, who shall never hold their peace day and night [Ixii. 6.].
(5) The Lord guards thee, the Lord is thy protection : upon thy right hand.
(6) The sun shall not burn thee by day : nor the moon by night.
Right hand means, according to the geographical sense of the term in the Old Testament, the south, the quarter from which the burning rays of the mid-day sun pour forth their pitiless heat and glare. In the mystical sense St. Hilary takes the words to refer to God's strengthening our power of action, and therefore of resistance in spiritual combat; or, with St. Augustine, we may take them as meaning the gift of eternal life denoted by the right hand; while the left hand holds only temporal bounties. The obvious literal sense of the reference to the sun and moon is that of sunstroke and moonstroke to which the pilgrims were exposed. But St. Augustine tells us that the Sun is Christ's Godhead ; the Moon the Church, deriving all its light from Him and waxing and waning here ; while the night is the Flesh of Christ wherein the Sun is hid and the moon shines, because faith in the Incarnation is the very life and meaning of the Church. The contemplation of these mysteries shall not burn us away with their awful glory, but rather strengthen and quicken us to live in accordance with God's gracious mercy towards us.
(7) The Lord shall guard thee from all evil: the Lord shall guard thy soul.
It is no promise, says St. Hilary, of warding off the common evil of the body, for these are no real evils. It is the soul the Lord will guard, that the moth of evil may not enter in, the thief creep not upon it, the wolf not tear it, the bear not rage against it, the leopard not spring upon it, the tiger not fly at it, the lion not destroy it. For all these in this life are instruments of the evil one who employs cruel beasts to eat away the soul with sin, to creep upon it with flattery, to tear it with allurements, to spring upon it with ambition, to fly upon it with lusts, to destroy it with all his power. It is against such evils as these that we can look to God for protection. Thus it was, as St. Augustine says, God kept the souls of His martyrs safe while suffering their bodies to be the prey of the persecutor. God's ways of keeping are fourfold : as a Watchman seeing that no enemies approach the city He guards ; as a Defender standing on the right hand; as a Porter opening the gates of mercy ; as a Physician tending and binding up the wounds of a sufferer. Thus Cardinal Hugo.
(8) May the Lord preserve thy coming in and thy going out: from this time forth and forever.
God keeps the goings out from sin of His servants and also keeps their comings in to the Land of Promise. Taking these words as they are in the verse, St. Augustine tells us that coming in is entering into the Church Militant, going ou1 returning from it into the Church Triumphant : and God keeps our coming in when He takes care that we are not exposed to temptations too powerful for us to overcome ; and our going out by granting us perseverance and means of escape. Or, He keeps the first beginnings of our yet weak faith when we are entering into a knowledge of Him ; and preserves it to its close, that at our going out we may die as true subjects of His in the confession of His Name. Thus St. Bruno.
Glory be to the Father Who made heaven and earth. Glory to the Son, the Watcher Who slumbers not nor sleeps.
Glory to the Holy Ghost from Whom is all our help.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907