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A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Gregorian and Monastic. Ferial. Thee befits * the hymn, O GOD. [Office of Dead. Hear my prayer, and unto Thee shall all flesh come.]

Parisian. Ferial. Hear us, O GOD of our salvation, * the hope of all the ends of the earth.

Lyons. As Gregorian.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 62

Mozarabic. The outgoings of the morning, * and at evening Thou shalt be gladdened, O GOD.

1 Thou, O GOD, art praised in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem.

There is much contest amongst the expositors as to the intent and occasion of this Psalm. The title of the LXX. and Vulgate versions points to the beginning of the Captivity. Some readings bring it still lower, by adding the names of Haggai and Zechariah. S. Basil and Theodoret have objected to this view, as contradicting the language of Ps. 137, which implies that no Psalms were sung during the Captivity. (L.) To this Lorinus replies that the title does not show that this Psalm was recited by the people, or in Assyria, and besides, that the refusal to sing denoted no more than the absence of any public ritual, and does not exclude private recitation. The great majority of ancient commentators take this view of the Psalm, some holding it to be a prophecy of David’s, and others a Psalm of much later date, classed under his name. Herein they are followed by some modern critics, as Hupfeld and Ewald. Again, the Psalm has been ascribed, as by the Syriac Psalter, to the festival held by David on bringing up the Ark to Jerusalem. This is accepted by Jansen of Ghent. A third view is that it is a Psalm of thanksgiving for the Levites after the cessation of a drought. This is the theory adopted by Agellius amongst older commentators, and Delitzsch in the present day. There is, however, a greater unanimity amongst the Fathers as to the mystical interpretation. Thou, O God art praised in Sion, or, as the LXX. and Vulgate, The hymn befits Thee in Sion. Not in Babylon, the city of confusion, (A.) but in Sion, the place of expectation. But thou art yet in Babylon. There I am, doubtless, but in flesh, not in heart. With the latter I sing, not with the former; for not in flesh I sing, but in heart. The sounding of the flesh even the citizens of Babylon hear, but the heart’s sound the Builder of Jerusalem heareth. And so the Cluniac:

Even now by faith I see thee,*

Even here thy walls discern;

To thee my thoughts are kindled,

And pant, and strive, and yearn:

And though my body may not,

My spirit seeks thee fain,

Till flesh and earth return me

To earth and flesh again.

And unto Thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem, (B.) the Vision of Peace, the Heavenly City, that vow which was made in the Church Militant below, made by pilgrims journeying through a strange land, and hastening to fulfil their promise in their own Country.1 The saints praise GOD indeed in the Way, (Ay.) but shall perfectly praise Him in their Country, when they see Him face to face. The first vow which we make to GOD in Baptism is to renounce the devil and all his works, and to keep GOD’S holy Will and Commandments; but this vow, through the infirmity of the flesh, we cannot fully observe in this present life, but we shall perfectly perform it in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

2 Thou that hearest the prayer: unto thee shall all flesh come.

Because of the prophecy of the Resurrection of the Body contained in this verse, the whole Psalm has been made part of the Western Office for the Dead, and this forms its Antiphon. The Vulgate differs a little, beginning, Hear my prayer. S. Augustine takes the verse to mean the prayer of the Church for the ingathering of the Gentiles, that all flesh, (A.) that is, men and women of all ages, ranks, capacities, and nations may continue, as they have begun, coming to CHRIST. Hear my prayer, now, in the Way, urges Gerhohus, (G.) which if Thou hear,—rather, because Thou wilt hear—all flesh shall come to Thee. For if the evil days were not shortened, as Thou sayest, no flesh could be saved; but for the elect’s sake, as Thou promisest, and as I ask, trusting that promise, the evil days will be shortened; and when they are so, all flesh will come to Thee. That it may be fulfilled, “they twain,” the Bridegroom and Bride, “shall be one flesh,”* doubtless all flesh shall come to Thee, as well that of which it is certain that it shall be saved, weak and frail though it be, but also that which shall not be saved, will then come to Thee, its Judge, when, as it is written, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and all flesh shall see the salvation of GOD.”* And because it is so, the Church makes her petition to Him Who heareth the prayer, beseeching Him for all flesh, living and departed, that He will have mercy on it in that day. “Further, we offer to Thee for all the Saints, who have pleased Thee from the beginning of the world; the patriarchs, prophets,* righteous men, apostles, martyrs, confessors, bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, readers, singers, virgins, widows, laymen, and all whose names Thou knowest. We further offer to Thee for this people, that for the glory of Thy CHRIST Thou wilt make them a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” &c.

3 My misdeeds prevail against me: O be thou merciful unto our sins.

Rather, with the LXX. and Vulgate, (to which the A. V. is nearer,) The words of the ungodly1 have prevailed, as the passage is not a confession of personal guilt, but a prayer for help. And they explain it variously. To Thee, says S. Bruno, shall all flesh come, (B.) to Thee from Whom it departed through the words of the ungodly Adam and Eve, when they thought in their hearts, “We shall be as gods,”—words which have prevailed against us to bring us all under death. But Thou, Who art GOD the WORD, shalt be propitiated for our sins, blotting them out by Thy Atonement, and thus bringing us back to Thee, the True Life. (H.) & (A.) And the words of the ungodly have prevailed in another sense, that of the spread of heathen errors over the face of the earth, which are yet to be swept away by the power of GOD. Yet again, it was true of the Church in many a persecution, when the very name of Christian seemed on the point of extinction; and most true when, in the great Arian trouble, the Catholics were as a flock of kids, while the Syrians (most literally, for the Patriarchate of Antioch was the Arian stronghold) filled the country.

4 Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and receivest unto thee: he shall dwell in thy court, and shall he satisfied with the pleasures of thy house, even of thy holy temple.

Blessed is that Man, (G.) elect from thousands, whom Thou, O GOD the FATHER, hast chosen, and made GOD, not of adoption, but very natural GOD, Thy SON; not by the taking away of manhood, but by the taking of Manhood into GOD. Blessed, likewise, after Him, in Him, and through Him, is that man whom Thou choosest out of the world, (D. C.) and receivest to some ministry of salvation for himself and others. And as the words are spoken literally of the happiness of those whom GOD should suffer to return from Babylon to Jerusalem, so they hold spiritually of all whom GOD elects out of a state of sin, and brings to the riches of His grace. He shall dwell in Thy court, (A. V., Vulg., &c, courts.) Not at first in the inner chambers, but in the outer vestibule, in the Church Militant here on earth. (C.) And this is even more forcibly expressed by the rendering of some ancient Psalters, in Thy tabernacles, the tents of the great army of GOD. The plural number, (D. C.) moreover, denotes the wide extent of the House of GOD whether on earth or in heaven. On earth, for it is written, “O Israel, how great is the house of GOD, and how vast the place of His possession!”* In heaven, for “in My FATHER’S house are many mansions.”* And shall be satisfied with the pleasures of Thy house. Not resting, like Lazarus, merely within the shelter of the gate, sore and hungering, but sitting at the Host’s own table, clad in the purple of a king, in the line linen of a priest, and faring sumptuously every day at the feast which the King makes for His SON. So, in the Church on earth, after Baptism in the outer court has given us a right to dwell therein, we are led on to the inner sanctuary, there to be filled with the good things from the Altar of GOD. True it is also of that House of GOD. the Shrine of Divinity,* the Body of the LORD JESUS, whence, by the mystery of the Incarnation, His faithful people are filled with grace and strength.

We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,*

And long to feast upon Thee still;

We drink of Thee, the Fountain Head,

And thirst for Thee our souls to fill.

Even of Thy holy temple. Thus we pass from glory to glory, till to the GOD of gods we appear. From the courts into the House, from the House into the Temple, He draws us, and we run after Him, because, as S. Bernard says,* “our prize is to see GOD, to live with GOD, to live on GOD, to be with GOD, to be in GOD, Who will be all in all; to have GOD, Who is the highest good.” But the LXX. and Vulgate read thus, joining the words to those which follow them: Thy temple is holy, wonderful in righteousness. What is more fitly styled the Temple of GOD than CHRIST Himself, (Ay.) in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of Godhead bodily? And it belongs to distributive justice to bestow rewards according to difference of merit. Wherefore the Temple of GOD that is, CHRIST, is holy, and wonderful in righteousness, because, as righteousness directs, He bestows rewards on the just. And so it is said of Him, “He shall judge the world with righteousness.”* The Church Triumphant is also the Temple of GOD; holy, because there is no spot, (D. C.) or wrinkle, or imperfection there; wonderful in righteousness, unlike the righteousness of the Way, which is but filthy rags. (A.) And note, that it is not the structure of the building, its gold, its silver, nor its precious stones, to which the title wonderful is given, but its righteousness; for the holiness of CHRIST, not His majesty, is that which is set before His people to admire, love, and follow. Love ye righteousness, and ye are the Temple of GOD.

5 Thou shalt show us wonderful things in thy righteousness, O GOD of our salvation: thou that art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of them that remain in the broad sea.

The first clause of the verse is, as we have seen, construed differently, and with the preceding words, by the Vulgate. But as it stands above, it speaks of the marvels which followed the Crucifixion; not merely the rent veil, the torn rocks, the opened graves, and the Resurrection itself, but that crowning event which the Church calls the “Wonderful Ascension.” Wonderful things again in the judgment on the guilty city; wonders in the triumphs of the Church over her persecutors, and in the calling of the Gentiles; and wonders yet to come in the awful portents which will herald awful portents which will herald of the LORD. And besides, our true Hezekiah, the “Strength of the LORD,”* will show us, who have come to Him from Babylon, all the house of His precious things,—the silver of His pure confessors, the gold of His martyrs, the spices of the incense of His perpetual intercession, the precious ointment of the HOLY GHOST, and all the house of His armour, the panoply of GOD that they may be our very own, what time we take the Kingdom of Heaven by violence. Hear us, (G.) O God of our salvation, as we knock at the gate of Thy courts, as we call to Thee from afar. Thou that art the Hope of all the ends of the earth. Because all flesh shall come to Thee, not Jews alone, but Gentiles; for the holy Church throughout the world is formed from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.”* And of them that remain in the broad sea. Because “the isles shall wait for His law,”* so that they, His messengers, who go down to the sea with the tidings of salvation, “shall declare His praise in the islands.”* If He were not the Hope of them which are in the sea afar, (A.) He would not have said to His disciples, “I will make you fishers of men.”* Now, in the sea, being taken by the nets of the faith, we rejoice that we there are swimming yet within the nets, because this sea is raging with storms, but the nets which have taken us will be drawn out to shore. The shore is the end of the sea; therefore the landing will be at the end of the world. So the Cluniac:

When the heavenly net is laden

With fishes many and great;*

So glorious in its fulness,

Yet so inviolate.

He is the Hope of them who are in the broad sea, perishing in their sins, even in the very jaws of the monsters of the deep. So cries the Holy Eastern Church to Him at Whitsuntide:

Sick with the tide of mortal cares,*

Tossing on sin as on the wave,

Cast to the beast that never spares,

Like Jonah, LORD, I cry, O save

From the abyss which brings a grave.

He is the Hope of them whose faith and endurance fail for a moment when they believe Him to be asleep during the storm,* and who, in their terror, cry, “LORD, save us, we perish;”* and of those whose over-bold confidence leads them to come to Him upon the water, and who become afraid, and begin to sink, till He catches them, (Ay.) as He did His chief Apostle. And He is the hope of them who are in the salt sea of penitential tears, feeling themselves afar from Him.

6 Who in his strength setteth fast the mountains: and is girded about with power.

For, observes S. Hilary, (H.) the mountains are whatsoever powers lift themselves proudly against GOD, which He brings low, and binds surely in their place of punishment. But there are other mountains which are GOD’S hills, (A.) humble in themselves, and exalted in Him; and of them also it is spoken. Especially of the Apostles,* those holy hills on which Jerusalem is founded,* those mountains of Israel which shoot forth their branches, and yield their fruit to His people of Israel.* The Targum singularly reads here, Who prepareth food for the wild goats of the mountains, which may be interpreted of GOD’S providential care even for sinners. And is girded about with power. (A.) They that put CHRIST in the midst, girded about,—make Him, that is, on all sides begirt. We all have Him in common, therefore He is in the midst: all we gird Him about that believe in Him; and because our faith is not of our strength, but of His power, therefore He is girded about in His power, not in our strength. Girded about with power, the power of His Godhead, by which, as with majesty,* the Manhood of the WORD is girded.

7 Who stilleth the raging of the sea: and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people.

Here the LXX. and Vulgate read, Who troublest the depth of the sea. (A.) And it is explained of the hearts of ungodly men, which GOD searches to the very bottom, and turns into dry land, reclaiming them, and making them productive of the fruit of righteousness. The English Version tells us of the peace of the Church after the fiercest of all the persecutions, when that great raging sea of heathenism heard the voice of JESUS, saying, “Peace, be still; and there was a great calm.”* Of this, too, the noise of his waves speaks, reminding us not only of the edicts sounding across the world, but the deep roar of the amphitheatre, Christianos ad leones! Truly, the madness of the people. These latter words, however, are rendered by the Vulgate, The nations shall be troubled, and are joined on to the nest verse:

8 They also that dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth shall be afraid at thy tokens: thou that makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise thee.

Troubled at first with that dim anticipation of a mighty change which Virgil expressed:

Ultima Cumæi venit jam carminis ætas;*

Magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo,

Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna:

Jam nova progenies cœlo demittitur alto.

Troubled then at the actual coming of the Master, (Ay.) and at the miracles wrought by His Apostles; fearing at first with that servile dread which begets sadness, learning to fear Him afterwards with the loving awe which is the parent of joy, because “the fear of the LORD is honour, and glory, and gladness, and a crown of rejoicing.”* The sea, the people, is troubled, (A.) but the mountains which GOD hath set fast are unmoved while the waves dash against them.

Thou that makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise Thee. Or, with the Vulgate and LXX., Thou that shalt delight the outgoings of the morning and evening. By the morning he signifieth the prosperity of the world, (A.) by the evening he signifieth the trouble of the world. The morning signifieth prosperity, because the morning is glad, the sadness, as it were, of the night being overpast. But sad is the darkness when the evening cometh on; therefore, when the evening, as it were, of the world came, He offered an evening Sacrifice. Let each one, therefore, not fear the enemy, neither in the morning let him be corrupted. (D. C.) And Thou wilt accept and make delightful to the angels alike the repentance and conversion of the young who flee from their sins, (P.) and of the old who turn again at the close of life. Moreover, the Psalmist tells of the joy of the whole earth, from east to west, at the Coming of the Redeemer. Thus the Christian poet:

A solis ortus cardine,*

Ad usque terræ limitem,

CHRISTUM canamus principem,

Natum Mariâ Virgine.

Once again, it has been well taken to denote the ceaseless Daily Service throughout the world:

And, as each meridian line

Gains the travelled sun, that day,

Still begin those rites divine,

Still new priests begin to pray;

Still are blessed the bread and wine,

Still one prayer salutes his ray:

Continent and ocean round

Rolls the tided wave of sound.

9a (9) Thou visitest the earth and blessest it: thou makest it very plenteous.

By the earth is implied our human nature, because, though it be made up of an earthly body and a spiritual soul, yet, (Ay.) because we have more practical acquaintance with the earthly portion, GOD sometimes calls man by the name of earth. The LORD, then, visited the earth when He, by His Incarnation, united our manhood to the Person of the WORD. So spake Zacharias: “Blessed be the LORD GOD of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people.”* And blessest it. Yet stronger are the LXX. and Vulgate,* Thou hast intoxicated it.1 With the Wine of His Passion, good wine kept until now, (Ay.) the Bridegroom hath gladdened His guests. And madest it very plenteous in the riches of good works and spiritual gifts wherewith the faithful abound.* Cardinal Hugo takes the verse as prophetic of the LORD’S visitation as Judge, when He shall make the earth to overflow by giving up its dead, now plenteously revived, so that the dry bones shall live, and stand upon their feet, “an exceeding great army.”*

9b (10) The river of GOD is full of water: thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest for the earth.

What, then, is this river of GOD?* Let the Eastern Church answer: “As Thou art the Divine River of Mercy, and the abyss of much compassion, O merciful One, show the Divine streams of Thy mercy, and heal us all.” Full of water: for with Him is the well of Life, flowing as a “pure river of water of Life, clear as crystal, (A.) proceeding out of the Throne of GOD and of the Lamb.”* And because this is so, the Body shares in the titles of the Head: “He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;”* (G.) and therefore the first Hebrew believers, thus filled, were the river (“come out of the waters of Judah”*) which went forth to fertilize the earth. Yet again, the rivers of GOD are the Gospels, filled with the promises of GOD,* set forth in the Beatitudes. And so Adam:

Paradisus his rigatur,*

Viret, floret, fœcundatur;

His abundet, his lætatur,

Quatuor fluminibus,

Fons est CHRISTUS, hi sunt rivi,

Fons est altus, hi proclivi,

Ut saporem fontis vivi,

Ministrant fidelibus.

The whole passage may also be interpreted of the visitation of Pentecost, (D. C.) when the LORD poured out His Spirit on all flesh, and when the fount of Holy Baptism was filled with the graces of cleansing and hallowing. Thou preparest their corn. First,* and most truly, of that principal Sheaf, cut down, ground in the mill of the Passion, and in the oven of suffering made into that Bread which is the Life of the world.

He chose one little sheaf, and said,

O Food for man’s salvation,

No sweeter sheaf the winds have kissed,

Elect of GOD for Eucharist,

Thou shalt become the Living Bread,

For mortals’ adoration.

And, in the second place, the Psalm speaks to us of the Great Sower and Husbandman, Who puts the seed of His Word into our hearts, and cherisheth it till the day of His harvest; so providing for that new earth which shall stand when the old is passed away.

10 (11) Thou waterest her furrows, thou sendest rain into the little valleys thereof: thou makest it soft with the drops of rain, and blessest the increase of it.

There is a good deal of variation from this in the LXX. and Vulgate. Intoxicate its furrows, multiply its produce, let that which springeth up rejoice in the droppings thereof. As the former verse speaks of the Holy Eucharist under the species of Bread, (Ay.) so here the Carmelite finds a reference to the Chalice. The furrows, observes he, are the Apostles, who first tasted that heavenly draught; the produce is that succession of Saints who have followed in their footsteps in the strength of that Sacrament; the droppings are those first instructions in the mystery of the Faith given to those babes which cannot yet receive the full flood of instruction, (G.) nor follow the counsels of perfection, as the Saints who are the true produce of Apostolic teaching, the offspring of that universal Motherhood bestowed from the Cross on the Blessed Virgin, are wont to do. The English Version will supply another train of thought. The little valleys of the soul are those more hidden thoughts and actions which are counted but little things, but which are as truly filled in Saints with the stream of Divine grace as the more boldly-marked furrows which denote the principal actions of their lives. The hard ground of worldliness and impenitence is softened by the gentle showers of GOD’S love, and He blesseth the increase in sanctification, and that a hundred-fold even in this world, and in the world to come with everlasting life. Thou sendest rain into the little valleys. We may take it, as the hymn does, of the gift of tears to lowly hearts-

JESU bone, CHRISTE mitis,*

Suscipe me, qui emittis

Fontes in convallibus:

Dona fontem lacrimarum,

Ut fonte deliciarum

Fruar in cœlestibus.

11 (12) Thou crownest the year with thy goodness: and thy clouds drop fatness.

Or, with the Vulgate, (G.) Bless the crown of the year of Thy goodness. That year of His goodness was when “the kindness and love of GOD our SAVIOUR toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the HOLY GHOST.”* The Saints are the crown of that year, the jewelled crown which JESUS wears as King of ransomed Israel. And note that He crowns the righteous in many ways. He crowns them eternally by election. So it is written, (Ay.) “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD.”* In GOD’S Hand, because no one is chosen to such a crown by his own antecedent merits. Next, He crowns by redemption. “We lost our crown, as Jeremiah laments: “The crown is fallen from our head.”* CHRIST came to win it back by His death, when He wore the Crown of Thorns for us. Thirdly, He crowns in temptations, for a man “is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”* Fourthly, He crowns by guarding us from being overcome of lust; and therefore the Virgins are diademed with gold, because of its purity. Of this it is said, “Having on His Head a golden crown.”* Fifthly, He crowns by giving the righteous wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures. This crown, which is starry, belongs to the Doctors. For the star, by its brightness, denotes Scriptural wisdom, because as the star guides wanderers, so Holy Writ directs the erring. “And upon her head a crown of twelve stars;”* doubtless because Scripture is chiefly concerned with the twelve articles of the Faith. The sixth is clear: GOD strengthens His own under torments, that they fail not. This crown belongs chiefly to the Martyrs, and it is of stone, which, by its hardness, denotes firm patience in adversity. Of this crown it is said, “Thou hast set on his head, O LORD, a crown of precious stone.”* In all these ways GOD blesses the crown of the righteous. And Thy clouds drop fatness. Rather, with the Bible Version, Thy paths drop fatness. The footsteps of the Incarnate GOD bring health and blessing wherever they tread, so that of Him we may reverently use the words of a heathen poet:

Te fugiunt venti,* te nubila cœli,

Adventumque tuum: tibi suaves dædala tellus

Submittit flores; tibi rident æquora ponti,

Placatumque nitet diffuso lumine cœlum.

The Vulgate, (G.) however, reads, Thy plains shall be filled with abundance, which, says Gerhohus, denotes that men who are just and plain dealers shall be filled with all good works.

12 (13) They shall drop upon the dwellings of the wilderness: and the little hills shall rejoice on every side.

Dwellings is also the version of the Syriac Psalter, but the LXX. and Vulgate reading, the beautiful places, is nearer to the A. V., pastures, and to that which is most probably intended, (Ay.) the oases in the waste. It means, says Ayguan, the Gentile wilderness, which shall rejoice at the Coming of CHRIST, according to the prophecy, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice, (D. C.) and blossom as a rose.”* And the Carthusian extends the reference to all sinners, whose hearts have not yet been made the garden of GOD. Nor is it strange that many should be reminded of the solitaries of the Thebaid, who made the Egyptian desert resound with the praises of CHRIST. And the little hills shall rejoice.* The Eastern Fathers note here,* that as the deserted idol temples were hallowed by Christian prayers,* so too the hills whereon heathen rites once had been celebrated were now thronged by men who had embraced the angelic life,* and worshipped the true GOD in purity. Athos and Sinai still testify to their words. (H.) The hills are also mystically explained as the more eminent Saints, such as Apostles and Martyrs, rising above the plains of which the Psalm spoke before.

13 (14) The folds shall be fall of sheep: the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing.

The A. V. is here more exact, The pastures are clothed with flocks, but the LXX. and Vulgate agree in reading, The rams of the sheep are clothed, which the commentators unite in explaining to mean, that the leaders of GOD’S flock are clothed in righteousness, the marriage garment of the Lamb. The valleys, the humble Christians, shall be so blessed by GOD, (L.) that they shall laugh (rather, with A. V., LXX., and Vulg., shout) in glad triumph of heart, and then burst out into a song of thanksgiving to GOD.

O blesséd is that land of GOD,

Where Saints abide for ever,

Where golden fields spread fair and broad,

Where flows the crystal river.

The strains of all its holy throng

With ours to-day are blending;

Thrice blesséd is that harvest song

Which never hath an ending.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose temple is holy in righteousness; and to the SON, Who is that holy temple; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who is that fatness which drops upon the pastures of the wilderness.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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