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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.

The Sunday Antiphon in the chief Uses is, Let the Name * of the LORD be blessed for evermore.

Gregorian and Monastic. [Common B.V.M.: His left hand is under my head, * and His right hand shall embrace me. Common of Apostles: That He may set him with the princes, * even with the princes of the people.]

Mozarabic. First verse.

With this Psalm begins the Hallel, or “Great Alleluia of the Jews,” (although this latter name is sometimes restricted to Ps. 136.) namely, the group of Psalms 113 to 118 inclusive, which was sung at the Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, and on all the New Moons. At the Passover it was divided into two parts, the first consisting of Pss. 113, 114, sung before the second Cup at the Paschal Supper was passed round, and thus consequently before the meal itself, which began immediately after that ceremony: the second consisting of Pss. 115–118, sung after the filling of the fourth Cup, and supposed to be “the hymn” which CHRIST and the Apostles are stated to have sung after the Last Supper, before they went out to Gethsemane, (S. Matt. 26:30; S. Mark 14:26.) It is interesting in another aspect, from forming the intermediate link in Hebrew poetry between the Song of Hannah and the Magnificat, with each of which it has something in common.

1 [Alleluia.] Praise the LORD, ye servants: O praise the Name of the LORD.

The threefold utterance of the Divine Name,* the triple call to praise it, veils here the mystery of the Holy Trinity. A certain ambiguity in the LXX. and Vulgate, which have boys or children (παῖδες, pueri) for servants,* has led not only to the use of the Psalm in the Latin office for infant baptism and burial, but also to much comment on the Word in question. (A.) S. Augustine, followed by several others, bids us note that it is purity, innocence, and docility, not a special time of life, which we have to look to as here denoted; citing various Scriptures in illustration, as thus: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”* But as we have to enter in at the strait gate, it behoves us to be like children, who can readily pass through a narrow entrance; and therefore the LORD saith, “Except ye be converted, (L.) and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”* It is out of the mouths of such babes and sucklings as these, that He hath perfected praise, as He accepted that of the children in the Temple, when the voices of men were silent.

2 Blessed be the Name of the LORD: from this time forth for evermore.

Hence we learn that GOD’S praises are not to cease with our advancing years, for He hath said, (A.) “Even to your old age I am He,”* and therefore His claim to our worship is unceasing. From this time forth does not mean that He begins to be praised only now, but that each of us makes a beginning of joining in the hymn of creation; while, if only we persevere in His service, our song shall go on for evermore in the ceaseless melody of heaven.

3 The LORD’S Name is praised: from the rising up of the sun unto the going down of the same.

Here is a further instruction. (C.) GOD’S praise is not merely to be ceaseless, but universal; (Z.) not restricted by the limits of Judea, but extending to the utmost bounds of the earth. And so He speaks by the mouth of the Prophet: “From the rising up of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering; for My Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of Hosts.”* In which prophecy note that there is exactly the same threefold proclamation of the Holy Name as in the Psalm, pointing to the same sacred mystery. And we too, in life and in death, in the morning and the evening of our mortal career,* praise the LORD JESUS for His arising as the Sun of Righteousness in His Nativity His setting in the ruddy glow of His Passion.

4 The LORD is high above all heathen: and his glory above the heavens.

This points without doubt, say the Greek Fathers, to the preaching of the kingdom of CHRIST,* for the obvious sense here of the LORD being high above all heathen is,* not merely that He is of course so in His essence, which would be a bare truism, but that He is the object of love and adoration among the Gentiles, which did not begin to hold good till the Gospel brought the nations to the knowledge of GOD. Up to that time, His worship was practically confined to Palestine, and to those scattered synagogues of Jews who looked to Jerusalem as their centre of worship, but effected very little in bringing proselytes to kneel before the LORD. And in adding His glory is above the heavens, (Z.) we may see a reference to the Angel carols at the Nativity, and again to the renewed song of triumph at the Ascension, (A.) as well as to His mission of the Paraclete thereupon to those lower heavens, the Apostles, who brought the Gentiles to confess His Name.

5–6 (5) Who is like unto the LORD our GOD, that hath his dwelling so high: and yet humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth?

The Psalmist magnifies the unapproachable majesty and exaltation of GOD,* by depicting Him as so highly enthroned that He looks down, not only upon the earth, but over heaven and all therein, as something beneath His feet. And this Solomon expressed, saying, “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee.”* The LXX. and Vulgate turn the sentence a little differently, and read, Who beholdeth the lowly things in heaven and in earth. (L.) Hereupon several of the Latins have raised a needless difficulty, urging that lowly cannot be predicated of things in heaven, and desiring to read the passage as though it meant sitting in heaven, and beholding the lowly things on earth.* This will not stand with the LXX. reading, which has both in heaven and in earth, and does not weaken the force of the sentence. One however points out that the loyal angels may well be styled humble in contrast to the rebels who fell by pride. (A.) But the best comment on the verse is to be found in the LORD’S own Words spoken by Isaiah: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, Whose Name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”* And the Saint of GOD, having his conversation in heaven, while here on earth in the body, dwells with GOD in both places, and is alike lowly and contrite, alike looked on by Him with favour in his spiritual and temporal capacity. Much more are the Words true of Him Who as GOD ceased not to be in heaven, while as Man He was sorrowful and rejected on earth; and therefore it was most fitting that His Blessed Mother should adapt this Psalm to herself, saying, “He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden;” (L.) as He hath done ever since to His humble Saints, whether engaged in the heaven of contemplation,* or the earth of active life.

7 (6) He taketh up the simple out of the dust: and lifteth the poor out of the mire;

8 (7) That he may set him with the princes: even with the princes of his people.

These Words are taken, with but little variation,* from the Song of Hannah,* and are recalled, though not exactly cited, in the Magnificat. There are several mystical ideas brought out by the expositors, who understand the simple or the needy of the first clause,* (inopem, A. V. poor) as CHRIST Himself, (A.) taken up first into mortal existence from the pure earth of His Virgin Mother,* taken up again in the Ascension from earth to heaven; while we may read the Words also, together with those that follow, as denoting His deliverance of mankind from the dust of earthliness and the mire, (Ay.) or rather, with LXX., Vulgate, and A. V., the dunghill, of pollution. Some take the dust, or earth, as LXX.* and Vulgate read, to be the Jews, and the Gentiles as the dunghill, because of their coarser vices, and tell us that CHRIST chooses His elect from both these indiscriminately, to set them with His Angels and Saints in heaven.* Or we may apply both epithets to the Gentiles alone,* the first one denoting the meanness and poverty of their notions about GOD; the second, the foulness of their idolatrous rites, and then we are taught that GOD puts them on a level with the Jews, truly the princes of His people,* for Israel denotes a “Prince with GOD.” In the reference to CHRIST, more than one Saint reminds us that by His birth in the manger-stable,* He was literally brought down in His humiliation to the dunghill, whence He was exalted again to riches and honour, whereof holy Job was a type.* And as regards His members, they tell us that voluntary self-abasement and penitence, typified by the dunghill, (“behold, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,”*) is the first step towards being lifted up by the LORD,* and set with His princes;* not taking that honour to ourselves, till He call us, lest He should say: “They have set up kings, but not by Me: they have made princes, and I knew it not.”*

9 (8) He maketh the barren woman to keep house: and to be a joyful mother of children.

To keep house. That is, not merely to have a settled position and dwelling, as possessing a family, but also in the colloquial sense in which we use this phrase. For a barren wife was often divorced, or made inferior in the household to another who had borne children, albeit brought in at a later date, and it is not improbable that a claim to hold the position of domestic authority as the mother of Abraham’s first-born is implied in the words used of Hagar, that “her mistress was despised in her eyes.”* There is a three-fold interpretation of this verse in a mystical sense.* The first, and that most followed, takes it of the Gentile Church, (A.) raised to a position of superiority over the Jewish, according to the words of Isaiah, adopted later and republished by S. Paul: “Sing,* O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes: for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His Name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The GOD of the whole earth shall He be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken, and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy GOD.”* Next, they take the verse of a soul heretofore unfruitful in good works, but wedded to CHRIST by repentance and love,* and bringing forth abundant progeny to Him; and finally, it is understood of the great company of the Virgin Saints of the Church in the Religious Life, having many more spiritual descendants, many more children of Paula, and Scholastica, and Clara, and Teresa, than can be numbered by the most fruitful progenetrix of secular races, even as the Blessed Mary herself, though ever-Virgin, is, by her Son, the Mother of all Christians. So runs the hymn in honour of S. Clare, dwelling on her house and her children alike:

Generat virgo filias,

Mentis maternæ conscias,

Christi sponsas et socias,

Corruptionis nescias.*

Construuntur cœnobia

Vasta per orbis spatia,

Crescit sororum copia,

Claret matris notitia.

A virgin mother daughters bears,

Who know her true maternal cares,

CHRIST’S brides, and partners of His reign,

Who know not foul pollution’s stain.

Now far and wide through many a land

The rising convent buildings stand,

And clearly shines the mother’s fame,

As throngs of sisters bear her name.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is high above all heathen; glory be to the SON, Who humbled Himself to behold us on earth, and lifted us up from the dunghill; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who maketh the barren woman to keep house.

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

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