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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. First portion: The LORD hath inclined * His ear to me. Second portion: I believed * and therefore I spake. [Office of the Dead: I will please * the LORD in the land of the living. Maundy Thursday: I will receive the cup of salvation, * and call upon the Name of the LORD. Corpus CHRIST: I will receive the cup of salvation,* and offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Common of Apostles: Thou hast broken, O LORD, my bonds; I will offer Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.]

Ambrosian. First portion: In my days * I will call upon the LORD. Second portion: I believed and therefore I spoke.

Parisian. First portion: Turn again then unto thy rest, O my soul, for the LORD hath rewarded thee. Second portion: First verse.

Lyons as Gregorian.

Mozarabic. First portion: Gracious is the LORD, and righteous, * yea, our GOD is merciful. Second portion: I will please the LORD * in the land of the living.

There is a Jewish tradition that this Psalm was a thanksgiving of Hezekiah after his recovery from sickness, and there are so many parallelisms of language between it and the story of that event as recorded by Isaiah, that no reasonable doubt remains that the Psalm is directly based on the Prophet’s narrative. But the Chaldee forms with which the Psalm abounds make the diction of the two far less alike in Hebrew than in English, and fix the date of the composition at a much later period, most probably immediately after the return from the Captivity. It is possible that the Psalm is purely typical, and that the Jewish nation is personified as the speaker; but there is no improbability in the supposition that the primary sense implies a thanksgiving for the recovery of some eminent Hebrew chief, prince or priest, from a dangerous illness.

1 I am well pleased: that the LORD hath heard the voice of my prayer;

I am well pleased. The Hebrew is stronger, and is rightly translated by LXX., Vulgate, and A. V., I love. The Syriac and Arabic versions interpret this as meaning, I earnestly desired that the LORD would hear my prayer, but it is far better to take the sense with A. V., (A.) I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice. Let this be the song of the soul which is in its pilgrimage, afar from GOD; let this be the song of that sheep which was lost, let this be the song of that son who was dead and is alive again, who was lost and found; let this be the song of our own soul.* It is enough for the Psalmist to say,* I have loved, without naming any object, for only GOD, or that which is loved for His sake in His way can be the object of true love. GOD heard the voice of His Saints under the Law, desiring the Incarnation, and He hears us still under the Gospel, as we pray for everlasting salvation. The Latins dwell on the form of the tenses here in the Vulgate, (C.) I have loved, for the LORD will hear, as denoting, on the one hand, not merely the affection born of benefits, such as even the heathen entertain, but that deeper, surer, truer love of GOD, which turns to Him even in trouble, with unswerving faith.* It is thus no promise for the future, but a declaration of a fully formed habit, namely, that love and obedience which is the fulfilling of the Law.*

Most fitly, then, may the words be taken as those of the LORD JESUS,* Whose love for His FATHER and for mankind led Him to undertake the work of our redemption, and to bear all the bitter sorrows of His Passion, in order, to use His own language, “That the world may know that I love the FATHER, even so I do;”* and again, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Wherefore GOD heard the voice of His prayer, and granted Him that He asked, His own victorious Resurrection, and the salvation of them that believe in His Name.

2 That he hath inclined his ear unto me: therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.

The Incarnate SON can use these words,* for He hath Himself said, “FATHER, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me, and I knew that Thou hearest Me always;”* and He did call upon Him continually, not only on earth, but still continues to do so in His intercessory office as our High Priest in Heaven.

As long as I live. The literal Hebrew, followed by LXX. and Vulgate is, In my days. And, spoken of Our LORD, the Apostle will gloss them for us, “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard for His piety; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.”*

As for us,* the LORD Himself stooped down His ear to us by His Incarnation, bending, like the good Samaritan, over the half-dead body of man, who had fallen among spiritual thieves when he turned his back on Jerusalem, and was stripped and wounded by them. (C.) And the sinner, remembering this great mercy, says, I will call upon Him in my days. Not in His days, but my days; days which I have made my own by my own sin, filling myself with my own devices, and thereby bringing trouble,* perplexity, and distress upon me. And because my sin is so frequent,* those days are all the days of my mortal life. (Ay.) The Carmelite, reminding us that our prayers are all made through CHRIST JESUS, and that wisdom cometh by hearing,* tells us that He, the Eternal Wisdom, by Whom we make our supplication known, is Himself that ear which the FATHER bent down to earth to hear the faint murmur of suffering which was all that feeble man had strength to utter.

3a (3) The snares of death compassed me round about: and the pains of hell gat hold upon me.

The snares of death. More exactly, with S. Jerome, the cords of death, a reference, doubtless, to the ropes with which persons doomed to execution were bound, and therefore represented sufficiently by the LXX. Vulgate, and A. V. pains. We may then take these cords of death to be the qualities of mortality and passibility which we inherit naturally,* and which the LORD voluntarily accepted for our sake, and we may understand them literally of the ropes with which He was bound in the garden, when the pains of hell, or with LXX. and Vulgate, perils of hell, the near approach of the agonising death of the Cross, found Him.* Another view, however, is that the perils of hell is a metaphor for sinners in danger of being lost, and that these, the harlot in the city, the woman in adultery, the thief on the cross, found CHRIST, and finding Him were saved.* One commentator explains, the torture of the rack as the idea intended by cords of death, and in that case we may very well read the verse as the cry of the Martyrs in their passion, as they hung extended on the “little horse,” with all their bones out of joint, while they awaited the yet more horrible tortures to which it was but the preliminary.

The sinner, too, may use the verse most truly, not only of those bodily disorders which hurry him to the grave, (L.) but of the sorer spiritual maladies which sin has brought upon him. The cords of death are any mortal sins,* evil thoughts, and carnal indulgence.* And it is well said that these cords compassed me round about, (R.) for sin attacks man on every side;* in front, by making him careless of things eternal; behind, by causing him to love things earthly; on the right hand, lulling him by prosperity; on the left, crushing him by adversity; above him, by tempting him to vain-confidence; below, by goading him to despair of pardon. The pains of hell are temptations, ignorance, suggestions of the enemy, and evil works. The word in Hebrew is neither pains, nor perils, but straits, narrownesses,1 and implies the extreme difficulty of extrication,* the closeness with which the peril draws near, as in the case of a path of a few inches in breadth along the edge of a precipice. Gat hold upon me. The LXX. and Vulgate, rightly, found me. Where note that the peril of hell because of sin finds a man who has lapsed without deliberate purpose, (Ay.) through ignorance, or sudden temptation, but man himself finds sin when he offends deliberately and against knowledge.

3b–4 (4) I shall find trouble and heaviness, and I will call upon the Name of the LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

There are many who,* though compassed by the cords of death and threatened by the perils of hell, give no heed thereto, busied as they are with worldly concerns, and lulled into dangerous security by their prosperous condition; but the Psalmist is wiser, and looking forward to peril and suffering, beseeches the LORD to deliver him in the evil day.* Or we may take it, if we understand the previous verse as a confession of deadly sin, that this one is a promise of penitence and self-infliction, of lamentation for the guilt committed, followed by a prayer to GOD for pardon. And in this sense the Psalmist rightly says, (C.) I have found trouble and heaviness, for grievous as they are, yet no small treasure lies hid in them for the penitent soul; or, if you prefer it, they are the physicians whom the penitent needs to seek out that he may be healed of his disorder. A Saint does not wait for tribulation to find him out, but seeks it voluntarily,* “knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of GOD is shed abroad in our hearts by the HOLY GHOST which is given unto us.”* And then we may most fitly apply the words I shall find to Him Who deliberately sought the shame and agony of the Passion, as the only road by which He might recover the lost sheep; but Who, nevertheless, prayed to His FATHER to deliver His soul from the grave by the might of the Resurrection. We, (C.) when we use this prayer, confess that our soul is held captive by sin; and in that the Psalmist asks for rescue of his soul,* and not of his body, it appears that the trouble and heaviness of which he complains are spiritual, and not temporal afflictions.

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous: yea, our GOD is merciful.

There are two epithets here to denote GOD’S mercy,* and but one for His justice,* which is set in the midst of the two others,* as fenced by them on each side, in order to teach us that GOD’S mercy prevaileth against judgment,* and the present tense is used, because this is always so with Him, not a matter of the past or the future only. The LORD is gracious, (A.) because He inclines His ear to the sinner calling on Him; He is righteous, because He chastises him; He is merciful, because after chastisement, He receives him again to pardon and favour. And though GOD’S mercy be greater than His judgment, yet the position of the words here teaches us that all true mercy must have justice in the midst of it, and therefore that GOD is bound by His own laws to deal justly with the sinner even in the very act of showing mercy to him.* The Greek Fathers bid us see a special stress in the phrase Our GOD,* as contrasting His love and righteousness with the capricious and wanton cruelty ascribed by the heathen to their gods.* And we may put the whole verse into the mouth of our LORD upon the Cross, addressing them to His Mother and His disciples to comfort them in their affliction, and to infuse the hope of His Resurrection into their hearts.

6 The LORD preserveth the simple: I was in misery, and he helped me.

The simple. That is,* such as are unversed in worldly artifices,* and unable “by any mental power of their own to foresee and guard against the snares of the devil, those cords of death and straits of hell which compass them about. Such as these are not left to the wiles of their enemies, for GOD preserveth them. The LXX. and Vulgate, instead of simple, read little children (νήπια, parvulos), but there is no great difference of interpretation, as the commentators agree that the word is not to be limited to its literal construction, but to be extended to all those who, born again in the laver of regeneration,* have become as little children in docility and guilelessness,* that they may enter into the kingdom of GOD. Such as these, little in their own sight, but increasing in stature through the bounty of GOD alone, (C.) He preserves, like a good shepherd, from the jaws of the ravening wolf; and not only them, but such as are mere beginners in the way of godliness, (Ay.) and have as yet no spiritual vigour to defend themselves. And the Psalmist adds that humility, the act of submitting himself, was the means of his deliverance, saying, I was brought low (A. V., LXX., Vulg.), (L.) and He helped me. So it is told of S. Antony that seeing in a vision countless snares and pitfalls made ready against men by the enemies of the soul, he asked in terror, “LORD, who can escape all these?” and that he received in answer, “The humble.”

7 Turn again unto thy rest, O my soul: for the LORD hath rewarded thee.

It is probable that the primary intention in this verse has reference to the return of Israel from captivity into the Land of Promise,* which is actually styled “rest”* in one place, while in two others the notion is coupled with that of deliverance from exile: “I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest, and be quiet, (Z.) and none shall make him afraid.”* But there may very well be a larger sense, applicable to all believers, of discarding their anxiety and doubt, and returning to complete tranquillity of mind, as being sensible of GOD’S bounty in past deliverance, and hopeful of it for the future, in the full spirit of that saying, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.”* And a favourite interpretation of the verse is that it describes the death of the righteous,* who leaves the trouble and discord of this world to enter into the rest which remaineth for the people of GOD; first in Paradise,* and then in the more perfect repose of the heavenly Jerusalem; whence that refrain in the Office of the Dead,* “Eternal rest grant unto them, O LORD, and light perpetual shine upon them.” But whether on earth, or in the grave, or in heaven itself,* the source of the rest is one and the same, the only perfect repose is the LORD JESUS, Who saith, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”* For the Lord hath rewarded thee.* So S. Jerome and the Targum, (L.) implying that the recovered rest is GOD’S recompense for the humble trust in Him and the zealousness in well-doing which the suppliant has displayed. But the A. V., following LXX., Syriac, and Vulgate, reads hath dealt bountifully with thee, words which denote only the magnitude of the benefit conferred, with no reference to man’s deservings.

8 And why? thou hast delivered my soul from death: mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

Here are set before us the three chief qualities of the life of the blessed,* that bountiful gift of the LORD; immortality, in that we are delivered from death; impassibility, since there can be no more sufferings, for “the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away,”* because “GOD shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;”* security, in that fall is thenceforward impossible, as it is written, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My GOD, and he shall go no more out.”* It may be taken also of GOD’S dealing with His elect even in this world, whom He saves from death, that is,* from mortal sin, by His justifying grace; from tears, by delivering us out of temptations; from falling by protecting us from the overthrow plotted against us by our invisible foes. Again, we may read the verse of the Gentile Church, delivered from death, when brought out of the worship of lifeless idols and from the grave of sin into the knowledge of GOD and holiness of life; rescued from tears,* when carried safely through the ten fierce persecutions into a time of peace, and from falling, when the slippery wiles of the heretics who endeavoured to supplant the Gospel were defeated in the early General Councils.* And finally, we may understand the passage as spoken of the Resurrection and Ascension of CHRIST the LORD, whereby He was released from the pain and sorrow of His life on earth.

9 I will walk before the LORD: in the land of the living.

The LXX. and Vulgate give the force,* rather than the literal meaning of the Hebrew in the first clause, translating I will please the Lord. (L.) It is a vow on the part of the returning exile, coming back to the Holy Land, to the sacred City, that he will there steadily set his face to serve GOD, in obedience to the Law, in regularity of worship, in frequent offerings, in holiness of life. But the literal Hebrew is here plural, the lands of the living,* looking forward in prophecy to a wider and more embracing creed than that of the elder dispensation, whence it is explained of the Christian Church, diffused through many lands, and in each of them being the true Eve, the Mother of all living a new life in the LORD. And finally, they all take it of the Church Triumphant, in the highest sense the land of the living, since death cannot by any means enter therein, where the elect shall walk before the Lord, ever well-pleasing in His sight, ever gladdened themselves by the Beatific Vision; a sense which has pointed the use of the Psalm with this verse as Antiphon in the Vesper Office for the Dead.

10–11 (10) I believed, and therefore will I speak; but I was sore troubled: I said in my haste, All men are liars.

The Apostle S. Paul, citing the former part of this verse according to the LXX., which is exactly the same as the A. V., I believed, therefore have I spoken, teaches us that the Psalmist’s meaning is that devout utterance is a necessary outcome of true belief: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe,* and therefore speak.”* It appears then that the immediately preceding words are referred to, and that the utterance of faith is “I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” But there is a grammatical difficulty in this construction of the Hebrew, which is somewhat obscure, and various explanations (none of them, however, excluding the Pauline connection between faith and speech,) have been suggested.* One takes the particle כִּי to mean although, and translates, I believe, although I say, I am sore troubled. That is, while human weakness forces a cry of pain from me, my faith in GOD remains unshaken. Or again, כִּי may be when: I believe, when I say, I was sore troubled; which means,* Every time I recall my past sufferings, and remember how GOD delivered me out of them, my faith in Him is quickened anew.* Once more, it may be explained of GOD’S method of teaching by adversity:* I learnt to believe, when I was compelled to say, I am sore troubled. I trusted in myself, and in my fellow-men, and found neither of any avail, and was therefore driven back upon GOD for succour, and found Him alone true.* I said in my haste. That is,* in the confusion and bewilderment brought on me by the pressure of my sufferings; whence the Chaldee explains the word as meaning,* during my flight,* although several of the Greek and Latin commentators, looking to the LXX. ἐκστάσει and the Vulgate excessu, take it as also denoting a rapture of divine contemplation, during which the, speaker observes—not,* All men are liars, thus bringing an untenable charge against the Saints of GOD, but—All mankind is untrustworthy, that is, “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field,”* all men are fleeting, (D. C.) unstable, vanishing like a dream, and therefore there is none save GOD on whom we can place reliance. Wherefore the Apostle saith, “Let GOD be true, but every man a liar;”* and therefore too, as the Prophet said long before him, “The Gentiles shall come unto Thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.”* And as the favourite explanation of the Psalm with the Latins is that it denotes the constancy of the Martyrs, who believed, and spoke boldly in the Name of CHRIST, so they take this clause to be a confession on the part of each Martyr of his own frailty and liability to fall, (A.) confessing that in as far as he is man,* he too may be false to his LORD, and give way under torment, but that if he conquer, it is GOD’S victory and might, not his own, which has overcome the enemy.

12 (11) What reward shall I give unto the LORD: for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?

13 (12) I will receive the cup of salvation: and call upon the Name of the LORD.

The Greek and Latin Fathers,* with singular unanimity,* understand by the Cup here mentioned as the one act of gratitude to GOD for all His benefits, (A.) the chalice of suffering and martyrdom,* whereof the LORD JESUS spake to the sons of Zebedee, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?”* because nothing less than blood for Blood, our own life in repayment for the life which CHRIST gave up on the Cross for us, appears in any degree an adequate acknowledgment of His unspeakable goodness. I will receive (Heb. lift up) the cup of salvation. The direct reference is to the cup of wine used in the benediction at the Paschal meal (a rite not named in the Old Testament, but introduced amongst the Jews between the Captivity and the destruction of the Temple,) and thus denotes a promise on the part of the Psalmist, to observe the Passover with true devotion, just as a little later he pledges himself to “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”* Of this “cup of blessing” the Rabbins say,* in explanation of this passage, “I will elevate the chalice of salvation; that is, when I keep festival and rejoicings, I will lift up a cup of wine, I will give thanks to Him over it in the presence of many, and will make mention of the salvation wherewith He saved me. And this he calls the chalice of salvation.”* To us, the words have an especial force,* remembering that this Psalm was part of the Hallel sung by CHRIST and the Apostles on the night of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, (D. C.) when He gave them the Cup of Salvation in His Blood;* whence this Psalm is used in the West on Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi as well as on Festivals of Martyrs. The two ideas blend in one, as we recognize in that commemoration of the LORD’S dying the source of the valorous daring of His Saints, ready to press after Him through the Red Sea of Martyrdom.* Therefore, one who was himself eminent amongst the Martyrs, says of his true yoke-fellows, “Believing that they daily drink the Blood of CHRIST’S chalice, that they too may be able to shed their blood for CHRIST’S sake.”* And, as another Saint observes, “The holy Martyrs glowed with this spiritual wine of the HOLY GHOST, when casting away and throwing behind them all the seductions of the world, they went to their passions, forgetting goods and affections, inheritance and marriage, and overcoming the very love of their infant pledges aimed against them with weeping and casting of dust on the head, and that of the mother rending her face and tearing her hair. But they, like men intoxicated, saw not all this, nor recognized their own kindred, because having the HOLY GHOST poured into their hearts, they hastened to execution, as though to comforts and rewards.”

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Praise to our victorious King,

Who hath washed us in the tide

Flowing from His piercéd side.*

Praise we Him Whose love Divine

Gives His sacred Blood for Wine,

Gives His Body for the Feast,

CHRIST the Victim, CHRIST the Priest.

Where the Paschal Blood is poured,

Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;

Israel’s hosts triumphant go

Through the wave that drowns the foe.

And in this sense the meaning given to the passage by modern critics holds good,* that the best way of showing gratitude to GOD is to accept in humble thankfulness the blessings He bestows, chief amongst which is this most holy Sacrament of His love. Wherefore this verse is appointed in the Latin Church to be recited by the Priest before he communicates himself with the chalice at Mass.* So runs another hymn:

He who ever fully loves

Whereso He is present,*

He Whose friendship always proves

Of all gifts most pleasant:

He with thee would gladly rest,

In thy heart remaining,

Fain would sit with Thee as guest,

There His food obtaining.

Arise, for He is very near,

And swiftly run to meet Him,

And let thy heart be pure and clear,

That it may fitly greet Him.

And call upon the Name of the Lord. So, in one of the most ancient liturgies of the Church, at the elevation of the Divine Mysteries, the people responded when the Priest had exclaimed, “Holy things for holy persons,”* with the cry, “One Holy, One LORD, One JESUS CHRIST to the glory of GOD the FATHER, blessed for evermore. Amen. Glory be to GOD in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed be He that cometh in the Name of the LORD: GOD is the LORD, and He hath appeared unto us. Hosanna in the highest.” And the Martyrs too,* when about to drink of that other cup of His, invoked Him to be their strength, as S. Laurence cried, “LORD JESU CHRIST, GOD of GOD, have mercy on me Thy servant.”*

14–15 (13) I will pay my vows now in the presence of all his people: right dear in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

The literal sense here is a public thanksgiving for deliverance,* and the meaning of the latter clause is that GOD holds His Saints far too dear to expose them lightly to death, but that He jealously guards them from harm.* Those who interpret the whole Psalm of the Martyrs, understand this verse as a promise on their part to confess CHRIST openly before all men; not secretly, but where the act may bring with it the cup of martyrdom; knowing that their voluntary oblation, permitted by GOD, is a glorious and precious jewel in His sight; precious,* because they are “not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious Blood of CHRIST.”* And it is recorded of S. Babylas, the great Bishop of Antioch, who attained his crown in the Decian persecution, that he recited these words as he went to the place of his passion.* They are also appointed by the Apostolical Constitutions to be used at Christian funerals, and they are recited as a versicle and response at the end of the Martyrology in the conventual office of Chapter.* S. Basil the Great dwells on them as enforcing the lesson of the sacredness of those bodies which had been the temples of the HOLY GHOST, observing that whereas, under the Law, any who touched a dead body was held unclean; under the Gospel contact with the relics of a Martyr is counted a blessing and privilege.

The words may further be explained of the Baptismal vows, (L.) which include proceeding to reception of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar; and then of enduring all troubles and trials to the very end of life; nay, if need be, at the cost of it; and finally, (D. C.) of faithful acquittal of all pledges made by any of us to the LORD, remembering those words of the Wise Man, “When thou vowest a vow to GOD, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, (L.) than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”* And by imitating the Saints of GOD, even without winning the glory of martyrdom, we may die to the world, a precious thing, and bountifully paid by GOD, to Whom we may say, as we vow this daily death, “Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the King; and why should the King recompense it me with so great a reward?”*

16 (14) Behold, O LORD, how that I am thy servant: I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid; thou hast broken my bonds in sunder.

There is no pride in the Martyr’s vow,* as he offers himself in sacrifice to GOD; for he acknowledges it to be but the debt of his bondage to Him; and according to the LORD’S own precept, when he hath done all things commanded him, he confesses that he is an unprofitable servant.* The humility is great, but the dignity is greater, to be the servant of GOD, a title wherewith Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Paul, and even the Master of them all, (Z.) was styled, instead of being the servant of sin. He calls himself servant twice, (D. C.) in delight at the name, having no shame, but rather exultation in it; he repeats it twice, because he has given himself to GOD’S service first in belief and then in good works; and styles himself the son of His handmaid,* as one born in His house and service, never having had independent rights from the first moment of existence, but yet closer and dearer to his LORD from that long familiarity. It is said handmaid, (L.) not servant, because where slavery exists, the child follows the status of the mother, and a noble father does not cause the child of a bondwoman to be born free. There is, further, a special fitness in the title as given to Him Who had no earthly father, but Whose Virgin Mother styled herself “the handmaid of the LORD;”* while all Christians may call the Church, (C.) bought with their LORD’S Blood, their Mother, and Religious can apply the title to the particular Order in which they have vowed themselves to GOD. And in each of these latter cases there are certain attributes of a good handmaid which should be found in a pure Church or a zealous community. (Ay.) A handmaid should be lowly in conversation, active in work, steadfast in patience, ready in service, fruitful in gain, notable in saving; and the son of such a handmaid should possess his mother’s attributes. Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder. All may say it of the effect of justifying grace in loosing us from the fetters of sin,* Religious may take it of the snapping of those ties which bound them to secular life, and the Martyrs of that rending asunder of their mortal bodies which set free the soul to wing its way to CHRIST, Whose yoke is easy, Whose burden is light, Whose service is perfect freedom.

17 (15) I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving: and will call upon the Name of the LORD.

This is,* in the literal sense, a promise to make the Levitical thank-offering of fine flour, which answers to the festival cup named earlier in the Psalm, (L) and represents for us the remaining species of the Eucharistic Oblation; whence this Psalm, from verse 10 to the end, is one of those appointed to be recited by Priests of the Western Church before saying Mass.* But the early commentators prefer to understand it still of the complete surrender of body and soul to GOD in one final act of self-dedication,* especially martyrdom (a sense in which many of those who themselves sealed their faith with their blood have taken it,*) and then of the continual praise in heaven which follows such devotion upon earth;* and S. Ambrose dwells on the future tense here,* I will sacrifice, as implying so much, because there can be no perfect praise and thanksgiving offered to GOD on earth. Observe too, that as so often in the Psalter, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is here veiled, by a threefold invocation of the Most High, as the words I will call upon the Name of the Lord have twice before occurred in the course of this Psalm, a point lost by the division followed in LXX. and Vulgate.

18–19 (16) I will pay my vows unto the LORD, in the sight of all his people: in the courts of the LORD’S house, even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD.

There is some little variance here as to whether the verse is to be understood of the Church Militant,* with its various local Churches, which are its courts, in the midst of that peaceful vision wherein the Bride looks for and to her Spouse, or whether (and far more beautifully) we should take it of the Martyr, who has already paid his vows on earth in the presence of a multitude,* and is now declaring that he will again,* on the last Great Day, in the sight of all men and Angels, renew his faithful vows to the LORD, and be lifted up as a choice, precious and lively stone, to be compacted into the walls of the wide courts of that building made without hands, eternal in the heavens; and that in no obscure or lowly place of glory, but in the midst of the Heavenly City, where the Beatific Vision is its light and glory for ever, where our Miserere will be turned into an endless Alleluia.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is gracious, righteous, and merciful; glory be to the SON, from Whom we receive the Cup of Salvation; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who hath broken our bonds in sunder.

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

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