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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.

Monastic.

Ambrosian.

              }

              Daily: Compline.

 

Parisian.

Lyons.

              }

              Sunday: Compline.

 

Quignon. Wednesday: Compline.

Eastern Church. Nocturns and Compline.

The Antiphons in such Uses as employ them vary with all the seasons.

1a (1) Behold now, praise the LORD: all ye servants of the LORD.

1b (2) Ye that by night stand in the house of the LORD: even in the courts of the house of our GOD.

It is plain from the second verse that the words in the first one, all ye servants of the Lord, mean only the Priests and Levites vowed to the service of the Temple. And the Chaldee Paraphrase explains that the night-watch kept in the Temple courts is here referred to.* This watch, consisting of Priests and doorkeepers, was divided into two companies, starting from the same spot in the inner court, going severally east and west to compass the court, and meeting at the bake-house where the altar-breads were made. While the watch went its rounds, the rest of the Priests in residence arose, bathed, vested, and assembled in the hall of the Sanhedrim, and there received their list of duties for the next day, distributed to them by lot. It is agreed that this Psalm is a dialogue, but the question as to the speakers is unsettled. It may be spoken by one half of the watch to the other, or by the relieving guard to that going off duty, or again, by the congregation to the Priests and Levites. The objection to this last theory is twofold, that the words, in the courts of the house of the Lord, which might describe the lay part of the Temple, are not in the Hebrew, but added from Psalm 135 by the LXX., and further that there is no evidence of a night office for the congregation in the Temple at all.

Behold now, (H.) tells us that the long climb has been at last achieved, and they who have advanced and ascended may now utter words of blessing. The LORD is to be blessed, because He hath raised us up on high, because He has lifted us by the steps of faith to the lofty site of His house. The mouth of a sinner is unworthy to praise GOD, and therefore the Psalmist saith, all ye servants of the Lord; since it is not every one whose praise is acceptable to GOD, nor can any person at haphazard think to please Him. To do so is only for GOD’S servant, not for the servant of sin, or of the world. Nor does it befit even His servant who is so only in name, but who dallies and wavers and is carried about with the uncertain wind of faith, whose thought and will go wandering in memory of sins and in desire for pleasure. And therefore it is added, Ye that stand in the house of the Lord. He who stands, moves not from his place. He has been running, he has been climbing, now he remains immovable, and greedily drinks in that blessed saying of the Prophet, “He hath set my feet upon a rock,”* and will hear said to him as was said to Moses, “But as for thee, stand thou here by Me.”* But of sinners we read thus: “They have loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet.”* And they stand as waiting to execute the LORD’S commands.* When the centurion asked CHRIST to heal his servant, he said, “LORD, my servant lieth sick of a palsy.”* He was right in saying my servant, since had he been CHRIST’S servant, he would have been standing, not lying.* And as there are many mansions with the FATHER, not only they bless the LORD who stand in His house,* but also in His courts. The court is the entering-in of the house, and thus those who are beginning and those who have advanced to the inner dwelling are yet in one Church, (C.) partakers of one grace, although in different degrees. But even those who do but enter must needs be in the courts, wide and spacious, in the amplitude of charity, not in the narrowness of personal selfishness. (A.) Bless Him now,* in this present life, without delay, bless Him by night,* in all the night of this mortal life, and especially in all time of darkness and sorrow. The Christian use of this Psalm at Compline, both in East and West, is meant to remind those religious who recite it at the time when others are going to rest until the next working-day begin, that they as GOD’S servants have not ended their service,* but still have, later on in the night, to stand in His house and praise Him in the midnight office of Nocturns and Lauds. So runs the hymn at the Matins of Wednesday:

Mentes manusque tollimus,*

Propheta sicut noctibus

Nobis gerendum præcipit,

Paulusque gestis censuit.

We lift our hearts, we lift our hands

By night-time, as with his commands

The Prophet urgeth us to do,

And Paul’s example taught us too.

2 (3) Lift up your hands in the sanctuary: and praise the LORD.

The LXX. and Vulgate division couples the words by night with this verse, but the whole meaning is not affected by the transfer. To lift up the hands is more than to pray, it is to busy ourselves in works for GOD’S glory, (H.) to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, comfort the afflicted,* help the oppressed, show love to all. This is our true evening sacrifice at the close of this world’s day. And note that whereas the Psalmist specifies the sanctuary as the one place for lifting up the hands, (D. C.) now the LORD’S saying to the woman of Samaria has come to pass,* the special sanctity of Jerusalem has vanished, and the Apostle’s teaching, wider than the Psalmist’s, is, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.”* And if they do this in secret, and their alms also, so doing it by night, they do well. (B.) It is added, and bless the Lord, because prayer should follow on works as well as precede them, for as it was necessary to strengthen us for their performance, so it is needful to prevent our ascribing their merit to ourselves when they have been done, and to teach us that our whole life should in word and action be an unceasing hymn of praise to GOD. (D. C.)

3 (4) The LORD that made heaven and earth: give thee blessing out of Sion.

Although the speakers in the first part of the Psalm were plural, (A.) yet here the answer of the Priest in blessing them is made in the singular, because the brethren dwelling together in unity are counted as one body,* and so addressed. In like manner, the blessing commanded by GOD to be pronounced over the whole multitude of the children of Israel by Aaron and his sons, is worded in the singular, “saying unto them, the LORD bless thee.”* He can bless thee, for He made heaven and earth,* and therefore has in His power all good things that they contain,* He will bless thee, for He came out of Sion as a Man, and loves His brethren, and He blesses them out of Sion too because His graces and bounties come to His people through the ministry of His visible Church. (Ay.) He will bless out of His heavenly dwelling at the last. He will bless thee, every one who will climb the flight of steps to His house. (A.) The blessing is spoken to one person. Be that one person, and the blessing will come to thee.

And so:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath made heaven and earth; glory be to the SON, Who giveth us blessing out of Sion; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Himself the blessing given out of Sion to the servants of the LORD.

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








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