Commentaries

Giovanni del Biondo, “The Funeral of St Benedict."

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Some of the most beautiful, moving Scriptural texts are used for funerals, such as De Profundis and the Miserere. When else do we say these texts maybe. The Asperges Me, said when bringing the body to the church, is also said at the beginning of each mass by the priest.

Below are classic Biblical commentaries on some of the Scriptural parts of rite of funerals.

The commentaries I pull from are Haydock 1 for the psalms and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea 2 for the Gospel reading.

For more commentaries, please see Sermonry 3 and Psallam Domino 4.

Psalm 129 (De Profundis)

(Also said during Vespers and Lauds for the Office of the Dead)

Ver. 1. Canticle. David might compose it after his sin, though it might suit the captives, and all sinners, as well as the souls in purgatory. Bert. — It has long been recited in their behalf. W. — Depths of the prison of expiation, or from this vale of misery, (Bert.) captivity, (C.) and from the bottom of my heart. S. Chrys.

Ver. 3. Mark. Heb. “observe or keep.” — It. Heb. “who shall stand upright, (C.) or make opposition.” H. — We all stand in need of mercy, as none can stand before the rigours of divine justice. W.

Ver. 4. Law. That promises of pardon contained therein. W. — Heb. is now different from what the ancient interpreters read. C. — “Therefore shalt thou be feared.” Mont. H. — Sym. and Theodotion agree with us.

Ver. 5. Word. And promises that the captivity should end, (C.) and sin be remitted. H.

Ver. 6. From. Or Heb. “more than the morning watch; yea, more than the morning watch.” I expect my deliverance with greater eagerness than sentinels do the return of morning. All the day and night long I am filled with these sentiments. C. — The hope of penitents resembles the watches of the day, which are more comfortable than those of the night. W.

Ver. 7. Redemption. Our Saviour affords the greatest consolation. W. — He will save the people. Matt. i. 21. and 1 Jo. ii. 2. Bert.

Psalm 50 (Miserere)

(Also said during Vespers and Lauds for the Office of the Dead)

Ver. 2. Bethsabee. Sept. “Bersabee.” Some copies add, “the wife of Urias.” H. — The rest of the title is in Heb. &c. so that it is one of the most authentic. Nathan did not give the admonition till about a year had elapsed after the transgression, (2 K. xii.) when David was made to enter into himself, by a prophet inferior to himself. Bert. — After his departure, he is supposed to have composed this psalm, to testify his repentance to all the world. C. — He had also in view the state of the captives. Theod. &c. — The two last verses seem to have been added at Babylon, (Abenezra) as a similar addition has been made (Ps. cv. 47. and 1 Par. xvi. 35. C.) by some inspired author. H. — David knew that something more than confession was requisite, and that he must submit to temporal punishments, even though the prophet had assured him that his sin was remitted. He prays to be washed still more from evil habits, v. 4. W.

Ver. 3. Thy great mercy. Such is the purport of the Heb. chasdec, though (H.) the Chal. and Syr. omit great. My sin requires the deepest compunction. I must strive to repair the scandal I have given. C. — Mercies. I stand in need of many sorts, mitigation of punishment, true sorrow and perseverance, and that I may make some amends for my bad example, &c. W.

Ver. 4. Yet more, by baptism. Euseb. S. Amb. apol. — The true penitent never ceases to deplore his sins, like David, S. Peter, and S. Paul. Eccli. v. 5. The psalmist prays, that all the remains of sin may be obliterated. Jo. xiii. 10. W.

Ver. 5. Me. I do not forget it, but am covered with shame. C. — Sin is our greatest enemy, and continually cries for vengeance. H. — While David did not confess, his sin lay heavy upon him. W.

Ver. 6. Only, or principally, who art the only God, (1 Tim. i. 17. W.) the judge and witness of my crime. H. — David was a king, and acknowledged no judge among men. S. Amb. c. x. — Soli Deo reus est. Cassiod. — Urias, whom he had injured, was no more. S. Aug. — The action had been done in secret: (2 K. xii. 12.) but many began to suspect, and to blaspheme. H. — Judged. S. Paul reads thus, (Rom. iii. 4.) though the Heb. be, “when thou judgest.” S. Jerom has also judicaberis, so that we might infer, that the Heb. is now incorrect, or that beshophtec means in judicare te. Bert. — Houbigant changes the order of the verse, “cleanse me from my sins, that thou mayst be blameless when thou comest into judgment: For I know,” &c. H. — Susanna was preserved from sinning by the thought of God’s presence. Dan. xiii. 25. — If David fell, he confessed his fault. Bert. — God is faithful to his promises, and desires the conversion of sinners, though some would represent him as cruel, and unconcerned about his creatures. The psalmist prevents this unjust inference, (H.) and proves, that God is both just and merciful. W. — He acknowledges his ingratitude, as the captives confess, that their sins have brought on them this chastisement, though they had not injured the Babylonians. Theod. Flam. C. — God had often promised pardon to those who truly repent. An appeal is made to his truth and mercy.

Ver. 7. Sins. Heb. “iniquity,…and in sin did my mother warm or conceive me.” Original sin has a manifold deformity, and is the fatal root of other transgressions. See S. Aug. Ench. S. Tho. i. 2. q. 82. a. 2. est multiplex virtute. H. — The prophet speaks here undoubtedly of original sin. Amama. — No text could be more express, as the Fathers and the Jews agree. Yet Grotius, whose opinions are almost always singular, and dangerous, maintains, that the expression is hyperbolical, and only implies, that David had been long subject to sin, even from his infancy, as Job was naturally of a merciful disposition. Job xxxi. 18. — Thus free-thinkers abuse the Scripture, and setting aside all authority, will only see what they think proper. C. — The weakness of man is a motive for pity: (M.) David pleads for it, yet allows, that the fault was entirely his own, and that he had grace sufficient to have avoided it. C. — The consideration of our sinful origin, ought to move us to beg, that we may be washed still more, and that we may not yield to our evil propensities. W. — We may resist them, and therefore David would not make vain excuses in sin, as God love the truth, and a sincere confession. M.

Ver. 8. Uncertain. Heb. “in the interior,” I am full of sin, and thou requirest that I should constantly adhere to virtue. See Job xiv. 1. — To me. This increases my crime, (C.) as I cannot plead ignorance. M. — Those who have true faith, are more easily converted. But God gives to all some good, which he loves in them, and is ever ready to preserve his gifts, and to save his creatures. W.

Ver. 9. Hyssop, which was used in sprinkling lepers, &c. (Lev. xiv. 6.) not that the like ceremony, or even sacrifice, would suffice to heal the wound of the soul. Sincere contrition, (v. 18, 19.) and the virtue of Christ’s blood, are necessary. C. Heb. ix. 19. — The heat (Num. xix.) and operation of this sovereign medicine was shewn to the prophet. Jo. xix. W. — The sprinkling of the priest might be of service, if the heart was contrite. Heb. ix. 13. M.

Ver. 10. Rejoice, when thou givest me an assurance of pardon. My bones, or virtue, shall then be restored. Heb. “the bones which thou hast broken may exult.” S. Jer. H. — God gives contrition, after which the whole interior is filled with joy. Bert. — When the affections are purified, the soul takes delight in God’s word, and revives. W. — The assurance of being pardoned, give her fresh alacrity in his service. M.

Ver. 11. Face. Anger. If the sinner consider his fault, God will forget it. C. — His justice requires that he should punish the impenitent. W.

Ver. 12. Create. Heb. bera, a term never used but for a new production. Whatever comes immediately from God must be pure, and as David had fallen into impurity, he earnestly implores this gift. He prays for the new heart of flesh. Ezec. xxxvi. 26. H. — Thou hast said, Behold, I make all things new. Apoc. xxi. Oh that I may be included, that I may sing a new canticle, having become a new man! 2 Cor. v. 17. Eph. iv. 24. Bert. — Right. Heb. “constant,” (H.) the Holy Spirit, thy inspiration, or that uprightness, of which I have been deprived. C. — Bowels, or interior. W. — These sentiments ought to animate priests, when they hear confessions. W.

Ver. 13. Spirit of prophecy, which is not withdrawn, except for some crime. Orig. Huet. p. 35. — David had been without this privilege, till his repentance. S. Athan. — Yet S. Chrys. and Theodoret maintain the contrary. C. — He prays for final perseverance, which is due to none, (Bert.) and that he may fall no more. W.

Ver. 14. Salvation, or thy salutary joy, (Bert.) “the joy of thy Jesus,” (S. Jer.) for whom he prays, (S. Aug.) knowing that He will save his people from their sins, and that there is salvation in no other name. H. — Perfect. Lit. “principal.” Sept. “conducting;” such a spirit as may suit one who is to command. H. — This may denote sound reason, (4 Mac. Philo Nobil) which keeps the passions under, (S. Chrys. Job xxx. 15.) or God himself, to whose Spirit all others shall be subservient. Rancè often inculcated to his Monks, the importance of having this principal spirit, which includes every virtue, particularly of liberality, as the Heb. nediba, implies. Bert. — “Thy free Spirit.” Prot. — How earnest should we endeavour to be disentangled from all the chains of our passions! H. — David might also fear, lest he had forfeited the throne, like Saul, whom the Spirit left. 1 K. x. 9. and xvi. 14. Kings affected to be styled liberal. Lu. xxiii. 25. C. — He repeats his petition thrice, in allusion to the three persons in one God, (S. Aug. &c.) and prays, that the Messias may still spring from him, notwithstanding his sins, and that he may have a constant and willing spirit to fall no more. W. — Principal, or liberal, may refer to the Holy Ghost, the fountain of all grace, or to the king, who ought to be generous. M.

Ver. 15. Thee. The sinner cannot testify his gratitude better, than by promoting the conversion of others. W. — This is a sort of satisfaction. M. — While engaged in sin, David could not well exhort his subjects to repentance. His example was rather an inducement for them to transgress. Bert.— But when they saw his grief, and knew that God had pardoned him, they were no longer tempted to despair. He also watched more carefully over their conduct.

Ver. 16. Blood, from death, which I have deserved. S. Athan. — That of Urias, and his companions, (W.) cries to heaven for vengeance. 2 K. xi. 24. H. —Hence the word sanguinibus, is used. Bert. — Spare me, and my people. — Justice, which has given place to mercy. C. — The latter word is here used by Sym. and justice may have this meaning. Theod. — Sixtus V. reads exaltabit, instead of exultabit, which Sept. agalliasetai, (C.) requires. Heb. terannen, “shall sing aloud of.” Prot. “shall praise thy justice.” S. Jer. — Extol agrees better with exaltabit, though both have nearly the same sense. H. — God’s justice will pardon the penitent, as he has promised. W.

Ver. 18. Sacrifice. If my crime were of such a nature as the be expiated by certain victims, I would surely have offered them: but my heart has offended , and must do penance. C. — The legal victims were not of themselves sufficient to remit sin. M. — Contrition was necessary. Is. lxvi. 2. Ezec. vi. 9. Bert. — The Scripture often prefers internal, before outward sacrifices. This of the heart must precede those of justice, and of praise. W. — The heart must be broken, to make place for love. Compunction is thrice urged. The two first terms in Heb. are the same, “contrite,” (H.) broken, or disconcerted. Kateklasqh filon htor. Odyss. M. — The captives might adopt this prayer. Dan. iii. 39. C. — External sacrifices are commended in the next verse, as they are good, (H.) being instituted by God. M.

Ver. 20. Deal. These two verses have no necessary connexion with the preceding: they may have been added by some prophet at Babylon, (C.) or David foresaw the destruction of the city by the Chaldees. S. Chrys. — He might fear that his sin would draw ruin on the capital, as a much less offence did, and as in all ages, the sins of the rulers have fallen on their subjects. 2 K. xxiv. H. — Though the place was not destitute of fortifications, (C.) he might pray that they might be completed, (Bert.) as they were by Solomon, who built the temple and various walls, so that David might very will add this conclusion, (3 K. iii. 1. and ix. 15. H.) alluding to the sacrifices which should be offered in the future temple. Bert. — He insinuates, that his pardon may prove beneficial to his people, and sues for it to be granted for their sakes. M.

Ver. 21. Justice; works of piety, (Ps. iv. 6.) or victims vowed or prescribed by the law; the same which are afterwards styled holocausts (C.) by two different terms, hola and calil. H. — The latter includes fruits, &c. C. — While we are in sin, our good works are less acceptable. M.

Canticle of Zachariah

(Also said during Lauds for the Office of the Dead)

67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,

68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.

AMBROSE. God in His mercy and readiness to pardon our sins, not only restores to us what He has taken away, but grants us favours even beyond our expectations. Let no one then distrust Him, let no one from consciousness of past sins despair of the Divine blessing. God knoweth how to change His sentence, if thou hast known how to correct thy sin, seeing he that was long silent prophesies; as it is said, And Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit.

CHRYSOSTOM. That is, “with the working of the Holy Spirit;” for he had obtained the grace of the Holy Spirit, not in any manner, but fully; and the gift of prophecy shone forth in him; as it follows, And he prophesied.

ORIGEN. Now Zacharias being filled with the Holy Spirit utters two prophecies, the first relating to Christ, the second to John. And this is plainly proved by those words in which he speaks of the Saviour as present and already going about in the world, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited, &c.

CHRYSOSTOM. Zacharias, when he is blessing God, says, that He hath visited His people, meaning thereby either the Israelites in the flesh, for He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; (Matt. 15:24.) or the spiritual Israel, that is, the faithful, who were worthy of this visitation, making the providence of God of good effect towards them.

BEDE. But the Lord visited His people who were pining away as it were from long sickness, and by the blood of His only begotten Son, redeemed them who were sold under sin. Which thing Zacharias, knowing that it would soon be accomplished, relates in the prophetic manner as if it were already passed. But he says, His people, not that when He came He found them His own, but that by visiting He made them so.

1:69

69. And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.

THEOPHYLACT. God seemed to be asleep, disregarding the sins of the multitude, but in these last times coming in the flesh, He hath risen up and trodden down the evil spirits who hated us. Hence it is said, And he hath raised up an horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant David.

ORIGEN. Because Christ was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, it is said, A horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant David; as it has also elsewhere been said, A vineyard hath been planted in a horn, (Is. 5:1.) i. e. in Jesus Christ.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Serm. de Anna. IV.) Now by a horn he means power, glory, and honour, deriving it metaphorically from the brute creatures, to whom God has given horns for defence and glory.

BEDE. The kingdom of our Saviour Christ is called also the horn of salvation, because all our bones are clothed with flesh, but the horn alone stretches beyond the flesh; so the kingdom of Christ is called the horn of salvation, as reaching beyond the world and the delights of the flesh. According to which figure David and Solomon were consecrated by the horn of oil to the glory of the kingdom.

1:70

70. As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began.

THEOPHYLACT. That Christ was born of the house of David, Micah relates, saying, And thou, Bethlehem, art not the least in the city of Juda, for out of thee shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel. (Micah 5:2.) But all the prophets spoke of the Incarnation, and therefore it is said, As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets.

GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Victor Presbyter.) Whereby he means that God spoke through them, and that their speech was not of man.

BEDE. But he says, Which have been since the world began. Because all the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a constant prophecy of Christ. For both our father Adam himself, and the other fathers, by their deeds bore testimony to His dispensation.

1:71

71. That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.

BEDE. Having first briefly said, He hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, he goes on to explain his words, adding, of salvation from our enemies. As if he said, He hath raised up to us a horn, i. e. He hath raised up to us salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.

ORIGEN. Let us not suppose that this refers to our bodily enemies, but our ghostly. For the Lord Jesus came mighty in battle (Ps. 24:8) to destroy all our enemies, that He might deliver us from their snares and temptation.

Sources


  1. Haydock, George L. Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary. Edward Dunigan and Brother: New York, 1859, https://www.ecatholic2000.com/haydock/title.shtml. ↩︎

  2. Aquinas, Thomas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels. J.H. Parker, 1841, https://www.ecatholic2000.com/catena/untitled-111.shtml. ↩︎

  3. Sermonry, https://sermonry.com/. Accessed 3 June 2019. ↩︎

  4. “Psallam Domino: Masterpost: Links to Notes by Psalm Number.” Psallam Domino (blog), January 16, 2018. https://psallamdomino.blogspot.com/2018/01/masterpost-links-to-notes-by-psalm.html. ↩︎