Homily of Augustine on Psalm CXLVIII
Home, Sunday before Advent
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Source of Collect: Sacramentary of Gregory of Rome [c. 600]. The title of this collect "The Sunday next before Advent" was that which was used in the Sarum Missal, and was restored to the American Prayerbook in 1892. [Barbee and Zahl]
Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
"… we are not being stubbornly antiquated in a liberal and undogmatic world, but are leading the procession back home. It is for the preservation and promulgation of the Nicene Faith that [we] labor; and in our defense of such orthodox dogmas as the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, and a Resurrection neither metaphorical nor hallucinatory, we shall not budge."
[Former Dean Nutter of Nashota House Seminary ]
Porphyrius the Soldier and 200 at Alexandria - November 25th
commentary and opinion
Psalm CXLVIII. Augustine's homily is at the link above. The psalm has two sections of six verses, and a conclusion of two verses. The first section is a call to things heavenly, and the second to things earthly.
This psalm is one that was sung daily in the Early Church. It opens with the thirsting for God as in a desert (v1) finding God in the Sanctuary (v2), prayers sung (v3) and the lifting of hands (v4), and the imprecatory bidding against enemies (vs 9-11)
In reading the psalmist list of those bidden to praise the Lord, one is reminded of the listing of God's creation in Genesis 1, which is the appointed Old Testament reading selected to accompany this psalm.
Augustine wrote in his opening paragraph of an ancient custom, still practiced in the Easter Church and in some few others:
The subject of our meditation in this present life should be the praises of God; for the everlasting exaltation of our life hereafter will be the praise of God, and none can become fit for the life hereafter, who hath not practised himself for it now. So then now we praise God, but we pray to Him too. Our praise is marked by joy, our prayer by groans.…On account of these two seasons, one, that which now is in the temptations and tribulations of this life, the other, that which is to be hereafter in everlasting rest and exultation; we have established also the celebration of two seasons, that before Easter and that after Easter. That which is before Easter signifieth tribulation, in which we now are; that which we are now keeping after Easter, signifieth the bliss in which we shall hereafter be. The celebration then which we keep before Easter is what we do now: by that which we keep after Easter we signify what as yet we have not. Therefore we employ that time in fastings and prayer, this present time we spend in praises, and relax our fast. This is the Halleluia which we sing, which, as you know, meaneth (in Latin), Praise ye the Lord. Therefore that period is before the Lord's Resurrection, this, after His Resurrection: by which time is signified the future hope which as yet we have not: for what we represent after the Lord's Resurrection, we shall have after our own. For in our Head both are figured, both are set forth. The Baptism of the Lord setteth forth to us this present life of trial, for in it we must toil, be harassed, and, at last, die; but the Resurrection and Glorification of the Lord setteth forth to us the life which we are to have hereafter, when He shall come to recompense due rewards, evil to the evil, good to the good. And now indeed all the evil men sing with us, Halleluia; but, if they persevere in their wickedness, they may utter with their lips the song of our life hereafter; but the life itself, which will then be in the reality which now is typified, they cannot obtain, because they would not practise it before it came, and lay hold on what was to come.
Augustine speaks of course of the Church tradition of liturgical worship which is characterized by fasting, psalms of penance, and prayers kneeling on Monday through Saturday during the period of the Great Lent… (40 days before Easter not counting Saturdays and Sundays] However, upon the Feast of the Resurrection, one finds in the churches joy, feasting, the "Sunday best', white robes, prayers while standing only. This observance continues on all days through Pentecost. This was directed in the First Ecumenical Council called by Constantine in the year 326, about 75 years before Augustine wrote the words above and spoke to his congregation during the period of feasting between Easter and Pentecost. It is custom in all Orthodox churches, but is no longer observed in the West. We have it suggested as a standard in our Chapel of the Centurions.
FORASMUCH as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere(in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing[1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea, 326 AD]