Total Pageviews


The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Augustine on Psalm 136
Home, 22nd Sunday after Trinity 

LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Source: Sacramentary of Bishop Gregory of Rome [604 AD] The Latin used the word familia, which points to the traditional Roman family that was the basic and most important element of society. It included all in the household, including slaves, and was headed by the pater familias who was responsible for the welfare of all. This concept of the household is the basis of the Gospel story today.

Psalm: 136  Philippians i. 3   &  St. Mattxhew xviii. 21 
Homily of Augustine on Psalm CXXXVI

Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, 
* for His mercy endureth for ever


Augustine writes of Psalm 136:

"Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever" (ver. 1). This Psalm contains the praise of God, and all its verses finish in the same way. Wherefore although many things are related here in praise of God, yet His mercy is most commended;  for without this plain commendation, he, whom the Holy Spirit used to utter this Psalm, would have no verse be ended. Although after the judgment, by which at the end of the world the quick and the dead must be judged, the just being sent into life eternal, the unjust into everlasting fire, there will not afterwards be those, whom God will have mercy on, yet rightly may His future mercy be understood to be for ever, which He bestows on His saints and faithful ones, not because they will be miserable for ever, and therefore will need His mercy for ever, but because that very blessedness, which He mercifully bestows on the miserable, that they cease to be miserable, and begin to be happy, will have no end, and therefore "His mercy is for ever." For that we shall be just from being unjust, whole from being unsound, alive from being dead, immortal from being mortal, happy from being wretched, is of His mercy. But this that we shall be, will be for ever, and therefore "His mercy is for ever." Wherefore, "give thanks to the Lord;" that is, praise the Lord by giving thanks, "for He is good:" nor is it any temporal good you will gain from this confession, for, "His mercy endureth for ever;" that is, the benefit which He bestows mercifully upon you, is for ever. "

In many of our members' churches there is the ancient lay order of "Cantor", who lead the congregation in singing the psalms; indeed there  may be several cantors. As I read today's psalm, and reflected on the observation of Augustine above, it occurred to me that this is one of the psalms whose structure leads to its liturgical singing antiphonally, that is, either by the cantor and the congregation, or as was practiced in the early church, by cantors and wings of the congregation, with the women on one side of the nave, and the men on the other side. The psalters are designed for liturgical use, and have marks to indicate where the break may come in the verse for singing antiphonally.  In today's psalters one often finds the mark as the colon ":"  or an asterisk "*" 

Take note that the ending of this verse is repeated for each verse of the psalm for God's praise in hymn. Like this psalm, one finds that in many litanies there was an antiphonal repetition. Such was the case in the Early Church; in corporate prayer the congregation concluded each bidding  with, "Lord have mercy". Let us also remember that the psalter was the hymnal of the Jewish synagogue, and was known by heart by most Jews, and was sung, or said, by our Lord and the disciples.

Psalm 136 is a wonderful psalm to make part of your devotion for a thanksgiving prayer. Its simplicity, cadence, and tone commend it to frequent use. What better way to praise our all-powerful and sovereign God, as his Son surely did, than by recalling his mighty militant acts in the history of old Israel.

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Read  all of Augustine's homily at the link above.

Released by Primus Pilus
Legio Christi-Ecclesia Militans
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" [St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 14:19]


No comments: