Blessed are they who strive to be saints |
Comprehensive Catholic Commentary
Fr. George Leo Haydock
Editor's Note: This special feature provided by John Gregory with the Haydock Commentary found at the bottom of each page of the Douay-Rheims Bible continues during November. With the type so small in most bibles, we publish it here in larger type in conjunction with the Epistle and Gospel for the Sunday Mass, with the cogent comprehensive Catholic Commentary penned by Father George Leo Haydock. For the Double of the First Class Solemnity of All Saints, Father Haydock provides a plethora of commentaries on practically every verse of importance. While the Epistle identifies the sign by which we see what constitutes sinners striving to be saints - the sign of the cross, the Gospel lays out the formula for becoming saints with the Beatitudes which Christ our Lord explains with such clear simplicity that any and all can understand. These steps to sanctity are all contained in the Lord's Prayer, and the platform for being Christian in every way for saints are nothing but sinners striving to do God's holy will in all things no matter what the world, the flesh and the devil throw their way.
Epistle: Apocalypse 7: 2-12
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the sign of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
Commentary on Verse 2 Having the seal. This sign is generally supposed to be the sign of the cross. In the East, it was the custom to impress some indelible mark upon the soldiers. This sign [the sign of the cross] amongst the ancient Christians was used on every occasion. (Calmet)
Saying: Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we sign the servants of our God in their foreheads.
Commentary on Verse 3 Hurt not the earth, & c. Some understand Christ Himself, Who gives His commands in this manner to the Angels; others, an Angel of a higher rank or order. – Till we seal the servants of our God in their foreheads, which may be expounded, let not persecutions and trials come upon them till they are strengthened by the spirit and grace of God, with which Saint Paul sometimes says the servants of God are signed and sealed. See 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13. He alludes to the passages of Ezechiel (Chapter 9:4) where God bids an angel mark with the letter Tau the foreheads of those who should not be hurt by the judgments that were to fall upon Jerusalem; so God would protect the faithful Christians, who believe and put their trust in Christ crucified, and who from the first ages, in testimony of this faith, used to sign themselves by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, of which the letter Tau was a figure or resemblance. See Tertullian, lib. de Corona militis. I beg the readers patience, if I here set down what I find in the great Synopsis Papismi, in folio, put out by Mr. Andrew Willet, and dedicated first to queen Elizabeth, and afterwards to king James the first. Among his demonstrations, as he calls them, that the pope is the antichrist, (Controv. iv. q. 10. p. 232 and 233) he tells us in plain terms, “that the sign of the cross is one of the visible signs of antichrist. And who, “saith he,” hath taught the papists that the sign of the cross is to be borne or made on men’s foreheads? And that with crossing the forehead we are preserved from dangers? The superstitious marks of the cross had their beginning from the beast’s name, since the number of the beast’s name in the Revelation of Saint John is by these Greek letters, Greek: ????. The first letter, x, is a cross: the middle letter, ?, (in Latin, X) is also a side long cross; and the last letter, ?, contains both ? and ? of which the latter is called a headless cross;” and then Mr. Willet concludes in these words, “And thus it plainly appears, that the marks whereby the papists say they honor Christ, are rather a dishonor to Him, and are in very deed the cognizance of antichrist.” Such an ingenious, and at the same time learned fancy, may perhaps out vie even those we have cited out of Mr. Brightman, and may be equally serviceable to any country parson on the fifth of November, or on any day when he shall think fit to hold forth against the pope or popery. I suppose that Mr. Willet did not know that the Christians in the first ages (as all Catholics to this day) made so frequent use of the sign of the cross, as it is witnessed by Tertullian above two hundred years before even any Protestant pretended that the popes began to be antichrists, or the great antichrist. And this, says he, they do by a tradition from father to son. At every setting forward or going about any thing, at coming home or going out, at putting on our clothes, at going to bathe, to table, to light a candle, to bed, to sit down, to any thing, we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads. And this is a TRADITION. The like is witnessed by Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, and many of the Fathers. At the same time that with our hand we make the sign of the cross, we say these words, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;” the words used when any one is made a Christian, according to the command of Christ. So that the action itself puts us in mind that Jesus Christ died for us on the cross; and by the words, we make a profession of our Christian faith, that we believe in one God and three Persons. Can we do this too often? Dare we be ashamed of doing it? Was ever any thing more ridiculous than to call this in very deed the cognizance of antichrist? What must Mr. Willet have thought of the Protestants, or what can they think of him, and such like folio scribblers, to prove the popes the beast of Saint John’s Revelation? What must, I say, Mr. Willet think of the public liturgy, or the book of common prayer, approved and used by the Church of England in his time, and which ordains that the sign of the cross shall be made by the priest on the forehead of every one that is baptized? This, according to Mr. Willet, is (when any one is made a Christian) to give him the badge, and visible sign of antichrist, to the dishonor of Christ, and what in very deed is the cognizance of antichrist. (Wi.)
And I heard the number of them that were signed, an hundred forty-four thousand were signed, of every tribe of the children of Israel.
Commentary on Verse 4 I heard the number of them that were sealed. By these determinate numbers need only to be understood a great number of Jews converted and saved, though much greater was the number of the saved taken from among the Gentiles of all nations, of which it is said, I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, & c. (Wi.) – The number of one hundred and forty-four thousand is not to be taken in a literal and strict sense, but to express in general terms the great number of the elect; for it appears that the tribe of Dan, which certainly must have produced some elect, is not mentioned, and the tribe of Joseph is put in lieu of that of Ephraim: so that if it be supposed that these numbers must be taken literally, the tribe of Joseph would have produced a double number to that of any other tribe, since Manasses was his son, and the tribe of Dan would have produced none. (Ven. Bede)
Of the tribe of Juda, were twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Ruben, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand signed:
Of the tribe of Aser, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Nephthali, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Manasses, twelve thousand signed:
Of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand signed:
Of the tribe of Zabulon, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand signed: Of the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand signed.
After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands:
And they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.
Commentary on Verse 10 Salvation to our God; i.e. our salvation is from God, to whom be praise for ever, Amen, benediction, or blessings, thanksgiving & c. (Wi.)
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God,
Saying: Amen. Benediction, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honor, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Gospel: St. Matthew 5: 1-12
At that time, Jesus seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain, and when He was set down, His disciples came unto Him.
Commentary on Verse 1 What is said here, does not follow immediately what was said in the preceding chapter. See Luke 6.
And opening His mouth, He taught them, saying:
Commentary on Verse 2 Opening His mouth. It is a Hebraism, to signify He began to speak. (Witham) – This is a common expression in Scripture, to signify something important is about to be spoken. Thus it is used in various other places, as “Job opening his mouth cursed his day, and said,” & c. Daniel, c. x. et alibi. (Jan.) – And why is it added, says Saint Chrysostom “and opening His mouth,” without doubt that we might know, that not only when He spoke, but even when silent, He gave instruction: sometimes, therefore, He opened His mouth; at other times He spoke by His very Actions. (Homily 15)
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Commentary on Verse 3 The poor in spirit; which, according to the common exposition, signifies the humble of mind and heart. Yet some understand it of such as are truly in poverty and want, and who bear their indigent condition with patience and resignation. (Wi.) – That is, the humble, and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. (Ch.) – It is not without reason that the beatitudes are disposed of in this order. Each preceding one prepares the way for what immediately follows, furnishing us in particular with spiritual arms of such graces as are necessary for obtaining the virtue of the subsequent beatitude. Thus the poor in spirit, i.e. the truly humble, will mourn for their transgressions, and whoever is filled with sorrow and confusion for his own sins, cannot but be just, and behave to others with meekness and clemency; when possessed of these virtues, he then becomes pure and clean of heart. Peace of conscience reigns in this assemblage of virtues, and cannot be expelled they soul by any tribulations, persecutions, or injustices of men. (Saint John Chrysostom, homily 15) What is this poverty of spirit, but humility and contrition? This virtue of humility is placed in the first place, because it is the parent of every other virtue, as pride is the mother of every vice. Pride deprived our first parents of their original innocence, and nothing but humility can restore us to our former purity. We may pray and fast, we may be possessed of mercy, chastity, or any virtues, if humility does not accompany them, they will be like the virtue of the Pharisee, without foundation, without fruit. (Homily 15)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Commentary on Verse 4 The land of the living, or the kingdom of Heaven. The evangelist prefers calling it the land of the living in this place, to shew that the meek, the humble, and the oppressed, who are spoiled of the possession of this earth by the powerful and the proud, shall obtain the inheritance of a better land. (M.) “They shall posses the land,” is the reward annexed by our Savior to meekness, that He might not differ in any point from the old law, so well known to the persons He was addressing. David, in psalm 36, had made the same promise to the meek. If temporal blessings are promised to some of the virtues in the beatitudes, it is that temporal blessings might always accompany the more solid rewards of grace. But spiritual rewards are always the principal, always ranked in the first place, all who practice these virtues are pronounced blessed. (Homily 15)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Commentary on Verse 5 Not those that mourn for worldly motives, but such as mourn for their sins, are blessed. The sorrow that is according to God, says Saint Paul, worketh penance steadfast unto salvation, but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7: 10) the same is promised in Saint John; (16: 20,) you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (M.)
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Commentary on Verse 6 Hunger and thirst; i.e. spiritually, with an earnest desire of being just and holy. But others again understand such as endure with patience the hardships of hunger and thirst. (Wi.) – Rupertus understands those to whom justice is denied, such as poor widows and orphans. Maldonatus those who from poverty really suffer hunger and thirst, because justice is not done them. (M.) – They shall be filled with every kind of good in their heavenly country. I shall be filled when thy glory shall appear. (Psalm 16)
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Commentary on Verse 7 Not only the giving of alms, but the practice of all works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, are recommended here, and the reward will be given on that day when God will repay every one according to his works, and will do by us, as we have done by our brethren. (A.)
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Commentary on Verse 8 The clean of heart are either those who give themselves to the practice of every virtue, and are conscious to themselves of no evil, or those who are adorned with the virtue of chastity. For nothing is so necessary as this purity in such as desire to see God. Keep peace with all and chastity, says Saint Paul, for without this none can see God. Many are merciful to the poor and just in their dealings, but abstain not from luxury and lust. Therefore our Savior, wishing to shew that mercy was not sufficient, adds, that if we would see God, we must also be possessed of the virtue of purity. (Saint John Chrysostom, homily 15) By this, we shall have our heart exempt from all disordinate love of creatures, and shall be exclusively attached to God. (A.) – The clean of heart, i.e. they who are clean from sin: who are pure in body and mind, says Saint John Chrysostom. It seems to be a particular admonition to the Jews, who were mostly solicitous about an outward and legal cleanness. (Wi.)
Blesses are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Commentary on Verse 9 To be peaceful ourselves and with others, and to bring such as are at variance together, will entitle us to be children of God. Thus we shall be raised to a participation in the honor of the only begotten Son of God, who descended from heaven to bring peace to man, and to reconcile him with his offended Creator. (Saint John Chrysostom, homily 15)
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Commentary on Verse 10 Heretics and malefactors suffer occasionally, but they are not on this account blessed, because they suffer not for justice. For, says Saint Augustine they cannot suffer for justice, who have divided the Church; and where sound faith or charity is wanting, there cannot be justice. (Cont. epis. Parm. l. i. chap. 9. ep. 50. ps. 4. conc. 2.) (B.) – By justice here we understand virtue, piety, and the defense of our neighbor. To all who suffer on this account, He promises a seat in His heavenly kingdom. We must not think that suffering persecution only, will suffice to entitle us to the greatest promises. The persecutions we suffer must be inflicted on us on His account, and the evils spoken of us must be false and contradicted by our lives. If these are not the causes of our sufferings, so far from being happy, we shall be truly miserable, because then our irregular lives would be the occasion of the persecutions we suffer. (Saint John Chrysostom, homily 15)
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for My sake:
Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
Commentary on Verse 12 Reward, in Latin merces, in Greek (?), signifies wages done for hire, and due for work, and presupposes merit. (B.) – If you participate in the sufferings of the prophets, you will equally participate in their glory, their reward. (A.)