The Church still wholly penetrated with the thought of the two Sacraments that she has conferred at Easter and Pentecost, loves to speak of them throughout the "Time after Pentecost" and if she does so to-day it is because the Breviary lesson, with St. Ambrose's commentary on it, gives her an excellent opportunity. In the form of a parable the lessons of the first Nocturn relate the gravity of David's fault. For in spite of his deep piety, this great king had let sin enter into his heart. Wishing to marry a young woman of great beauty, by name Bethsabee, he had given orders that her husband Urias should be sent into the hottest part of the battle which was being fought against the Ammonites, so that he might be killed, and being thus rid of him David married Bethsabee, by whom he had a son.
Then the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to speak to him by a parable: "There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many sheep and oxen. But the poor man had nothing at all but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up, and which had grown up in his house together with hia children, eating of his bread and drinking of his cup, and sleeping in hin bosom and it was unto him as a daughter. And when a certain stranger was come to the rich man he spared to take of his own sheep and oxen, to make a feast for that stranger, who was come to him: but took the poor man's ewe and dressed it for the man that was come to him." And David's anger being exceedingly enkindled against that man, he said to Nathan: As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this is a child of death." And Nathan said to David: "Thou art the man. Thou hast killed Urias the Hethite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife when thou couldst have chosen a wife among the maidens of Israel. Therefore ... thus saith the Lord: Behold I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house."
And David said to Nathan: "I have sinned against the Lord." And Nathan said to David: "The Lord also hath taken away thy sin. Thou shalt not die. Nevertheless because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee shall surely die."
Sometime after the child died, and David went to bow down with contrite and humble heart singing psalms (Communion) of penance, in the house of the Lord.
"David," says St. Ambrose, "that great and glorious king, could not keep upon his soul even for a short time, the sin which burdened his conscience but by a prompt confession, accompanied by unbounded contrition, he freed himself from it at the feet of the Lord, who, moved by such unmeasured grief, forgave him. Other men, when the priests have occasion to reprove them, aggravate their sin, seeking either to deny or excuse it, and they experience a greater fall in the very act by which it was to be hoped they would rise again. The saints of the Lord, burning to continue the holy war and to finish the course of their salvation, if they chance to fall, less by determination to sin than by natural frailty, rise again with greater zeal for the contest, and urged on by the shame of their fall, they make up for it by a harder fight. So their fall, instead of to some extent keeping them back, has only served to spur them on and to make them go forward more quickly" (2nd Nocturn).
We can, therefore, understand the choice of the Epistle in which St. Paul speaks of our death to sin. In baptism we were buried with Christ, and our old man was crucified with Him, that we might die to sin. And just as our risen Lord went forth from the tomb, so we must set out on a new life, a life for God in Jesus Christ (Epistle). And when we have the misfortune to fall back into sin, we must ask God to be favourable to us and to deliver us (Verse of the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Secret), restoring to us the grace of the Holy Ghost, since from Him comes every perfect gift (Collect.) Then we approach the altar (Communion) there to receive the Eucharist, whose heavenly efficacy will strengthen us against our enemies (Postcommunion), and maintain our fervour (Collect), for it is the Lord who will be the strength of His people and rule them forever (Introit).
Therefore the Church has chosen for the Gospel, the account of the multiplication of the loaves, a type of the Eucharist, our viaticum. It is this second multiplication of loaves which is a more striking figure of the Eucharist, since it was performed with loaves made of wheat, the element used in the Sacrament, while in the first, barley loaves were employed. Further, in the catacombs we never see more than seven baskets, while in the first multiplication there were twelve. (See the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.)
By identifying us with the Victim of Calvary, Holy Communion not only completes the effects of baptism within us by making us die with our Lord to sin, but makes us find at the Holy Table the strength we need to prevent us from falling back into sin and to "perfect our goings in the paths" of the Lord (Offertory).
It is in this sense that St. Ambrose comments thus on the Gospel: "After the woman, a figure of the Church, was cured of the issue of blood, the food of heavenly grace was dispensed. The right order of the mystery was kept. First a medicine is provided to cure wounds by the remission of sins, and then the food of the heavenly table is served in abundance. Our Lord said: "If I shall send them away fasting to their home they will faint by the way." Full of goodness. He maintains the strength of those who follow Him. If anyone faint it is not our Lord's fault, but that of the man himself.
Christ has set within us fortifying agencies; the food He gives is strength and vigour, so, if through negligence, you have lost the strength you received, you must not blame the heavenly nourishment, which nevers fails, but rather yourself. Was it not through the sustenance given him, when he was about to fall by the way, that the holy Elias walked forty days after the angel's visit?
If you have preserved the nourishment you received, you will journey for forty years, emerging at last from the land of Egypt to come to the boundless land promised to our forefathers, flowing with milk and honey" (Third Nocturn).
Dominus, fortitudo plebis suae, et protector salutarium Christi sui est: salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae, et rege eos usque in saeculum. * Ad te, Domine, clamabo, Deus meus, ne sileas a me: ne quando taceas a me, et assimilabor descendentibus in lacum.
The Lord is the strength of His people, and the protector of the salvation of His anointed: save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thy inheritance, and rule them for ever. * Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.
Psalm 27:8-9,1 from the introit of Mass; The verse Salvum fac occurs in the Te Deum where we pray almighty God to keep us from sin.)
Deus virtutum, cujus est totum quod est optimum: insere pectoribus nostris amorem tui nominis, et praesta in nobis religionis augmentum; ut, quae sunt bona, nutrias, ac pietatis studio, quae sunt nutrita, custodias.
O God of all power and might, who art the giver of all good things; implant in our hearts the love of Thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness and by Thy mercy keep us in the same.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Mark.
At that time, when there was a great multitude with Jesus, and had nothing to eat, calling His disciples together, He saith to them : I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with Me three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way : for some of them came from afar off. And His disciples answered Him : From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And He asked them : How many loaves have ye? Who said : Seven. And He commanded the people to sit down on the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, He broke and gave to His disciples to set before the people. And they had a few little fishes, and He blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat, and were filled; and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets: and they that had eaten were about four thousand : and He sent them away.
(St Mark 8:1-9)