The Haydock Bible was published in the mid-nineteenth century and is very basic. Text in red are my additions.
Ecc 1:2 Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.
Vanities. Most vain and despicable, (Calmet) and frustrating the expectations of men. (Menochius) — St. Augustine reads vanitantium, and infers that this vanity of sublunary things is an effect of man’s sin. Yet he afterwards discovered that he had read incorrectly. (Retractions i. 7.)
The word vanity in Hebrew (הבל = hebel) means that which is empty, transitory, or unsatisfactory; something passing, absent, or incomplete. The phrase vanity of vanities reflects the fact that ancient Hebrew did not have many superlatives. For example, it had the word “holy,” but not the word “holiest.” To express this latter idea it used the phrase “holy of holies,” thereby conveying the meaning “holiest”. Vanity of vanities conveys the idea of that which is supremely or surpassingly vain. The term vanity of vanities is often said to be the keynote or motto of the book and man’s life “under the sun” (verse 3) seems meaningless, uncontrollable, and without much of a point; but certainly the closing words must be seen in conjunction with this motto/keynote: The end of the whole matter let us hear: –`Fear God, and keep His commands, for this is the whole of man. The twofold use of the word “whole” stands in nice contrast to the words “vanity of vanities.” God is the answer to the seeming vanity of everything under the sun, even if man cannot discern it fully.
Ecc 2:21 For when a man laboureth in wisdom, and knowledge, and carefulness, he leaveth what he hath gotten to an idle man: so this also is vanity, and a great evil.
Wisdom. The writings of the wise are often perverted by perverse heretics. See the summary on Eccl 1:3-6:12 in the Navarre Bible Commentary. (St. Jerome) — Idle heirs dissipate the possessions, which had been accumulated with such industry. (Calmet) — Riches tend to encourage the profligacy of the heir. (Menochius)
Ecc 2:22 For what profit shall a man have of all his labour, and vexation of spirit, with which he hath been tormented under the sun?
Ecc 2:23 All his days are full of sorrows and miseries, even in the night he doth not rest in mind: and is not this vanity?
Laboring to the point of exhaustion for that which is passing, and for that which may in fact pass to a man less studios (verses 21) is vanity, not in itself, but without reference to God: So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God (Luke 12:21, from today’s Gospel reading, Luke 12:13-21).