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Canticle From Book
of Daniel Reflects "Religious Soul"
May 2, 2001
VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org)
1. "Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord" (Daniel 3:57). A cosmic breath pervades this canticle taken from the Book of Daniel, which the Liturgy of the Hours proposes for Sunday lauds in the first and third week. Indeed, this wonderful litany prayer is very suitable for the Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord, which enables us to contemplate in the risen Christ the culmination of God's plan for the cosmos and history. Indeed, in him, alpha and omega, the beginning and end of history (see Revelation 22:13), the full meaning of creation itself is accomplished, because, as John recalls in the prologue of the Gospel, "All things were made through him" (John 1:3). The history of salvation culminates in the resurrection of Christ, opening human affairs to the gift of the Spirit and filial adoption, while awaiting the return of the divine Spouse, who will deliver the world to God the Father (see 1 Corinthians 15:24).
2. In this passage of litanies, all things are called for a review. One looks up at the sun, the moon, the stars; looks down on the expanse of the waters, and up toward the mountains, lingers on the most diverse atmospheric situations; passes from heat to cold, from light to darkness; considers the mineral and vegetable world, gazes at the different species of animals. The appeal then becomes universal: It calls the angels of God, gathers all the "sons of man," but particularly involves Israel, the people of God, its priests, its just men. It is an immense chorus, a symphony in which the different voices raise their song to God, Creator of the universe and Lord of history. Recited in light of Christian revelation, it turns to the Trinitarian God, as the liturgy invites us to do, adding a Trinitarian formula to the Canticle: Let us bless the Father, and the Son with the Holy Spirit."
3. In a certain sense, the universal religious soul is reflected in the Canticle, which perceives God's traces in the world, and rises in contemplation of the Creator. However, in the context of the Book of Daniel, the hymn is presented as the thanksgiving raised by three Israelite youths -- Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael -- condemned to be burnt to death in a furnace, for having refused to adore the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar, but miraculously preserved from the flames. With this event as background, is that special story of salvation in which God chooses Israel as his people and establishes a covenant with it. It is precisely to this covenant that the three youths wish to remain faithful, at the price of going to martyrdom in a burning furnace. Their fidelity meets with God's fidelity, who sends an angel to ward off the flames from them (see Daniel 3:49).
In this way, the canticle is in the line of songs of praise in the Old Testament for a danger averted. Among these is the famous song of victory reported in Chapter 15 of Exodus, where the ancient Hebrews express their gratitude to the Lord for that night in which they would have been inevitably defeated by Pharaoh's army, if the Lord had not opened a path for them between the waters, "throwing horse and rider into the sea" (Exodus 15:1).
4. It is not accidental that every year, during the solemn Easter Vigil, the liturgy makes us repeat the hymn sung by the Israelites in Exodus. That open path announced prophetically for them the new way that the risen Christ inaugurated for humanity on the holy night of his resurrection from the dead. Our symbolic passage through baptismal waters enables us to relive a similar experience of passage from death to life, thanks to the victory over death brought by Jesus for the benefit of us all.
Repeating in the Sunday liturgy of lauds the canticle of the three Israelite youths, we disciples of Christ want to be on the same wave of gratitude for the great works accomplished by God, be it in creation or, especially, in the paschal mystery.
In fact, the Christian perceives a relation between the liberation of the three youths, mentioned in the canticle, and the resurrection of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles see in the latter an answer to the prayer of the believer who, like the Psalmist, confidently sings: "Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption" (Acts 2:27; Psalm 15:10).
The relating of this canticle to the Resurrection is very traditional. There are very ancient testimonies of the presence of this hymn in the prayer of the Day of the Lord, the weekly Easter of Christians. The Roman catacombs preserve iconographic vestiges in which the three youths are seen praying, unharmed by the flames, and thus giving witness to the efficacy of prayer and the certainty of the Lord's intervention.
5. "Blessed are thou, Lord, in the firmament of heaven and to be sung and glorified for ever" (Daniel 3:56). Singing this hymn on Sunday morning, the Christian feels grateful not only for the gift of creation, but also because he is the object of God's paternal care, who has raised him in Christ to the dignity of a son.
A paternal care that makes one look at creation itself with new eyes, and makes one enjoy its beauty, in which one can see, as through filigree, the love of God. It is with such sentiments that Francis of Assisi contemplated creation and raised his praise to God, ultimate source of all beauty. One imagines, spontaneously, that the elevations of this biblical text echoed in his soul when in San Damiano, after having reached the height suffering in body and spirit, he composed the "Canticle to Brother Sun" (see Fonti Francescane, 263).
[Translation by ZENIT] ZE01050208
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