August 6, 2010

The Canticle of Zachariah

Again we visit the Daily Office of the Catholic clergy. Their Morning prayer includes the resitation of the Canticle of Zachariah also known as the Benedictus, which is the Latin interpretation of the first word in the prayer. The history of this prayer is as follows:

According to the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah was a Jewish priest and Pharisee during the reign of King Herod the Great, and the husband of Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. The Gospel states that both the parents were righteous before God, since they were blameless in observing the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. When the events related in Luke commenced, their marriage was still childless, because Elizabeth was barren and, like her husband, was advanced in years (Luke 1:5-7).

The duties at the temple in Jerusalem alternated between each of the families that had descended from those appointed by King David (1 Cronicles 23:1-19). The offering of incense was one of the most solemn parts of the daily worship and, owing to the large number of eligible priests, no priest could hope to perform the task more than once during his lifetime. Luke states that during the week when it was the duty of his family to serve at the temple of Jerusalem, the task of performing the incense offering had fallen to Zechariah.

The Gospel of Luke states that while Zechariah ministered at the golden altar of incense, an angel of God announced to him that his wife would give birth to a son, whom he was to name John, and that this son would be the forerunner of the long-expected Messiah. Citing their advanced age, Zechariah asked with disbelief for a sign whereby he would know the truth of this prophecy. In reply, the angel identified himself as the Archangel Gabriel, sent especially by God to make this announcement, and added that because of Zechariah's doubt he would be struck dumb and not able to speak until the day that these things happen.

On his return home Elizabeth duly conceived. During Elizabeth's pregnancy, her cousin Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and—though still a virgin—became pregnant with Jesus. Mary then travelled to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share the good news of Mary's expected child (Luke 1:23-45).

Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, when their son was to be circumcised according to Jewish tradition, their family members and neighbours assumed that he was to be named after his father, as was the custom. Elizabeth, however, insisted that his name was to be John; so the family then questioned her husband. As soon as Zechariah had written on a writing tablet:: His name is John, he regained the power of speech, and praised God with a Prophecy known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:57-79).

Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel
He has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that He would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace - Amen

No comments :