Canticle uses language of Love

We praise the Lord for marvels of renewed creation, for Jesus' remaking  us in the image of our Creator through Baptism, the birth from on high

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 12 December, the Holy Father commented on the Canticle of the Three Young Men, found in the Greek version of Daniel 3,52-57, "let every creature praise the Creator; praise and bless him above all forever". God who sits upon the cherubim throne and dwells above the heavens is always close to his people. In his commentary, the Holy Father showed how the new creation that comes with the resurrection of the Lord is now present in the canticle: "When proposing this canticle afresh for use on Sunday morning, the weekly Easter of Christians, the Church is inviting us to open our eyes to the new creation which has its beginning with the resurrection of Jesus. Gregory of Nyssa ... explains that with the Passover [Easter] of the Lord a 'new heavens and new earth are created a different, renewed man comes into being in the image of his Creator by means of the birth from on high'". The Holy Father commented on the new creation: "Thus in singing this canticle, the Christian believer is invited to contemplate the world of the first creation, intuiting the outline of the second, inaugurated with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus". The Church looks with great hope to God's fulfilling his promises in the return of the Risen Lord. Here is a translation of the Holy Father's Italian commentary.

1. The canticle we have just heard is the first part of a long and beautiful hymn that is found in the Greek version of the Book of Daniel. It is sung by three young Hebrew men who were thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian King Nabuchodonosor. Another part of the same hymn is found in the Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday Lauds in the first and third weeks of the liturgical psalter.

As is known, the Book of Daniel reflects the ferments, hopes and apocalyptic expectations of the Chosen People, who in the era of the Maccabeans (2nd century B.C.) were struggling to live according to the Law given by God.

From the furnace, the three young men, miraculously preserved from the flames, sing a hymn of praise addressed to God. The hymn is like a litany, at once repetitive in the form of the verses and new with each verse: the invocations rise to God like billowing incense that glides through the air in similar but unique clouds. Prayer does not eschew repetition, just as the lover, who wants to express his love repeats his love over and over again. To emphasize the same things conveys the intensity and multiple nuances of one's interior feelings and affections.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and glorious forever

2. We heard the beginning of the cosmic hymn of the third chapter of Daniel, in verses 52-57. It is the introduction that precedes the grandiose parade of the creatures engaged in the work of praise. An overall view of the entire canticle, as an extended litany, makes us discover a succession of components that make up the theme of the hymn. It begins with six invocations spoken directly to God; they contain a universal appeal to "all you works of the Lord" to open their lips so ideal for praising God (cf. verse 57). 

This is the part that we consider today and that the Liturgy proposes for Lauds of Sunday of the second week. Later on, the canticle will be prolonged by summoning all the creatures of heaven and earth to praise and magnify their Lord.

Twofold form of blessing: God's gifts to us and our praise and thanks to God

3. Our initial passage will be taken up again by the Liturgy at Lauds of the Sunday of the fourth week. We will now choose only a few elements for our reflection. The first is the invitation to blessing: "Blessed are you..." that at the end will become "Bless the Lord...!".

In the Bible there are two forms of blessing, which are intertwined. There is, first of all, the blessing that comes down from God: the Lord blesses his people (cf. Nm 6,24-27). It is an effective blessing, source of fruitfulness, happiness and prosperity. Then there is the blessing that earth lifts towards heaven. The human person who receives so many blessings from the divine generosity, blesses God, praising, thanking and exalting him: "Bless the Lord, my soul!" (Ps 102 [103],1;103 [104],1).

Priests often mediate the divine blessing (cf. Num 6,22-23.27; Sir 50,20-21) through the imposition of hands; human blessing is expressed in the liturgical hymn that rises to the Lord from the congregation of the faithful.

Praiseworthy and exalted above all forever

4. The antiphon is another element we should consider in the passage that we are reflecting on. We can imagine the soloist, in the crowded temple, intoning the blessing: "Blessed are you, Lord...", recounting God's wonderful deeds while the congregation of the faithful continuously repeats the formula: "praiseworthy and glorious above all forever". It is what happened with Psalm 135 [136], the "great Hallel", the great praise, where the people repeat "His mercy endures forever", while a soloist enumerated the various acts of salvation that the Lord wrought in favour of his people.

In our Psalm, the object of praise is above all the "glorious and holy" name of God, whose proclamation resounds in the temple, which is also "holy and glorious". When they contemplate in faith God who is seated on "the throne of his kingdom" the priests and the people are conscious of being the object of his gaze which "penetrates the abysses" and this awareness calls forth from their hearts the praise: "Blessed ... blessed...". God, who "sits upon the cherubim" and has for his dwelling the "firmament of the heavens", is also close to his people who, for this reason, feel protected and safe.

Risen Lord creates new humanity in the Church

5. When proposing this canticle afresh for use on Sunday morning, the weekly Easter of Christians, the Church is inviting us to open our eyes to the new creation which has its beginning with the resurrection of Jesus. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century Greek Father of the Church, explains that with the Passover [Easter] of the Lord a "new heavens and new earth are created ... a different, renewed man comes into being in the image of his Creator by means of the birth from on high" (cf. Jn 3,3-7). And he continues: "As the one who looks toward the sensible world deduces from visible things the invisible beauty ... so the one who looks toward this new world of the ecclesial creation sees in it him who became everything in everyone, leading the mind by the hand, by means of the things that are understandable for our rational nature, toward that which goes beyond human comprehension" (Langerbeck H., Gregorii Nysseni Opera, VI, 1-22 passim, p. 385).

Thus in singing this canticle, the Christian believer is invited to contemplate the world of the first creation, intuiting the outline of the second, inaugurated with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And this contemplation leads all by the hand to enter into the one Church of Christ almost dancing with joy. 

L'Osservatore Romano December 19-26, 2001
Reprinted with permission