Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord

This Canticle is a flame that lights up the darkness in the time of persecution. It is a response to the persecutor who asks: "Where is your God?"

At the General Audience on Wednesday, 19 February, the Holy Father commented on the Canticle found in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel (vv. 52-57). It is a magnificent hymn in praise of God's transcendent glory. Sung by the three young men con­demned to the fiery furnace for their fidelity to the God of Israel, the Canticle evokes the holiness and power of the Creator, who dwells among his people in his holy temple in Jerusalem. This prophetic celebration of God's closeness to his People prefigures the coming of the Son of God, who in the fullness of time "took flesh and dwelt among us". In her liturgy the Church in every age takes up this song of gratitude for God's merciful love, which guides all history to its appointed end.

1. "These three [young men] in the furnace with one voice sang, glorifying and blessing God..." (Dn 3,51). This sen­tence introduces the famous Canticle that we just heard in a fundamental passage. It is found in the Book of Daniel, in the section that has come down to us only in Greek, and is intoned by coura­geous witnesses of the faith, who did not wish to bow down in adoration to a statue of the king and preferred to face a tragic death: martyrdom in the fiery furnace.

Historical background: period of exile

They are three young Jewish men, whom the sacred author places in the historical context of the reign of Neb­uchadnezzar, the terrible Babylonian sovereign who destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and deported the Israelites to "the streams of Babylon" (cf. Ps 136 [137]). Even in extreme dan­ger, when the flames are already licking their bodies, they find the strength to "praise, glorify and bless God", certain that the Lord of the cosmos and history will not abandon them to death and nothingness.

Rereading the event during the period of the Maccabees

2. The biblical author, who wrote sev­eral centuries later, portrays this heroic event to encourage his contemporaries to hold high the banner of the faith dur­ing the persecutions of the Syrian-Hel­lenistic kings of the second century B.C. Precisely then the courageous reaction of the Maccabees took place, combat­ants for the freedom of the faith and of the Hebrew tradition.

The Canticle, traditionally known as "of the three young men", is similar to a flame that lights up the darkness of the time of oppression and persecution, a time that has often been repeated in the history of Israel and of Christianity it­self. We know that the persecutor does not always assume the violent and grim face of an oppressor, but often delights in isolating the just person with mock­ing and irony, asking him sarcastically: "Where is your God?" (Ps 41[42],4.11).

Praise transcendent Creator who dwells among his people

3. All creatures are involved in the blessing that the three young men raise to the Almighty Lord from the crucible of their trial. They weave a sort of mul­ticoloured tapestry where the stars shine, the seasons flow, the animals move, the angels appear, and, above all, "servants of the Lord" sing, the "holy" and "the humble of heart" (cf. Dan 3,85.87).

The passage that was just proclaimed precedes this magnificant evocation of all creation. It constitutes the first part of the Canticle, that evokes the glorious presence of the Lord, transcendent yet close. Yes, because God is in heaven, where "he looks into the depths" (cf. 3,55), and he is also "in the temple of holy glory" of Zion (cf. 3,53). He is seated on the "throne" of his eter­nal and infinite "king­dom" (cf. 3,54) but is al­so "throned upon the cherubim" (cf. 3,55) in the ark of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem.

Fullness of love shown in sending his Son

4. He is a God who is above us, capable of sav­ing us with his power; but also a God close to his People, in whose midst he willed to dwell in his "glorious holy tem­ple", thus manifesting his love. A love that he will reveal fully in making his Son "full of grace and truth", "dwell among us" (cf. Jn  1,14). He will reveal the fullness of his love by sending his Son among us to share, in all things ex­cept sin, our condition marked by trials, oppression, loneliness and death.

The praise of the three young men to God our Saviour continues in various ways in the Church. For example, at the end of his Letter to the Corinthians, St Clement of Rome includes a long prayer of praise and confidence. It is woven throughout with biblical refer­ences and, perhaps echoes the early Ro­man liturgy. It is a prayer of thanksgiv­ing to the Lord who, despite the appar­ent triumph of evil, guides history to a happy end.

Prayer of Thanksgiving of St Clement of Rome

5. Here is a passage:
"You have opened the eyes of our hearts (Eph 1,18) to recognize that / you alone Jn 17,3) are highest in the highest heavens, / ever remaining holy among the holy. / You humble the vio­lence of the arrogant (cf. Is 13,11), / overthrow the calculations of the na­tions (cf. Ps 32[33],10), / raise up the humble and humble the proud (cf. Jb 5,11); / you make rich and make poor, / kill and make alive (cf. Dt 32,39); / you alone are the benefactor of spirits and / the God of all flesh / You fathom the depths (cf. Dn 3,55) and observe men's deeds; / you are the aid of those in peril, Saviour of those in despair (cf. Jdt 9,11), / the Creator of every spirit and its Custodian. / You multiply the nations upon the earth and / from them all you have chosen those who love you / through Jesus Christ your beloved Servant, / through whom you have edu­cated, sanctified, and honoured us" (Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 59,3, in The Apostolic Fa­thers, 1978, Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, USA, p. 50).

L'Osservatore Romano February 26, 2003
Reprinted with permission.