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Christmas Eve - The Benedictus

Monday, December 24, 2007
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89; Luke 1:67-79.

In today's gospel we have the prayer of Zechariah, otherwise known as the Benedictus after the first words of the prayer in Latin "Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel", "Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel". The Benedictus is the gospel canticle, or song, that is chanted at lauds (morning prayer). Lauds is one of the most ancient offices of the Latin Church and we know from the writings of St. Benedict that as early as the 6th century, if not earlier, the Benedictus constituted the high point of the office after the psalms. That this prayer was taken up verbatim and was given a central place in the prayer of the Church at such an early stage in the development of the Roman liturgy demonstrates how highly regarded it was by the people of God.

In the gospel narrative the prayer expresses the joy and thanks of Zechariah for God's work in his own life, in the life of his family, and the implications this will have for the whole world. When he was given the news of the conception of John the Baptist he lacked faith in the words of the angel. Because of his doubt he was struck silent - unable to express to others that which he was unable to believe. Contrast this episode with the annunciation of the birth of Our Lord Jesus to the Blessed Virgin by the archangel Gabriel. Our Lady does not doubt. Her question seeks seeks not a proof but an explanation: "how can this be?". Since Mary believed, she was able to find joy in the words of the angel and express it through her own canticle, the Magnificat. Zechariah, however, had to wait until the naming of St. John before he could demonstrate his faith and thus be free to sing the praises of the Lord.

In this day before the great feast of the Nativity let us pray for an increase in faith, hope and love, and for an evangelical zeal that, like Zechariah, we may be given by the Holy Spirit the words to preach to our world.

Daniel Mary Jeffries OP


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