John Paul II on the "Canticle of the Three Young Men"

Address at General Audience

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.



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1. The canticle we just heard is taken from the first part of a long and beautiful hymn, which is found in the Greek translation of the Book of Daniel. It is sung by three Jewish youths thrown into a furnace for having refused to adore the statue of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Another part of the same song is found in the Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday lauds, in the first and third week of the liturgical Psalter.

As is known, the Book of Daniel reflects the ferment, hope and even apocalyptic expectation of the Chosen People who, in the period of the Maccabees (second century B.C.) were struggling to live according to the law given by God.

From the furnace, the three youths, miraculously preserved from the flames, sing a hymn of blessing addressed to God. This hymn is similar to a litany, repetitive but at the same time new: Its invocations rise to God like billowing incense, which fills the atmosphere in similar but unique ways. The prayer is not adverse to repetition, as someone who is in love does not hesitate to repeatedly express his affection for the beloved. To emphasize the same things is a sign of intensity and of the multiple nuances of interior feelings and affections.

2. We heard proclaimed the beginning of this cosmic hymn, contained in the third chapter of Daniel, in verses 52-57. It is the introduction, which precedes the grandiose parade of creatures engaged in praise. An overall view of the whole song, as an extended litany, makes us discover a succession of components that make up the theme of the whole hymn. It begins with six invocations addressed directly to God; followed by a universal appeal to "all you works of the Lord," so that they will open their lips, ideal for blessing (see verse 57).

This is the part we are considering today, which the Liturgy proposes for lauds on Sunday of the second week. The song will be prolonged successively calling all creatures of heaven and earth to praise and magnify their Lord.

3. Our initial passage will be taken up again by the liturgy in the Sunday lauds of the fourth week. For this reason, we will now choose only some elements for our reflection. The first is the invitation to blessing: "Blessed are you," which at the end becomes: "Bless!"

There are two forms of blessing in the Bible which are intertwined. On one hand, is that which comes from God: the Lord blesses his people (see Numbers 6:24-27). It is an efficacious blessing, source of fruitfulness, happiness and prosperity. On the other, is the blessing that rises from earth to heaven. Man, beneficiary of divine generosity, blesses God, praising, thanking and exalting him: "Bless the Lord, my soul!" (Psalm 102[103]:1; 103[104]:1).

The divine blessing is often mediated by priests (see Numbers 6:22-23; Sirach 50:20-21) through the imposition of hands; human blessing, instead, is expressed in the liturgical hymn, which rises to the Lord from the assembly of the faithful.

4. Another element that we consider, within the passage just proposed for our meditation, is composed of the antiphon. One might imagine the soloist, in the Temple crowded with people, intoning the blessing: "Blessed are you, Lord," listing the different divine wonders, while the assembly of the faithful constantly repeated the formula: "Worthy of praise and glory forever." It is what already occurred in Psalm 135, the so-called Great Hallel, namely, the great praise, where the people repeated: "Eternal is his mercy," while the soloist enumerated the various acts of salvation accomplished by the Lord in favor of his people.

In our Psalm, the object of praise above all is the "glorious and holy" name of God, whose proclamation resounds in the Temple, which in turn is "holy and glorious." While contemplating in faith, God who sits "on the throne of his reign," the priests and people are conscious of being the object of the gaze that "penetrates the abysses" and this awareness pours forth from their heart the praise: "Blessed. Blessed." God, who "sits above the cherubim" and has as his dwelling the "firmament of the sky," yet is still close to his people who, for this reason, feel protected and safe.

5. When proposing this canticle again on Sunday morning, the weekly Easter of Christians, there is an invitation to open one´s eyes to the new creation that had its origin, precisely, in the resurrection of Jesus. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth-century Father of the Greek Church, explains that with the Lord´s Easter "new heavens and a new earth are created ... a different, renewed man comes into being in the image of his creator through the birth from on high" (see John 3:3,7). And he continues: "As the one who looks toward the sensible world perceives the invisible beauty through visible things ... 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, through things comprehensible to 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, virtually dancing with joy, into the one Church of Christ.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[Following is a summary of the catechesis given by the Pope in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are considering the Canticle of the Three Young Men, which is found in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. The Canticle is a cosmic song of blessing, sung to the God of Israel by the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to worship a statue of the King of Babylon. It takes the form of a liturgical hymn which the assembly, gathered in the Temple, would sing to God in praise of his glory which fills the universe.

The Church signs parts of this Canticle each Sunday at the celebration of Morning Prayer. She takes up its joyful praise of God, the Creator of heaven and earth, in the light of the Risen Christ´s victory over sin and death, the victory which has transformed all creation and renewed humanity in the divine image. As she contemplates God´s glory revealed in all his works, the Church looks forward in hope to the "new heavens and a new earth" begun by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and she awaits the fulfillment of all God´s promises in the world to come.

I am pleased to welcome participants in the Conference on "International Bilateral Legal Relations between the Holy See and the States," being held under the auspices of the Slovak Foreign Ministry, the Slovak Embassy to the Holy See, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today´s Audience, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]