THE BENEDICTUS: Part I of II
“And Zachary, his father, was filled with the Holy Ghost, and he prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because He hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people, and He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his servant. As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who are from the beginning, salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us. To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy testament, the oath which he swore to Abraham our father that he would grant us. That being delivered from the hand of our enemies we may serve him without fear, in holiness and justice before him all our days.” Luke 1:67-75
1. Like the canticle of Mary, the canticle of Zachariah is full of Old Testament echoes, and it begins where the former ends. Mary closed with the record of faithfulness of God, Zachary makes this the keynote of this first part of the Benedictus. The Lord has visited, has come to His people, as He had promised that He would; He has “received Israel His servant, being mindful of His “mercy”; “With the Lord there is mercy and with Him plentiful redemption,” as the Psalmist has sung; he understands, as Mary has understood, the wide significance of the prophecies of old, reaching beyond the chosen people, to the wide boundaries of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is this note of the Kingdom mentioned by the Angel at the Annunciation which Zachary adds to the Magnificat.
2. Then he draws from the prophets two notes by which the Kingdom shall be known. The “first is salvation from our enemies,” the first characteristic of a stable kingdom; that characteristic promptly promised by our Lord when He founded it on Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And how wonderfully the promise is fulfilled! For while the enemies, internal and external, both “flesh and blood,” as St. Paul calls them, and “principalities and powers,” seem to be forever triumphant, the Kingdom is forever making greater conquests. And here the singer adds a parenthesis, a kind of play upon three names; for “the name of John signifies the grace or mercy of God, the name of Zachary signifies the memory of God, the name of Elizabeth signifies the oath of God.”
3. The second characteristic of a stable kingdom “is internal peace and wealth and security, in the abundant means and resources of the citizens, their mutual harmony, their obedience to the laws, their freedom from everything that may breed division, disturbance, discontent.” And this Zachary gives as the second note of the new Kingdom when he says: “That being delivered from the hand of our enemies we may serve Him without fear, in holiness and justice before him all our days.” As St. Paul in his own way puts it, contrasting the security of the new law with the encumbrances of the old:” You have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Service of love and not of fear, holiness and justice abiding, these are the characteristics of the new Kingdom.
Summary Meditation Points:
1. The Benedictus takes up the praise of the faithfulness of God, with which the Magnificat concluded.
2. It goes on to dwell on the new Kingdom and its characteristics; first: security from without.
3. Second: peace, security, and therefore service of love within.
Art: NativitÃ del Battista nella cappella Altieri [Nativity of the Baptist, in the Altieri Chapel], Giovanni Baciccia, 1692, CC, Wikimedia Commons. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.