THE CANTICLE OF SIMEON
“And [he] said: Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before thy people: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And his father and mother were wondering at these things which were spoken concerning him.”
1. This, then, is the consolation of Israel “for which Simeon and his companions had been yearning; and the moment it comes, though it be represented only by a tiny Child lying in his arms, it is enough to make life no longer of value, enough to give him peace for all eternity. His Canticle is the last in the great trilogy. Mary had opened it with the Magnificat; Zachary had taken up Our Lady’s song and had developed part of it in the Benedictus; Simeon now carries on the thought of Zachary and dwells on the mercies of the Lord to the world [the Nunc Dimittis]. He begins with thanksgiving for the great grace granted to himself; echoing the words of Jacob at the recovery of Joseph: “Now shall I die with joy, because I have seen thy face, and leave thee alive”; and yet more those of the elder Tobias: “Now, O Lord, do with me according to Thy will, and command my spirit to be received in peace.” He had been permitted to see, not merely a consolation for himself, but “Thy salvation,” the “consolation of Israel.”
2. Then he “develops this salvation,” and in a way that may well astonish us. Hitherto we have felt the Jews preoccupied with the thought of the Messias as being their special Redeemer; and we have felt all sympathy with their mind. But here on a sudden, from the most intense circle of the Jewish expectation, comes an outburst which proves that the prospect before them reached far beyond the children of Abraham; it extends to and includes the whole world. The Child is be a light, not for the Jews only but for the enlightenment of all nations; on this account He is to be the glory of God’s people, Israel. This is the aspect of prophecy on which Simeon lays hold, that aspect which the less faithful Jews seem to have neglected, for while the latter clung to the Messias as their King, many prophets had foretold Him “as the desired of all nations” Who “hath revealed His justice in the sight of the Gentiles.” In this sense, then, while Zachary looks to the fulfillment of the past, Simeon already opens the new era and looks to the fulfillment in the future.
3. The sentence which follows is surely the sentence of Our Lady herself. Who else would have said of her that she “wondered at these things?” Who else would have given Joseph the first place? “And his father and mother were wondering at these things which were spoken concerning him.” At what did they wonder? The evidence of the Magnificat alone is enough to show that to Mary there was nothing very new in these words of Simeon; and the prophecy concerning herself had not yet been uttered. Is it not the wonder which every saint, which every contemplative experiences in the ever deeper understanding of the truths of revelation? We know what is meant by Christ our Lord, but from time to time, in Communion, in prayer, in times of suffering, we seem to see, not merely to know. Then we, too, “marvel”; as perhaps did Our Lady at such times as this.
Summary Meditation Points
- Simeon’s consolation is enough to make their life and all that it contains, joy or sorrow, few or many days, of no account.
- His consolation extends not to his own people only, but to all the world.
- And the parents wondered, marvelled; what was the nature of their marvelling?
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from Archbishop Alban Goodier’s “The Prince of Peace” (1913).