Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tenebrae/26 - Canticle of Habbacuc

The fig tree will not blossom

Today a brief look at the Lauds canticle - a 'psalm' from the Book of Habacuc, or Habakkuk.

Declaring the mystery of Christ's Passion

Habakkuk is one of the twelve 'minor prophets', but almost nothing is known about him save what can be inferred from his book, which was probably composed around 597-625 BC, when the neo-Babylonian empire was expanding and was poised to attack Jerusalem.

In the first chapter of his book, the prophet complains to God about the unjustness of Israel’s oppression, but is told that the Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) are a weapon God has chosen to use to purify his people.  The second chapter is a vision of God’s judgment on the wicked, with the proclamation of five curses on the oppressors.  The final chapter, the canticle, culminates in the revelation of the glory and victory of God, who saves the just man.

Christian interpreters naturally read the prophecy and the canticle, though, in the light of Christ, as a proclamation of the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion.  Hrabanus Maurus (780-856), for example sees it as:

“…belonging to the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of which the heavens declare the mysteries, and are also sung in the Church, so it is made known to all, in which way the sixth day, in which the first man is established anew, the human race is restored to life everlasting through Christ.”

What the prophet is hearing of, in verse 1, in this interpretation, is Christ’s Passion on the Cross.  The horns in verse 6, then are the nails of the cross; the reference to ‘his hidden strength’ that follows points to our salvation; the comment that death goes before him to his conquest of sheol; and the earth standing still (v.8) is another reference to the earthquake at the moment of Our Lord’s death.  As St Augustine comments: “What is there stronger than that hand which conquered the world, not armed, but transfixed with iron.” St Augustine also suggests that the reference to God remembering his mercy in the midst of his anger is reflected in Christ’s plea to the Father that those who crucified him be forgiven, for they know not what they do.

The repeated references in the canticle to ‘in the midst of years’ point to the idea that God intervenes in history, as Pope John Paul II’s catechesis on this canticle pointed out:

“For the sacred author, the Lord's entry into the world has a precise meaning. He wills to enter into human history "in the course of the years" as repeated twice in verse 2, to judge and make its affairs better which we conduct in such a confused and at times perverse way… Then God shows his indignation (cf. v.2c) against evil. And the hymn mentions a series of inexorable divine interventions, but without specifying if these are direct or indirect actions.

Verses 9-18 recall God’s past interventions, recorded in the book of Exodus and Judges.  In verse 19, Christ’s incarnation is reiterated – and then we are presented at a series of images of God’s anger at the death of his son, and the consequences for the earth in the lands barren of crops and flocks, are a reminder that God is not indifferent to what we do, far from it!  The canticle ends though, on a high note, with the speaker rejoicing at the saving grace that enables us to reach heaven.

Canticle of Habacuc

Habacuc 3:2-19 

Oratio Habacuc prophetæ, pro ignorantiis
A prayer of Habacuc the Prophet for ignorances
1 Dómine, audívi auditiónem tuam: * et tímui.
2 O Lord, I have heard your hearing, and was afraid.
2  Dómine, opus tuum, *  in médio annórum vivífica illud.
O Lord, your work, in the midst of the years bring it to life
3  In médio annórum notum fácies: * cum irátus fúeris, misericórdiæ recordáberis.
In the midst of the years you shall make it known: when you are angry, you will remember mercy.
4  Deus ab Austro véniet: * et sanctus de monte Pharan.
3 God will come from the south, and the holy one from mount Pharan:
5  Opéruit cælos glória ejus: * et laudis ejus plena est terra.
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth is full of his praise.
6  Splendor ejus ut lux erit: * córnua in mánibus ejus:
4 His brightness shall be as the light: horns are in his hands:
7   Ibi abscóndita est fortitúdo ejus : * ante fáciem ejus íbit mors.
There is his strength hid: 5 Death shall go before his face.
8   Et egrediétur diábolus ante pedes ejus. * Stetit, et mensus est terram.
And the devil shall go forth before his feet. 6 He stood and measured the earth.
9   Aspéxit, et dissólvit Gentes : * et contríti sunt montes sæculi.
He beheld, and melted the nations: and the ancient mountains were crushed to pieces.
10   Incurváti sunt colles mundi, * ab itinéribus æternitátis ejus.
The hills of the world were bowed down by the journeys of his eternity.
11  Pro iniquitáte vidi tentória Æthiópiæ: * turbabúntur pelles terræ Mádian.
7 I saw the tents of Ethiopia for their iniquity, the curtains of the land of Madian shall be troubled.
12  Numquid in flumínibus irátus es, Dómine? * aut in flumínibus furor tuus? vel in mari indignátio tua?
8 Were you angry, O Lord, with the rivers? Or was your wrath upon the rivers? Or your indignation in the sea?
13  Qui ascéndes super equos tuos: * et quadrígæ tuæ salvátio.
Who will ride upon your horses: and your chariots are salvation
14  Súscitans suscitábis arcum tuum: * juraménta tríbubus quæ locútus es.
9 You will surely take up your bow: according to the oaths which you have spoken to the tribes.
15  Flúvios scindes terræ : vidérunt te, et doluérunt montes: * gurges aquárum tránsiit.
You will divide the rivers of the earth. 10 The mountains saw you, and were grieved: the great body of waters passed away.
16  Dedit abyssus vocem suam: * altitúdo manus suas levávit.
The deep put forth its voice: the deep lifted up its hands.
17  Sol, et luna stetérunt in habitáculo suo, * in luce sagittárum tuárum, íbunt in splendóre fulgurántis hastæ tuæ.
11 The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation, in the light of your arrows, they shall go in the brightness of your glittering spear.
18  In frémitu conculcábis terram: * et in furóre obstupefácies Gentes.
12 In your anger you will tread the earth under foot: in your wrath you will astonish the nations.
19  Egréssus es in salútem pópuli tui: * in salútem cum Christo tuo.
13 You went forth for the salvation of your people: for salvation with your Christ.
20  Percussísti caput de domo ímpii: * denudásti fundaméntum ejus usque ad collum.
You struck the head of the house of the wicked: you have laid bare his foundation even to the neck.
21  Maledixísti sceptris ejus, cápiti bellatórum ejus, * veniéntibus ut turbo ad dispergéndum me.
14 You have cursed his sceptres, the head of his warriors, them that came out as a whirlwind to scatter me.
22  Exsultátio eórum, * sicut ejus, qui dévorat páuperem in abscóndito.
Their joy was like that of him that devours the poor man in secret.
23  Viam fecísti in mari equis tuis, * in luto aquárum multárum.
15 You made a way in the sea for your horses, in the mud of many waters.
24  Audívi, et conturbátus est venter meus: * a voce contremuérunt lábia mea.
16 I have heard and my bowels were troubled: my lips trembled at the voice.
25  Ingrediátur putrédo in óssibus meis, * et subter me scáteat.
Let rottenness enter into my bones, and swarm under me.
26  Ut requiéscam in die tribulatiónis: * ut ascéndam ad pópulum accínctum nostrum.
That I may rest in the day of tribulation: that I may go up to our people that are girded.
27  Ficus enim non florébit: * et non erit germen in víneis.
17 For the fig tree shall not blossom: and there shall be no spring in the vines.
28  Mentiétur opus olívae: * et arva non áfferent cibum.
The labour of the olive tree shall fail: and the fields shall yield no food:
29  Abscindétur de ovíli pecus: * et non erit arméntum in præsépibus.
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.
30  Ego autem in Dómino gaudébo: * et exsultábo in Deo Jesu meo.
18 But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God my Jesus.
31  Deus Dóminus fortitúdo mea: * et ponet pedes meos quasi cervórum.
19 The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts:
32  Et super excélsa mea dedúcet me victor * in psalmis canéntem.
and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.

Tenebrae of Good Friday

Nocturn I: Psalms 2, 21, 26
Nocturn II: Psalms 37, 39, 53*
Nocturn III: Psalms 58, 87*, 93
Lauds: 50*, 142, 84, [Hab], 147

And the next part of this series can be found here.

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