Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Canticle of Anna (Hannah)

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout -
Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli,
ca. 1665

The ferial canticle for Lauds on Wednesday comes from I Kings (aka 1 Sam 2) 2. 1-10, and its sentiments will sound very familiar, for Our Lady's Magnificat draws on it heavily.

1 Samuel 2:1-10
1 Exsultávit cor meum in Dómino: * et exaltátum est cornu meum in Deo meo.
My heart has rejoiced in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God:
2  Dilatátum est os meum super inimícos meos: * quia lætáta sum in salutári tuo.
my mouth is enlarged over my enemies: because I have enjoyed in your salvation.
3 Non est sanctus, ut est Dóminus : neque enim est álius extra te, * et non est fortis sicut Deus noster.
2 There is none holy as the Lord is: for there is no other beside you, and there is none strong like our God.
4  Nolíte multiplicáre loqui sublímia, * gloriántes :
3 Do not multiply to speak lofty things, boasting:
5   Recédant vétera de ore vestro : quia Deus scientiárum, Dóminus est, * et ipsi præparántur cogitatiónes.
let old matters depart from your mouth: for the Lord is a God of all knowledge, and to him are thoughts prepared.
6  Arcus fórtium superátus est, * et infírmi accíncti sunt róbore.
4 The bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength.
7  Repléti prius, pro pánibus se locavérunt: * et famélici saturáti sunt.
5 They that were full before, have hired out themselves for bread: and the hungry are filled,
8 Donec stérilis péperit plúrimos: * et quæ multos habébat fílios, infirmáta est.
so that the barren has borne many: and she that had many children is weakened.
9  Dóminus mortíficat et vivíficat: * dedúcit ad ínferos et redúcit.
6 The Lord kills and makes alive, he brings down to hell, and brings back again.
10 Dóminus páuperem facit et ditat, * humíliat et súblevat.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich, he humbles and he exalts:
11  Súscitat de púlvere egénum, *  et de stércore élevat páuperem :
8 He raises up the needy from the dust, and lifts up the poor from the dunghill:
12  Ut sédeat cum princípibus: * et sólium glóriæ téneat.
that he may sit with princes, and hold the throne of glory.
13  Dómini enim sunt cárdines terræ, * et pósuit super eos orbem.
For the poles of the earth are the Lord's, and upon them he has set the world.
14  Pedes sanctórum suórum servábit, et ímpii in ténebris conticéscent: * quia non in fortitúdine sua roborábitur vir.
9 He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; because no man shall prevail by his own strength.
15  Dóminum formidábunt adversárii ejus: * et super ipsos in cælis tonábit:
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall fear him: and upon them shall he thunder in the heavens
16  Dóminus judicábit fines terræ, et dabit impérium regi suo, * et sublimábit cornu Christi sui.
The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, and he shall give empire to his king, and shall exalt the horn of his Christ.

This canticle can be read in a number of ways.

Model for prayer

Firstly, its author, Hannah (or Anna), can be seen as a model for persistent and humble prayer, and as a testament to the value of pilgrimages.

As 1 Samuel relates, each year as she and her husband visited the shrine of Heli she fasted and prayed, and her prayers were so loud and fervent that the priest thought her drunk.  Hannah's persistence, even in the face of ridicule by others, was often compared by the Fathers, to the example of the Publican and the Pharisee in the New Testament.

The barren made fruitful

Secondly, Hannah's prayer was answered in a way that represents one of God's providential interventions in history, many of which are recalled in the psalms of Wednesday's Office, wherein he acts to thwart men's pretty plans and hopes:

"Boast no more, boast no more; those lips must talk in another strain; the Lord is God all-knowing, and overrules the devices of men." (v3; Knox translation)

In particular, one of the recurring 'types' of the Old Testament is of the suffering barren woman, who, through God's miraculous intervention, is granted a son who is chosen over other elder children for great things in salvation history.

Hannah (the mother of the prophet Samuel), is one of these woman, along with Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.  The Fathers, following St Paul's exposition in Galatians on Abraham's two sons, generally interpret these great reversals of fortune, these children 'born of the promise', as foreshadowing the New Testament, and the closing of the Old.

The election of the gentiles

Unsurprisingly, then, the ninth century monastic commentator Hrabanus Maurus sees this canticle as being sung on Wednesday, the day of the week associated with Judas' betrayal to the Council of Jewish leaders plotting to kill him, as signifying the expulsion of the Jews as God's chosen people, and the election of the Church of the gentiles in their place.  Virtually all of the Patristic commentaries note that the song is a prophesy that fits both King David and the Incarnation of Our Lord.  Pope John Paul II summarises it thus:

"The hymn of thanksgiving that sprang from the lips of the mother was to be taken up and expressed anew by another Mother, Mary, who while remaining a virgin conceived by the power of the Spirit of God. In fact, in the Magnificat of the Mother of Jesus we can perceive an echo of Anna's canticle which for this reason is known as "the Magnificat of the Old Testament". In fact, scholars note that the sacred author has placed on Anna's lips a sort of royal psalm laced with citations or allusions to other Psalms."

In this light, we can see it as a prayer of rejoicing at the coming birth of the Church as the body of Christ, as St Alphonse Liguori:

"Inspired by the Holy Ghost, Anna thanks God for having freed her from the reproach of sterility, and she predicts clearly the mystery of the Incarnation and the glories of the Church. There is no Christian that cannot use this canticle to thank God for all his benefits, and especially for the benefits of Redemption."

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