Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christmas Canticle 3: Isaiah 66:10-16

The Nursing Madonna by unknown master from Bruges, 16th century.
Museu de Aveiro, Portugal.
Over the last few Sundays I've taken a brief look at the Office canticles - the psalms not contained in the book of psalms - used at Sunday Matins in the Benedictine Office for the broader Christmas season, which ends tomorrow.  Accordingly, today the third and final of these Office canticles for Christmas and Epiphanytide, which comes from the final chapter of the prophet Isaiah.

Christmas Canticle 3: Isaiah 66: 10-16
1 Lætamini cum Jerusalem et exsultate in ea, omnes qui diligitis eam;
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you that love her
2 gaudete cum ea gaudio, universi qui lugetis super eam:  ut sugatis et repleamini ab ubere consolationis ejus;
rejoice for joy with her, all you that mourn for her. That you may suck, and be filled with the breasts of her consolations
3 ut mulgeatis et deliciis affluatis ab omnimoda gloria ejus. 
that you may milk out, and flow with delights, from the abundance of her glory. 
4 Quia hæc dicit Dominus: Ecce ego declinabo super eam quasi fluvium pacis,
et quasi torrentem inundantem gloriam gentium,
For thus saith the Lord: Behold I will bring upon her as it were a river of peace, and as an overflowing torrent the glory of the Gentiles,
5 quam sugetis: ad ubera portabimini, et super genua blandientur vobis.
which you shall suck; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. 
6 Quomodo si cui mater blandiatur, ita ego consolabor vos, et in Jerusalem consolabimini. 
As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you, and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem
7 Videbitis, et gaudebit cor vestrum, et ossa vestra quasi herba germinabunt:
You shall see and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb,
8 et cognoscetur manus Domini servis ejus, et indignabitur inimicis suis. 
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall be angry with his enemies. 

9 Quia ecce Dominus in igne veniet, et quasi turbo quadrigæ ejus reddere in indignatione furorem suum et increpationem suam in flamma ignis: 
For behold the Lord will come with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind, to render his wrath in indignation, and his rebuke with flames of fire.
10 quia in igne Dominus dijudicabit, et in gladio suo ad omnem carnem; et multiplicabuntur interfecti a Domino,
For the Lord shall judge by fire, and by his sword unto all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many. 

The verses of Isaiah immediately before this canticle have long been interpreted as presenting Our Lady as the new Eve, and the opening verses of the canticle can obviously be seen as an allusion to her role as the Mother of God also.

These verses make it clear though, that the image of Mary breastfeeding the child Jesus is also an example of typology, teaching us about God's loving care for us.  The canticle opens with an invitation to feast, taking comfort from the food of the spirit, using the image of a mother sucking her child that can be interpreted as an image of God himself acting as our parent.  The Douay-Rheims translation is perhaps a little over literal here, so here is the Knox version of the opening verses to aid understanding:

"Lovers of Jerusalem, rejoice with her, be glad for her sake; make holiday with her, you that mourned for her till now. So shall you be her foster-children, suckled plentifully with her consolations, drinking in, to your hearts’ content, the abundant glory that is hers. Thus says the Lord, Peace shall flow through her like a river, the wealth of the nations shall pour into her like a torrent in flood; this shall be the milk you drain, like children carried at the breast, fondled on a mother’s lap. I will console you then, like a mother caressing her son, and all your consolation shall be in Jerusalem; your eyes feasted with it, your hearts content, vigorous as the fresh grass your whole frame..."

The river of peace of the fourth verse (as the canticle is arranged for liturgical use) is interpreted by St Ambrose to be the Holy Ghost, 'that flowed from within Jesus', echoing the imagery of Psalm 1.  And the flourishing bones of verse 7 are interpreted by St Augustine to be a reference to the resurrection of the body.

Indeed, the whole canticle (and chapter of Isaiah from which it comes) abounds with eschatological imagery, not least in the warning of the Second Coming and final judgment contained in the concluding verses (8-10).

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