Sunday, February 2, 2014

Canticle for Our Lady: Sirach 39:17-21

la Vierge au buisson de roses Schongauer,
Gardner Museum
Over the last few Sundays I've been looking at the canticle used at Matins in the Benedictine Office.

Today being the feast of the Purification, the 1962 Monastic Breviary specifies the use of the Common of Our Lady.

Accordingly, the three canticles of the day are Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 39:17-21; Isaiah 61:1011, 62:1-3; and Isaiah 62:4-7.

Here is the text of the first one, from Sirach, with versification as used in the liturgy.

Common of Our Lady Canticle 1: Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 39:17-21
1. Obaudite me, divini fructus, et quasi rosa plantata super rivos aquarum fructificate.
Hear me, ye divine offspring, and bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters. 
2. Quasi Libanus: odorem suavitatis habete
Give ye a sweet odour as frankincense
3. Florete flores quasi lilium: et date odorem, et frondete in gratiam:
et collaudate canticum, et benedicite Dominum in operibus suis.
Send forth flowers, as the lily, and yield a smell, and bring forth leaves in grace, and praise with canticles, and bless the Lord in his works
4. Date nomini ejus magnificentiam, et confitemini illi in voce labiorum vestrorum, et in canticis labiorum, et citharis:
Magnify his name, and give glory to him with the voice of your lips, and with the canticles of your mouths, and with harps
5. Et sic dicetis in confessione: Opera Domini universa bona valde.
and in praising him, you shall say in this manner: All the works of the Lord are exceeding good.

The imagery of roses and lilies (verses 1-3) have long been associated with Our Lady in iconography, presenting Our Lady as the fulfillment of this injunction.  Verses 4-5 clearly presage the Magnificat.

More generally, these verses can perhaps be seen as a call to imitate Our Lady in holiness and thanksgiving to God for his works of creation and salvation. Challoner for example comments that: "He speaks to the children of Israel, the people of God: whom he exhorts to bud forth and flourish with virtue."

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