Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Sunday Canticles: Sirach 36:14-19

I want to continue my Sunday series on the canticles used at Matins in the Benedictine Office today with a brief look at the third (and final) of the Canticles used throughout the year, which comes from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 36.  This canticle takes the form of a prayer for the Church.

Canticle 3 for time throughout the year: Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 36:14-19 
1 Miserere plebi tuae, super quam invocatum est nomen tuum, et Israel quem coaequasti primogenito tuo. 
Have mercy on thy people, upon whom thy name is invoked: and upon Israel, whom thou hast raised up to be thy firstborn. 
2 Miserere civitati sanctificationis tuae, Jerusalem, civitati requiei tuae.
Have mercy on Jerusalem, the city which thou hast sanctified, the city of thy rest.
3 Reple Sion inenarrabilibus verbis tuis, et gloria tua populum tuum.
Fill Sion with thy unspeakable words, and thy people with thy glory.
4 Da testimonium his qui ab initio creaturae tuae sunt, et suscita praedicationes quas locuti sunt in nomine tuo prophetae priores. 
Give testimony to them that are thy creatures from the beginning, and raise up the prophecies which the former prophets spoke in thy name.
5 Da mercedem sustinentibus te, ut prophetae tui fideles inveniantur:
Reward them that patiently wait for thee, that thy prophets may be found faithful
6 et exaudi orationes servorum tuorum, secundum benedictionem Aaron de populo tuo: et dirige nos in viam justitiae
and hear the prayers of thy servants, According to the blessing of Aaron over thy people, and direct us into the way of justice
7 et sciant omnes qui habitant terram quia tu es Deus conspector saeculorum. 
and let all know that dwell upon the earth, that thou art God the beholder of all ages.

Sirach was probably written around 190-180 BC by Joshua ben Sirach, a teacher who had travelled widely.  

The earlier verses of Chapter 36 (verses 1-13) will be familiar to those who pray the Office as the festal canticle for Saturday at Lauds.  They are essentially a plea for God to intervene in favour of Israel against those nations that are persecuting and attacking her, a plea for the coming of the Messianic era. 

The verses used for this canticle turn more fully to Sion itself, standing for the Temple and, read in a Christian light, our churches and worship.

At the time Sirach wrote, Jerusalem was still in ruins: but a few decades afterwards the Maccabean revolt saw its restoration.  

But of course the Holy City and the Temple in ruins is just as applicable to the Church today in so many ways, so we easily make as our own this beautiful prayer for the restoration of the Holy City to the glory of God!

The canticle opens with a please for God to show his mercy to his Church, Israel, and Jerusalem, his holy city.  It calls on him to fill the Church with the celebration of God's wondrous deeds, and the worship of his glory.  It then asks God to fulfill the prophesies made in his name, and reward those who have been faithful to his teachings.  Finally, it asks God to direct us in the right paths, and reveal his power to the whole world.

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