Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Sunday Canticles for Lent: Ezekiel 36

The third and final of the three Lenten Third Nocturn Matins Canticles in the Benedictine Office is  surely the most beautiful of all of them, and one whose every line we should beg and entreat God to make true for us personally.  

Taken from Ezekiel 36, it prophesies the New Covenant, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Church, and our hope of heaven.

Ezekiel 36:24-28 
1. Tollam quippe vos de gentibus, et congregabo vos de universis terris, et adducam vos in terram vestram. 
24 For I will take you from among the Gentiles, and will gather you together out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 
2. Et effundam super vos aquam mundam, et mundabimini ab omnibus inquinamentis vestris, et ab universis idolis vestris mundabo vos. 
25 And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols.
3. Et dabo vobis cor novum, et spiritum novum ponam in medio vestri:
26 And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you:
4. et auferam cor lapideum de carne vestra, et dabo vobis cor carneum
and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.
5. Et spiritum meum ponam in medio vestri: et faciam ut in præceptis meis ambuletis,
et judicia mea custodiatis et operemini. 
27 And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them. 
6. Et habitabitis in terra quam dedi patribus vestris: et eritis mihi in populum,
et ego ero vobis in Deum.
28 And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

The original historical context for these verses was the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and the Exile that followed.  The Exile, Ezekiel makes clear, is God's punishment for the failure to uphold the covenant; yet despite their fall to idolatry and disobedience, God promises that he will restore Israel once again, and bring the people back to their true homeland. 

Ezekiel's words foreshadowed the eventual ending of the Exile  of the Jewish people.  It is clear, though, that that event merely foreshadowed the true fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ and his Church.

The Church and heaven

The opening and closing verses of this canticle have long been interpreted as speaking of the Church, both Militant and Triumphant.  

The Church, after all, is made up of those from all nations, as Revelation  makes clear:

out of every tribe, every language, every people, every nation thou hast ransomed us with thy blood and given us to God (5:9, Knox translation)

and will lead us to dwell forever in a land where:

God’s tabernacle [is] pitched among men; he will dwell with them, and they will be his own people, and he will be among them, their own God (21:3)

Through the Holy Ghost

The second verse can be interpreted as a reference to the cleaning power of baptism, as St Cyril of Jerusalem pointed out:

"Through Baptism all sins are forgiven, even the most serious transgressions.  Have faith, Jerusalem, the Lord will remove your wickedness from you (cf. Zep 3: 14-15). The Lord will cleanse you from your misdeeds...; he "will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses' (Ez 36: 25). The angels will encircle you rejoicing and they will soon sing: "Who is that coming up from the wilderness', immaculate, and "leaning upon her beloved?' (Sg 8: 5). In fact, it is the soul, formerly a slave and now free to address as her adopted brother her Lord, who says to her, accepting her sincere resolution, "Behold, you are beautiful, beautiful!' (Sg 4: 1).... Thus, he exclaims, alluding to the fruits of a confession made with a clear conscience,... may heaven deign that you all... keep alive the remembrance of these words and draw fruits from them, expressing them in holy deeds in order to present yourselves faultless before the mystical Bridegroom and obtain from the Father the forgiveness of your sins" (n. 16; Le Catechesi,Rome 1993, pp. 79-80; quoted in a General Audience of Pope John Paul II on the canticle).

The effect of our baptism is to give us the law written not on stone tablets, as the Ten Commandments were, but on our very hearts (v3); to turn our stony hearts into life (v4); and to give us the grace to keep us on the right path (v5).

Let us pray that we too may use this Lent to be brought to holy repentance, turning our stony hearts once again to life through the sacrament of confession; that we be cleansed of all attachment to the false idols we have made for ourselves; that we be granted the grace to avoid sin and do good in the future; and that we be granted that grace that will lead us into heaven.

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