Canticles: songs of the church | Part 5: Benedicite

BY IAN ADAMS, MISSION SPIRITUALITY ADVISER FOR CHURCH MISSION SOCIETY

The mission of the church has been shaped over two millennia. One wonderful repository of this experience lies in the collection of texts we know as canticles, which emerged from some of the earliest songs of the church.

These songs have been sung in times of plenty and in times of need, in times of joy and of persecution, of hope and fear. Grounded in Scripture and shaped by experience, they continue to offer gifts to us now as we seek to live and share the Jesus Way in the time of Covid-19.

What might happen if we begin to speak or sing these canticles under lockdown? How might we be changed if we allow them to shape our response to pandemic and its chaos? This series continues by exploring the canticle Benedicite. The photo above was taken in winter on the coast of South Devon.

Benedicite

1 Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

2 Bless the Lord you heavens:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

3 Bless the Lord you angels of the Lord:
bless the Lord all you his hosts;

bless the Lord you waters above the heavens:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

4 Bless the Lord sun and moon:
bless the Lord you stars of heaven;

bless the Lord all rain and dew:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

5 Bless the Lord all winds that blow:
bless the Lord you fire and heat;

bless the Lord scorching wind and bitter cold:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

6 Bless the Lord dews and falling snows:
bless the Lord you nights and days;

bless the Lord light and darkness:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

7 Bless the Lord frost and cold:
bless the Lord you ice and snow;

bless the Lord lightnings and clouds:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

8 O let the earth bless the Lord:
bless the Lord you mountains and hills;

bless the Lord all that grows in the ground:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

9 Bless the Lord you springs:
bless the Lord you seas and rivers;

bless the Lord you whales and all that swim in the waters:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

10 Bless the Lord all birds of the air:
bless the Lord you beasts and cattle;

bless the Lord all people on earth:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

11 O people of God bless the Lord:
bless the Lord you priests of the Lord;

bless the Lord you servants of the Lord:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

12 Bless the Lord all you of upright spirit:
bless the Lord you that are holy and humble in heart;

bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit:
sing his praise and exalt him for ever.*

The Benedicite is a text for our times.

It places us and our circumstances firmly within the context of cosmos and creation, asking us to give attention, through all we face, to creation’s relationship to the creator God and calling us to respond in word and action.

The canticle draws heavily on Psalm 148, and on The Song of the Three, an apocryphal text included in some versions of the book of Daniel, a text shaped by experience of great trial. The canticle’s focus is never on our plight, but on the goodness of God and on the enduring nature of God’s creation.

It begins in the wide open spaces of the cosmic realm: Bless the Lord you heavens…

It then focuses in on the earth and its creatures: O let the earth bless the Lord…

And it concludes with the human being: O people of God bless the Lord…

In taking this path the canticle reveals our place in creation and our relationship to it, calling us to echo creation’s praise of God and in all circumstances to add our own praise to that great symphony.

The opening stanza acts as a template for the whole song, charting its content and direction.

Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord: sing his praise and exalt him for ever. So three closely linked actions are urged: Bless the Lord/ sing his praise/exalt him for ever. What might happen if we choose today, whatever we face, to bless the Lord, sing his praise and exalt him for ever?

Many of the elements of cosmos and creation are addressed personally as “you”. Each is thus given honour and value. So creation is not impersonal, but intimate and full of holy life and wisdom – requiring our love and our care as people who are priests and servants of the Lord, of upright spirit, holy and humble.

The final stanza gives bold Trinitarian shape to our praise: bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

Practice

Say (or sing) a line from the Benedicite each day for a week – perhaps in the open air if you can get out to exercise. See what this does to you, allow it to shape a moment – then perhaps a day, even a lifetime – of praise and love for the Creator God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

*Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing

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