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The Octagon Parish

The Benedictus

 

Speaker: Canon David Nason. Until his retirement in 2014,Canon Nason spent twenty-five years as chaplain to the Prebendal School and Priest Vicar in Chichester Cathedral. 

 

Before the talk, the Octagon Choir sang the Benedictus to one of the traditional chants used during the service of Matins.

 

Luke 1.68-79

BLESSED be the Lord God of Israel : for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.


And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. 

Amen.

 

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The Benedictus comes from St Luke’s gospel, which contains several songs, while the other gospels do not contain any. This may be one of the reasons why Luke is traditionally remembered as an artist.

 

This song forms part of the story of the birth of John the Baptist. John’s father Zechariah was a member of the tribe of Levi, and so he was automatically a priest. At the time of Jesus the only place where worship occurred was in the Temple in Jerusalem. There were thousands of priests but only one temple, so they took it in turns to serve, and it was quite possible for a priest to wait his whole life and never get a chance to serve in the Temple; so if you did it was the highlight of your entire life. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel Zechariah finally gets his turn, but when he enters the sanctuary he meets an angel who tell him that his hitherto childless wife Elizabeth is going to bear him a son. Zechariah is then struck dumb until after the birth of the baby.

 

When the baby is born, everyone assumes that he will be named Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth says ‘No, he is to be called John’. So they ask his dumb father what to call the baby and Zechariah asks for a writing tablet where he writes ‘His name is John’. John is a shortened form of the Hebrew Jehohanan which means a gift of God. Then Zechariah bursts into song and says the words which we know as the Benedictus.

 

The Benedictus falls into two parts. The first part lists the promises which God has made to his people Israel and shows how the forthcoming birth of Jesus is a fulfilment of them, while the second part is addressed directly to the new-born John and contains Zechariah’s hopes for his son. 

 

The canticle was used in the old monastic service of Lauds, and it was included in the service of Morning Prayer by Cranmer to follow the second lesson. It is difficult to think of a better passage from the Bible to sum up the message of both the Old Testament and the New. 


Organ Music: Malcolm Brison played a setting of the Benedictus  by  Lui de Vittoria

 

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