A Canticle of The Three Young Men, Book of Daniel, Chapter 3

canticle of danielIn the book of Daniel when the three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are sentenced to be burned in the furnace for not worshiping a statue of King Nebuchadnessar, who considered himself a god, they sing the following song to the Lord, the God of Israel, as the flames engulf them. The three are saved from the flames by an angel of the Lord. I have always been puzzled by the wording of this canticle. What does “bless the Lord” mean? The canticle goes through an extended list of God’s creation, from plants, animals and all inanimate things like rain and snow and mountains and stars. How can the inanimate things “bless the Lord”? This canticle is read quite often in the morning prayer and to me is a bit repetitious. Perhaps that is because I don’t know what “bless the Lord” means.

From Catholic Culture. org: “From the furnace, the three young men, miraculously preserved from the flames, sing a hymn of praise addressed to God. The hymn is like a litany, at once repetitive in the form of the verses and new with each verse: the invocations rise to God like billowing incense that glides through the air in similar but unique clouds. Prayer does not eschew repetition, just as the lover, who wants to express his love repeats his love over and over again. To emphasize the same things conveys the intensity and multiple nuances of one’s interior feelings and affections.”

“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.
Praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord.
You heavens, bless the Lord.
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.
All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord.
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord….”

I am struck first by the listing of God’s creations. While I know that God created rain, snow, frost and dew, and everything else, I don’t think about it often. So many things in the world about me I take for granted. The canticle does remind me that all that I see, feel, touch, smell and taste God created, even if they are inanimate things in my environment. In addition, my being able to see, feel, touch, smell, taste and even think about God’s creations, comes from God. So, is doing those things that God has created me to be able to do, blessing the Lord because I have fulfilled His purpose?

“Bless the Lord” could mean “be what you are” and in this way, the created thing blesses the Lord, for it fulfills His Intention. If a mountain, be a mountain. If a star, be a star. That doesn’t make sense to me, because what else could a mountain or a star be except what it is. To my knowledge those inanimate objects cannot be anything else or even wish to be anything else. And why tell a mountain or a star to bless the Lord for it can do nothing else but that? Is the point of the song just a reflection on what God has created, a way of telling the Babylonian king that he is nothing compared to the God who created all these things? Is it a way of telling God – of speaking words of prayer and adoration – that we are aware that all that is is, because He spoke it into existence?

I looked up “blessing” in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The word is synonymous with “praise”. It “signifies the sanctification or dedication…  to sacred purpose”. I read also “the effects of the Fall extended to the inanimate objects of creation, marring in a manner the original aim of their existence and making them, in the hands of evil spirits, ready instruments for the perpetration of iniquity.” I also read that ancient peoples looked up some of these object such as mountains, wind, rain, thunder, etc as powers. So perhaps it would be understandable that they would instruct these items which had power to bless the Lord.

John Paul II said that “in their blessing, the three young men praise the Lord all powerful, who is in heaven, but also the God who is close to His people, Who wished to inhabit ‘his holy temple of glory’.”

I am hoping that the next time this canticle appears in the Morning Prayer, I will have more appreciation for it.

July 3, 2013 Feast of St. Thomas – Let all creation show forth the glory of God – perhaps this is what “bless” means to Daniel.  Perhaps that is what it should mean to all of us.

August 24, 2013 I am still unsettled about Daniel’s canticle. It comes up often in the Morning Prayer. Why is it so popular in the morning prayer? Does it have some meaning that I cannot see? It is praise – this much I know. It is curious to me.

August 25, 2013 Daniel’s canticle again this morning. Maybe “blessing” means “love”. Let all the earth and all within it and on it and above it, love the Lord your God – with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind.

September 1, 2013 Sometime “blessed” may mean “holy”, as in “Blessed be the God of Israel”. And when we bless someone, we say a prayer for the individual whom we have blessed.