“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord” (Daniel 3:57). A sense of the entire cosmos pervades this canticle taken from the Book of Daniel, which the Liturgy of the Hours proposes for Sunday morning prayer in the first and third week [of its four-week cycle]. Indeed, this wonderful litany is very suitable for the Dies Domini, the Lord's Day, because it enables us to contemplate in the risen Christ the culmination of God's plan for the cosmos and for history.
Indeed, in him, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of history (see Revelation 22:13), creation itself achieves its full meaning, because, as John recalls in the prologue of his Gospel, “All things came to be through him” (John 1:3). The history of salvation culminates in the Resurrection of Christ, opening the human project to the gift of the Spirit and to adoption as sons and daughters, while we await the return of the divine Spouse, who will give the world back to God the Father (see 1 Corinthians 15:24).
The Heavens and the Earth
In this litany [from Daniel 3], all things are called forth in review. We look up at the sun, the moon and the stars; we look out over the immense expanse of waters and up toward the mountains, lingering on the most varied weather conditions; passing from heat to cold, from light to darkness; considering minerals and plants, observing the various animal species.
The summons then becomes universal. It calls the angels of God as witnesses; it gathers all the “sons of men”—particularly including Israel, the people of God; its priests and the just ones. It is an immense chorus, a symphony in which all the different voices raise their song to God, the Creator of the universe and the Lord of history. Recited in the light of Christian revelation, this litany addresses the Trinitarian God, as the liturgy invites us to do by adding a Trinitarian formula to the canticle: “Let us bless the Father, and the Son with the Holy Spirit.”
Delivered from Great Danger
In a certain sense, this canticle reflects the common religious awareness of all mankind, which perceives the traces of God in the world and rises from them to the contemplation of the Creator. In the Book of Daniel, however, it is a hymn of thanksgiving offered by three young men of Israel—Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael—condemned to be burned to death in a furnace for refusing to adore Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue, but miraculously protected from the flames. The background of this event is that singular history of salvation in which God chooses Israel as his people and establishes a covenant with them. It is precisely to this covenant that the three young men want to remain faithful, at the price of martyrdom in the fiery furnace. Their faithfulness meets with the faithfulness of God, who sends an angel to keep the flames away from them (see Daniel 3:49).
In this litany, all things are called forth in review. We look up at the sun, the moon and the stars; we look out over the immense expanse of waters.
This canticle, therefore, belongs to the family of Old Testament songs of praise for escaping from danger. Among these is the famous victory song in Exodus 15, in which the ancient Hebrews express their gratitude to the Lord for that night when they would have been inevitably destroyed by Pharaoh's army if the Lord had not opened a way for them in the midst of the waters, throwing “horse and rider into the sea” (Exodus 15:1).
A New Way of Escape
It is no accident that every year, during the solemn Easter Vigil, the liturgy bids us repeat the hymn sung by the Israelites in Exodus. The path that was opened for them was a prophetic announcement of the new path that the risen Christ established for all mankind on the holy night of his Resurrection from the dead. Our symbolic passage through the waters of baptism enables us to relive a similar experience of passing from death to life, thanks to the victory over death won by Jesus for the good of us all.
Repeating the canticle of the three young men of Israel in the Sunday liturgy of morning prayer, we who are disciples of Christ want to adopt the same sentiments of gratitude for the great works accomplished by God—in creation and, especially, in the paschal mystery.
It is the Christian who perceives the relation between the liberation of the three young men in the canticle and the Resurrection of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles sees the Resurrection as an answer to the prayer of the believer who, like the Psalmist, confidently sings: “Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption” (Acts 2:27; Psalm 15:10).
Relating this canticle to the Resurrection is deeply traditional. There are very ancient testimonies to the presence of this hymn in the prayer of the Lord's Day, which is the weekly Christian Easter. The Roman catacombs preserve ancient icons in which the three young men are seen praying, unharmed by the flames—thus giving witness to the power of prayer and to the certainty of the Lord's intervention.
New Vision of Creation
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, praiseworthy and glorious forever” (Daniel 3:56). Singing this hymn on Sunday morning, a Christian feels grateful not only for the gift of creation, but also because God's fatherly care has raised him in Christ to the dignity of a son or daughter.
This fatherly care prompts us to look at creation itself with new eyes, and makes us savor its beauty, in which we can glimpse, as though looking through fine ornamentation, the love of God. It is with such feelings that Francis of Assisi would contemplate creation and raise his praise to God, the ultimate source of all beauty. One spontaneously imagines that the grandeur of this biblical text echoed in his soul when in San Damiano, after reaching the heights of suffering in body and spirit, he composed the Canticle to Brother Sun (see Fonti Francescane, 263).------- EXCERPT: