From the Canticle of Zechariah
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
—Luke 1:78-79 (from the Canticle of Zechariah)
The Canticle of Zechariah is said at the close of Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Breviary—the official set of prayers marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer. The Canticle of Zechariah, or Benedictus, was “intoned by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when the birth of his son changed his life, removing the doubt that rendered him mute, a significant punishment for his lack of faith and praise.”* (The entire Benedictus, which begins at verse 68, appears below.)
I cannot find the Bible translation that contains the graceful phrasing above. In the GOD’S WORD® Translation, the text begins, “A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful”—matter-of-fact but clunky, though sweeter by far than the Jubilee Bible 2000 version, which opens thus: “Through the bowels of mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us….” When I hear the words the tender compassion of our God, I am instantly comforted. Knowing that the dawn from on high shall break upon us fills me with hope. To the extent that I dwell in darkness—which is quite a lot, actually—the promise of the sunrise and of guidance for my clumsy feet into the way of peace gives me faith that this day, at least, I will walk in the light, and I will not walk alone.
The Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours includes psalms, hymns, readings, and other prayers and antiphons. Together with the Mass, it constitutes the official public prayer life of the Catholic Church and forms the basis of prayer within Christian monasticism. The Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Eucharist, has formed part of the Church’s public worship from the earliest times. In the Middle Ages, elaborate breviaries were commissioned by aristocratic patrons for their personal ownership and as gifts for loved ones. Pictured here are two pages from the Isabella Breviary, a gift in 1497 to Queen Isabella of Castile (1472-1504) on the occasion of the wedding of two of her children to a son and daughter of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria. The main illuminator of the manuscript was a Flemish artist known as the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, active in Bruges. One particular feature of his style was to treat the page as a solid background in which the place for the miniature was cut out, as in a passe-partout. A magnificent floral and foliate border frames scenes incorporating various episodes in the Old Testament. The image at the top of this page shows the principal scene, in which the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments are surrounded by musicians and David playing the harp. Below is a depiction of the Adoration of the Magi from the New Testament. —from the Web Gallery of Art and Wikipedia
*From an October 1, 2003, address by Pope John Paul II
Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Israel;
He has come to His people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
Born of the house of His servant David.
Through His holy prophets He promised of old
That He would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember His holy Covenant.
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship Him without fear,
Holy and righteous in His sight
All the days of our life.
You, My child shall be called
The prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning.
is now, and will be forever.