Benedictus

isabella-breviary

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.

isabella-breviary-calendar-page-july

Calendar page for July from the Isabella Breviary; note Zodiac sign, upper left, and depiction of peasants at work rather than regal grandeur. The “Isabella” for whom this Breviary was made is the Queen Isabella of Castile (a region of Spain) who, with her husband, King Ferdinand, sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World and also issued the degree ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave the country, leading to the infamous Spanish Inquisition; 1492 was a busy year.

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

isabella-breviary-adoration-of-magi

Adoration of the Magi, from the Isabella Breviary

Benedictus

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.

Amen.

Moving Right Along

Purple Flowering Shrub to illustrate prayer "The Shrub"Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

The Shrub:
Prayer for a Happy Home and for Difficult Transitions

Glory be to you, Creator and Redeemer, Father-Mother of us all

It was as if I’d one leg that had put down
deep, good roots—the rest of me was flailing,
not in an endeavor to escape, No! but to stay
there, stay forever; not for freedom, but for
safety, so I did believe. “I can’t!” I cried. My
tears were shed to no avail, for they (the
gardeners) merely hauled me out, to plant me
in some other yard. I thought I’d die;
however, as it happened, though the roots
were bared and some were torn and I called
out in pain (while they pretended not to
listen, but I knew they cared), the roots ran
broad and shallow, and not deep at all, and I
can keep my foot and all my toes, it seems.

Red Clover to illustrate poem "The Shrub - Prayer for Happy Home and Difficult Transitions"

Well, they were not mean-spirited or so
unkind as just to leave me to the task and
drop me any-old-where; they asked, and I
said, “There, please.” There they stopped, and
sent me in with my valises, oh, so many! and
they went away. I didn’t mind so much,
although I wish it all had happened faster, for
I sit here yet with my belongings strewn at
random… nor do my legs, quite tender from
the struggle, function right. The touchy, easily
offended, mewling voice, in protest, whispers,
“This is wrong.” But it’s too late; I silence it.

Blue Sheer Curtain Window Toothbrushes to illustrate prayer-poem

My troubles found me, with that radar that
they have, and seemed to double in the
interim. But by your grace, O God, I shall win all
the little victories and overcome the obstacles,
with them, with the detritus, the unholy mess,
eventually, I’m not sure how, but I don’t need to
be… in you, there’s no uncertainty. This morning,
anyway, I hear a pair of cardinals calling to
each other, far away, then nearer, or else
bolder, and the sun is warm upon my hair, my
neck, my shoulders; it’s enough and more for
now.

Images: vnwallpapers.net
except as noted

Catholic Things part 2

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Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

‘Pray Without Ceasing’

From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. —Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Fanny McElroy

I, Fanny McElroy

When I, Fanny McElroy, first discovered The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters, I ripped through them like a scairt rabbit about to be et by a hawk, as Sister Alma Rose says her Daddy Pete says, or maybe it’s “a hawk after a scairt rabbit.” Anyway, I read them fast. And then there weren’t any more, because Ellis Peters died, so for the longest time I put off reading the final book, the twentieth, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Brother Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the 12th century, but I found other books to read because I had become fascinated by all things medieval and all things Roman Catholic.

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

I loved Brother Cadfael’s irreverent way of being genuinely and truly religious, his painstaking cultivation of herbs for healing, his humor and his kindness. And the way he told the time not by the clock but by the Canonical Hours for Prayer — Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and so forth. Sister Alma Rose has specific times for prayer during the day, and if I am at her house when one of those times comes, we go into her chapel and pray together, and sometimes we pray out loud, sometimes we don’t, and she reads a psalm and we sing a hymn — harmonizing rather nicely, if I do say so — but the thing is, she always seems to know what she’s doing, I mean there aren’t any awkward “what should we do now?” moments. And now I know why.

The Liturgy of the Hours

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

One lazy summer afternoon I was sitting on the steps of Sister Alma Rose’s great green wraparound porch half-listening to Sister Alma Rose talking with Father Dooley and his sister Bernadette, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who is a willowy, fair-haired, freckled young woman who has, as she says, “quite enough money,” and her occupation is Doer of Good Deeds, and she would have become a nun, she told us, but she wanted to get married and have children, which she hasn’t, yet, but she’s only something like twenty-two, so she spends her time visiting the sick and does what she calls “healing prayer work,” and sometimes she takes in the homeless, temporarily, like mothers with children running from an abusive man, that sort of thing, not scary people or drug addicts.

Versicle: Poem on a Stick?

So I’m sitting there, drowsy with the sun and the hum of a summer afternoon, and I perk up when I hear Bernadette say “Compline,” so I get up from the step and go over to the green wicker table and sit in the one vacant green wicker chair and listen to Bernadette talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called the Divine Office, I have no idea why, but Catholics have funny names for everything, like antiphon and breviary and versicle, which is not “a poem on a stick,” as I suggested, and everyone laughed, which was very gratifying because when one thinks that one is being very clever, it’s good to know that others think so too.

The Hours of Jeanne D'Evreaux

The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreaux

I think that everyone was surprised by my fascination with such a dry subject as the Divine Office, which I had thought was something from long ago… well, which it is, but it is still practiced, or “celebrated,” as Father Dooley says, and he as a priest is obligated to “celebrate” the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is a joy to him, he says, and Bernadette also “celebrates” the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sister Alma Rose says that her daily prayer times are “based on” the Liturgy of the Hours. “Fanny McElroy,” she says, “y’all have been celebrating it with me for years,” and then she laughs and pours me a glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Sister Alma Rose is not Catholic (she has referred to herself as “a Christian Jewish Buddhist,” probably offending adherents of all three religions, but she doesn’t mind — like J. Krishnamurti, she doesn’t mind much of anything, she says, and she is certainly the most serene person I have ever known, though in a crisis she becomes very exercised and shouts prayers to Heaven).

I am not a Catholic either, but there are many things I like about Catholicism, and here is one of them: For two thousand years or so, in spite of corruption and scandal and competition from other religions, and popes who had mistresses and children, and bishops who plotted royal assassinations, and so forth, the Catholic Church has inspired, comforted, counseled, educated, and healed. Irish monks preserved the knowledge from Roman and Greek antiquity by copying a huge lot of documents by hand (read How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill).

Sister Alma Rose has told me about the vile perverted priests who prey on young boys, but I don’t think that those sick men’s transgressions erase all the good that the church has done. And I love the idea of Confession, and the Rosary, and having one’s own personal saint, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, with her woman’s wisdom and her tender heart, and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. And, basically, that Catholic worship has gone on uninterrupted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Some facts about the Liturgy of the Hours

So I ask a thousand questions, and here is some of what I find out about the Divine Office:

It sprang from Jewish prayer practices (“Seven times a day I praise you,” it says in the Psalms)

It began rather simply, with reading or chanting psalms; reading from the Old Testament, the  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and epistles; and canticles, which are basically hymns from the Bible but not usually from the psalms.

By the end of the fifth century, the Canonical Hours were — and this is a lot of praying and involves getting up in the middle of the night

  • Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturns, or in monastic usage the Night Office; it is now called the Office of Readings
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = 6 a.m.)
  • Terce (rhymes with “purse”) or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = 9 a.m.)
  • Sext (rhymes with “next”) or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = 12 noon)
  • None (rhymes with “John”?) or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
  • Compline (KOM-plin) or Night Prayer (before retiring)

Wow! Don’t you love it that the time for Vespers is “at the lighting of the lamps”?

The complete Liturgy of the Hours is contained in the Roman Breviary. Most of the pictures on this page are from personal breviaries made for wealthy people in the Middle Ages.

Très Riches Heures calendar page

Très Riches Heures calendar page

All hours begin with Ps. 69-70 v.2, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” and then the doxology:  “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. Amen.”

The Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer may consist of

  • opening versicle (a short verse said or sung by a priest or minister in public worship and followed by a response from the congregation) or (for morning prayer) the invitatory (Psalm 94)
  • a hymn, composed by the Church
  • two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evening Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
  • a short passage from scripture
  • a responsory (chant or anthem recited after a reading in a church service) typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
  • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus [Blessed be]) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat: The “Song of Mary” from the Gospel of Luke, Magnificat anima mea Dominum = My soul doth magnify the Lord) for evening prayer

    Russian Orthodox icon, Zechariah

    Zechariah, Russian Orthodox icon

Nativity from an Antiphon

Nativity from an Antiphon

It looks complicated, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you, it is refreshing and renewing to drop everything at 3 p.m. or whatever because that is the time you have set aside for prayer. And if you’re not Catholic, you can develop your own structure for prayer and praise, as Sister Alma Rose has done, she created a sort of hybrid of the Divine Office, and Father Dooley says that’s fine with him, he encourages everyone to pray in the way that suits them best, as long as there’s no mutilation of poultry and stuff like that.

Well, you can buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes for more money than I have in my piggy bank, which last time I counted was $97.13, I am saving for a school trip to walk the Appalachian Trail, but there are less expensive books, such as those that have only the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer.

There is much, much more to be told about the subject, but Bernadette had to leave to go back to Grand Rapids and her Good Works, which she does out of love and not to earn points toward Heaven or anything like that. So I will just tell you that I, Fanny, “celebrate” the Hours four times a day using the website DivineOffice.org, which has an audio version with beautiful music, and there are other websites with text versions. Sometimes I pray with Mama, and sometimes with Sister Alma Rose, and sometimes it’s just I, Fanny.

Even if you are not a Christian, you might enjoy this prayer discipline, which is principally made up of psalms anyway, though the references to Jesus Christ Our Savior might make you cringe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I need and enjoy discipline and structure in my prayer life, and for me, Fanny McElroy, the Divine Office is the beginning of that discipline and structure.

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

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Praying for Many

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Sister Alma Rose: How to Pray for Multitudes

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Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Dear Sister Alma Rose — I am on my church’s prayer chain, and people in the church make prayer requests, usually for loved ones who are sick, many of whom I know personally but more of whom I don’t. Some of the requests are for “the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan” or “the beleaguered and starving in Darfur.” I also pray daily for my own friends and family. I do not know how to pray, genuinely and with love, for so many people. Can you help? cartoon_group_2
—Signed, Baffled in Baltimore

Dear BIB — Sister Alma Rose understands y’all’s frustration. Sister Alma Rose, being Sister Alma Rose, is often asked to pray for multitudes. When she was young and naive, Sister Alma Rose wrote everybody’s request on a separate slip of paper, and she put all the pieces of paper in a “prayer box,” and then she prayed for the box, in a manner of speaking.

Or she would write the names on a list and then pray for all the requests in a bunch, but her heart wasn’t really in it and her thoughts would wander off to “Oh! The hyacinths are blooming” or “Oh! There’s a big stain on that cabinet; I need to remove it as soon as I finish off praying. Vinegar or ammonia, do you suppose?”

Then, as she became more devout, Sister Alma Rose thought she needed to pray very specifically for everybody, and she would ask God to remove so-and-so’s plantar wart or heal a difficult relationship, but midway through she would get very antsy, because she can’t sit still for long periods of time, and she would “surrender” the whole clump of requests to God and go to the kitchen and bake some bread.

cartoon_couple_making_listsSister Alma Rose does not know how prayer “works,” precisely, but she believes that there must be some kind of connection between the pray-er and the pray-ee through which the powerful energy of prayer travels, and since she does not know all of the people being prayed for and God does, and since God is the source of all energy, Sister Alma Rose finds that God is indispensable to prayer.

Bright blessing

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose gathers energy from God through meditation and then carries God’s blessing as a sort of shining angel. She floats with the sunrise to all parts of the world, and darts down, á la Tinkerbell, to embrace with light the person she is praying for. She holds an image in her mind, individually or in clumps, of those she doesn’t know personally.

At the River

Sometimes Sister Alma Rose visualizes those she is praying for being carried by angels to the Jordan River, or some other river, perhaps the Nile, where they (the pray-ees) are set down on the west bank to await the sunrise. Sister Alma Rose is there with them, and she sees them all. When the day dawns on the river, each person soaks up the healing rays sent from God, and the Holy Spirit carries all the pain and troubles away on a whirlwind, and thousands of birds sing for joy.

Lovingkindness meditation

Sometimes, after surrendering her own and everybody else’s burdens to God, Sister Alma Rose blesses her people (individually wherever possible, otherwise in clumps) using Susan Piver’s sweet, comforting lovingkindness meditation:how_not_to_be_afraid_of_your_own_life

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease

—Susan Piver,  How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening Your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy

Wafting Love and Warmth

Sister Alma Rose always, usually, when she remembers, turns worries into prayers. When she is fussed about something, she surrenders it (the “something”) to God. When she happens to think about someone, or when she sees an unhappy face in the throng, she calls upon God to empower her to send waves of love and light to that person. It is not at all unusual, after sending such blessings through the ether, for Sister Alma Rose to receive a letter, a phone call, or a visit from the pray-ee that very day.

Candle Prayer Ceremony

candles_boxedcandles_prayercandle_book-261x388As often as possible, Sister Alma Rose lights candles in the evening for the people and situations she is praying for. Not everybody gets his or her own individual candle, or else Sister Alma Rose’s entire house would be turned into a huge candle mob, and it would not be safe for her cats, Tim and Henry.

Alternatives

One could also divide up one’s prayer list and pray fervently for, say, five people a day. Sister Alma Rose does not find this satisfactory, but that doesn’t mean y’all shouldn’t try it if it appeals to y’all.

One can also, when praying the Lord’s prayer, specifically the part that says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” use it as a vehicle for petitions and intercessions: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Patricia; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Ephraim”; and so forth.

Sister Alma Rose has also made strings of prayer beads, each bead representing a person or situation. She enjoys praying this way, as it engages several of the senses and Sister Alma Rose is less likely to become distracted.

The very intention to pray is itself a blessing, and as Sister Alma Rose’s dear friend the Rev. Bruce Hurley used to say, God sorts out our prayers. 

May God bless y’all, dear reader: May y’all be happy; may y’all be healthy; may y’all be peaceful; may y’all live with ease. Amen.

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To the Soul

Journal of a Departed Friend, Part 1

journal

An antique journal (Renaissance?)

Sister Alma Rose recently received part of a journal from the year 1985 that was bequeathed to her by an old friend. Here is an excerpt:

natdingbat2

Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain
or freed a human soul.
—Mark Twain

Blackeyed Susan growing wild along a country road

Blackeyed Susan growing wild along a country road

Where is it, then, this human soul 
(if, indeed, there is such a place,
a spring of pure motives and selfless love,
a sanctuary of rest from struggle and anxiety)?

“I can’t explain myself,
I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice,
“because I’m not myself, you see.”

 

I control what I wear and what I eat,
when I rake leaves and how I set my
house in order. The soul is a place of uncontrol (I believe) where yet is not chaos but cosmic arrangement. It is
a place of selflessness from which
emanates the genuine Self, and it is
THIS Self that I fear and that I
hide from, behind activity and blind
allegiances and alcohol and
organization and television… that I
bury and cover with the borrowed
skins of the souls of others,
calling them Identity.

Rainbow (photo source unknown)

Rainbow (photo source unknown)

But this Soul, this Self, will not be
denied; it draws one irresistibly. 
I have found demons and have
unmasked them, and at each turn I
wonder if there are more-fearsome
demons and angrier fiends. I have
seen the sun disarm them and the
rain dissolve them, and I believe a little
less in the strength of demons and
more in the power of the sun and the rain.

Glasswing butterfly

Glasswing butterfly

It doesn’t do any good to run away,
after all. It is like the man whose
suspenders are caught on the doorknob: The faster he runs, the suddener his return. “No matter where you go,” it is truly said, “there you are.” 

 

 

 

O, Power, embolden my encounter with the soul.

natdingbat

The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

I Give Up

Sister Alma Rose Prays for Surrender

garden_of_delights_hieronimus_bosch_c1500

Take possession of my heart, O precious
Father-Mother, for I do not use it
well. It’s true, I open it a crack
now and again, but then I do not know quite
what to do, and so I put the shutters
back and hide here in my room, where I have
pallid and opaque reminders of your
glory, second-hand, like faded Polaroids
from nineteen-hundred-fifty-two.

I have withheld my heart from you because I
was afraid that I might join the tiresome
Bible-thumping choir, forever quoting
Scripture, but reflexively, too weary
sloshing in the mire of modern thought to
hunt for truth among the crocodiles and
other predators of souls who talk of
love but practice judgment in their
robes of smug superiority.

Among your attributes is love; I cannot
manufacture it; you are the only vendor,
and the only price is the detritus of a
broken life — and that, you condescend to
carry off, as humble as the man who
hauls old, rusted cars away and sells
the useful parts among the heaps of junk. And
what becomes of the corroded pieces, well, I’m
loath to say; perhaps they are recycled into
sunbeams by your alchemy; perhaps they
are what burns in hell, but only to be
purified for further usefulness or cast as
mountains, valleys, pastures…. maybe ground to
earth… for distant universes, other
Edens, other births. Amen

garden_of_delights_detail

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Rest in Me

Sister Alma Rose’s Morning Prayer

tree_of_love_st_francis_med_soc_aus

From the Meditation Society of Australia, http://meditation.org.au

I Am a Trillion Suns

I am a trillion suns, each radiating love;
they cannot help themselves, for they are made of
God’s own holy light. Oh, that I might always
know thee, Father-Mother, in each breath and
deed and motion; how I need thee! Oh, that I
might find thee, both within and in the other. When
the dazzling world doth strike my spirit blind, O,
God, remind me that thou art my sight; my senses
are but shadows of omniscience. Thou art my
vision, and the longing in my heart is all for
thee, Creator and Sustainer. Thou alone art
strong; my strength derives from thine. Thou
alone art peace; my striving is for naught. The
transient world has taught us fear and enmity,
when all that’s needed is to stop and hear thine
admonition: “Thou art mine. Now rest in me.”

* * *

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