In Spiritu Humilitatis

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Tuesday Within the Third Week of Lent

Daniel 3:25–43
Matthew 18:21–35

Azarias Found Utterance

Look for a moment at the context of today's First Reading: the magnificent prayer of Azarias "as he stood in the heart of the fire" (Dan 3:23). If you opened the Book of Daniel in your lectio divina this morning, you will have remarked that the prayer of Azarias comes just before the Canticle of the Three Young Men. It is the first of three movements in a glorious symphony of prayer: Daniel 3:26–45; Daniel 3:52–56; and Daniel 3:58–88.

The Benedicite

The Benedicite or Canticle of the Three Young Men is familiar to all who pray the Divine Office. The Church places its lyrical verses on our lips every Sunday, Solemnity, and Feast at Lauds. In addition, the Roman Missal proposes that the priest say the Canticle of the Three Young Men daily after Mass. It is part of the official liturgical Thanksgiving After Mass. Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion was faithful to saying the Benedicite after Mass all his life. In Christ, the Life of the Soul, he writes:

The Church, the Bride of Christ, who knows better than anyone the secrets of her Divine Bridegroom, makes the priest sing in the sanctuary of his soul where the Word dwells, the inward canticle of thanksgiving. The soul leads all creation to the feet of its God and its Lord, that he may receive homage from every creature . . . . What a wonderful song is that all creation sung thus by the priest at the moment when he is united to the Eternal High-Priest, the one Mediator, the Divine Word by whom all was created!

The Flames of Vice

The Missal provides an incisive little Collect after the Canticle. The Roman Rite never minces words when it comes to sin . . . and grace. I so appreciate the realism of this prayer that the Church would have her ministers say daily after Mass.

"O God who didst allay the flames of the furnace
for the three young men,
in thy mercy, grant that we thy servants,
may not be consumed by the flames of vice."

Oh, Accept Us Still

Today's First Reading enshrines another prayer that occurs every day in Holy Mass after the priest has set forth upon the altar the bread and the chalice of wine mixed with water. Following the rubrics, he bows and recites quietly:

Humbled in spirit and contrite of heart,
may we find favour with thee, Lord,
and may our sacrifice be so offered in Thy sight this day
that it may please Thee, Lord our God.

I love the way Monsignor R. A. Knox renders the same text in his translation of the Bible:

"Oh, accept us still,
hearts that are crushed,
spirits bowed down by adversity;
look kindly on the sacrifice that we offer Thee this day" (Dan 3:39-40).

The Mystic Recapitulation of Every Prayer

What is the Church teaching us by making the priest whisper this prayer, bowing down before God in every Mass? She is teaching us, among other things, that every prayer uttered from the beginning of time, every appeal addressed to God, every aspiration of contrition, of praise, of thanksgiving, of supplication, or of adoration, in heaven and on earth, is recapitulated mystically in the action of the Mass.

Not only does the Mass perfect and re-present to God the Prayer of Azarias and the Canticle of the Three Young Men — the prayers and sacrifices of the patriarchs, the cries and pleadings of the prophets, all the psalms of David, and the Song of Solomon, every prayer recorded for our sake in the Bible, and every prayer not recorded, is raised again to God in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass all the words ever addressed to God are washed in the Blood of Christ and purified in the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Hearts on High

We have no idea of the immensity of a single Mass. We forget all too easily that in the Mass, "all that is in heaven, all that is on earth is summed up in Christ" (Eph 1:10). Christ the Eternal High-Priest assumes into His efficacious mediation the desire of every heart to lift itself to God on high.

This, you see, is why Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said that if a priest was granted, even for a moment, awareness of what he does at the altar, he would die of love. He would be annihilated beneath what Saint Paul calls the crushing weight of everlasting glory (cf. 2 Cor 4:18).

The Recovery of Eucharistic Amazement

Recent statements by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship, would seem to indicate that the Holy See intends to take further measures to foster our awareness of what the Mass really is. We are moving, as a Church, to a worldwide recovery of what Pope John Paul II prophetically called for when he spoke of rekindling "Eucharistic amazement."

For us, a good place to begin is the little prayer of Azarias given in today's First Reading and repeated in every Holy Mass:

"Oh, accept us still,
hearts that are crushed,
spirits bowed down by adversity;
look kindly on the sacrifice that we offer Thee this day" (Dan 3:39-40).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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