The Benedictus (also Song of Zechariah or Canticle of Zachary), given in Gospel of Luke 1:68–79, is one of the three canticles in the first two chapters of this Gospel, the other two being the "Magnificat" and the "Nunc dimittis". The Benedictus was the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah on the occasion of the circumcision of his son, John the Baptist.
The canticle received its name from its first words in Latin ("Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel", “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”).
The whole canticle naturally falls into two parts. The first (verses 68–75) is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation; but to such realization is given a characteristically Christian tone. As of old, in the family of David, there was power to defend the nation against their enemies, now again that of which they had been so long deprived, and for which they had been yearning, was to be restored to them, but in a higher and spiritual sense. The horn is a sign of power, and the "horn of salvation" signified the power of delivering or "a mighty deliverance". While the Jews had impatiently borne the yoke of the Romans, they had continually sighed for the time when the House of David was to be their deliverer. The deliverance was now at hand, and was pointed to by Zechariah as the fulfilment of God's oath to Abraham; but the fulfilment is described as a deliverance not for the sake of worldly power, but that "we may serve him without fear, in holiness and justice all our days".
The second part of the canticle is an address by Zechariah to his own son, who was to take so important a part in the scheme of the Redemption; for he was to be a prophet, and to preach the remission of sins before the coming or the Dawn from on high. The prophecy that he was to "go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (v. 76) was of course an allusion to the well-known words of Isaiah 40:3 which John himself afterwards applied to his own mission (John 1:23), and which all three Synoptic Gospels adopt (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4).
The Pulpit Commentary refers to a belief that the Benedictus was "first introduced into the public worship of the Church about the middle of the sixth century by St. Caesarius of Arles".
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Benedictus is part of Lauds, probably because of the song of thanksgiving for the coming of the Redeemer in the first part of the canticle. It is believed to have been first introduced by Benedict of Nursia. According to Durandus, the allusion to Christ's coming under the figure of the rising sun had also some influence on its adoption. It also features in various other liturgical offices, notably at a funeral, at the moment of interment, when words of thanksgiving for the Redemption are specially in place as an expression of Christian hope.
It is one of the canticles in the Anglican service of Morning Prayer (or Matins) according to the Book of Common Prayer, where it is sung or said after the second (New Testament) lesson, unless Psalm 100 ("Jubilate Deo") is used instead. It may also be used as a canticle in the Lutheran service of Matins.
The Greek version of the canticle appears in the Gospel of Luke 1:68-79:
Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel; quia visitavit et fecit redemptionem plebis suae
- et erexit cornu salutis nobis, in domo David pueri sui,
- sicut locutus est per os sanctorum, qui a saeculo sunt, prophetarum eius,
- salutem ex inimicis nostris, et de manu omnium, qui oderunt nos;
- ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris, et memorari testamenti sui sancti,
- iusiurandum, quod iuravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum, daturum se nobis,
- ut sine timore, de manu inimicorum nostrum liberati, serviamus illi
- in sanctitate et iustitia coram ipso omnibus diebus nostris.
- Et tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis: praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius,
- ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi eius in remissionem peccatorum eorum,
- per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri, in quibus visitabit nos oriens ex alto,
- illuminare his, qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent, ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis.
From the Douay–Rheims Bible (Challoner Revision):
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people:
- And hath raised up an horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant:
- As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who are from the beginning:
- Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us:
- To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy testament,
- The oath, which he swore to Abraham our father, that he would grant to us,
- That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear,
- In holiness and justice before him, all our days.
- And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:
- To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins:
- Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us:
- To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace.
From the Book of Common Prayer (1662):
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel : for he hath visited, and redeemed his people;
- And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
- As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
- That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hands of all that hate us;
- To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
- To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
- That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
- In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
- And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
- To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
- Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
- To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.