Sunday, November 16, 2014

Praying the Te Deum and Benedicite

"Let us now sing the first six verses of the Tedium".

That at any rate is how my mutinous younger self parsed the vicar's injunction, herded into traditional Anglican worship every Sunday morning at school, and by no means a believer at that time.  The vicar, also, seemed in a hurry to get on with the service - I don't think we ever recited more than the beginning of the canticle Te Deum Laudamus ("We praise Thee, O God") taken over by the Book of Common Prayer from the Catholic liturgy and thought to be written in the fourth century AD.  

More recently I have found the Te Deum becoming a regular part of my morning prayers.  It is a marvelous hymn of praise, conjuring up the worship of the universal Church, the angels, apostles, prophets, and martyrs, passing on through a creedal section reflecting on Christ's journey from heaven to earth, from earth to grave, from grave to sky, and claiming for ourselves ("thy servants") a part in the great redemptive story ("Make them to be numbered with thy saints").  The words "us" and "we" show up only in the last few verses, and in the final verse comes the solitary appearance of "I"
O Lord, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.
There's a powerful, understated message in that final verse..  Many modern worship songs begin with "I".  Here, "I" make one appearance - one confession of faith, at the end - in the context of the great drama of salvation through the ages.

One criticism that could be leveled at the Te Deum is that it's too exalted.  In the ecological context, we might wonder what has happened to the created world, amid all the gold and glitter of heaven.   That's why one also needs the alternative canticle prescribed for this point in morning worship, the Benedicite, omnia opera ("All ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord").   This song channels the exuberant gusto of Psalm 104 into a long call to worship addressed to all parts of the creation: celestial bodies
O ye Sun and Moon, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.
O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.
living things
O ye Whales, and all that move in the Waters, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.
and finally people, next in line after the Beasts and Cattle,
O ye Children of Men, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.
Using both Te Deum and Benedicite gives a good rhythm - at least for now.

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