Beliefnet
The Divine Hours of Lent

There’s just no accounting for the ways of religion. They wind in and out through the centuries of history like the tracings of drunken snails, though almost all of them are the handiwork of good and godly men and women who meant only to speak the truth and pass it on. Nowhere in Christianity is the curiousness of the resulting contradictions more amusing or engaging for me than in a piece of wondrous poetry called “The Song of the Three Young Men.” The fact that the “Song” happens to be my favorite of the Church’s canticles adds, no doubt, to my perverse delight in the intricacies of its history as a piece of sacred literature.
The three young men of the canticle’s title were Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael…or they are in Hebrew. In the native tongue of Babylonia, where their story and song were originally set, they were called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, those being the names by which most of us more readily know them now. Their story itself is grizzly.
Along with Daniel, they were thrown by King Nebuchadnezzar into the fiery furnace for their refusal to worship the golden statue of himself he had had erected in the public square. They were not, however, consumed by the King’s fire. Rather, attended by angels, they wandered among the flames unharmed until the fire finally died out by itself. And as they wandered about unharmed, they sang the song that has become the Church’s [and my] most beloved canticle, despite the fact that the Church Universal has never reached any real agreement about the thing itself, or about how to present it.
The central problem is that the “Song” appears in the Septuagint, or Greek copy of the Old Testament, but it does not appear in the Hebrew one. Another problem is that the “Song” itself is so breathtakingly beautiful that one feels some need simply to lift it out of any and all surrounds and simply acknowledge it as humanity’s consummate hymn of praise. Instead of that, though, the various strands of Christianity have either assigned it to the Bible itself [in which case it can be found between the 23rd and 24th verses of the third chapter of the Book of Daniel]; or to the Apocrypha [if one is Protestant] or to the Deuterocanonical Books [if one is Roman, and as decreed by the Council of Trent in 1546]; or in the Canticles in The Book of Common Prayer [if one is Anglican like me]. Likewise, when one sings or prays the “Song” differs according to whether one is Greek Orthodox or Benedictine or Anglican or whatever. There is also no small amount of variance about the relative elaborateness and style by which the “Song” is to be sung or chanted or recited…again according to the communion to which one belongs.
Regardless of the delicious incongruities and particularities, though, the one thing that comes shining through it all is that the Church understands the “Song” to foreshadow the resurrection of Jesus Himself, and she sings it always as a precursor or first script for the song we shall raise on that final Easter when we ourselves shall live again to praise God forever:
. The Song of Three young men
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.
Blessed are you in the temple
of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever.
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.
Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
You heavens, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Every shower and dew, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you winds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Fire and heat, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Cold and chill, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Frost and chill, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Nights and days, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Let the earth bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
You springs, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
You sons of men, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
O Israel, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Spirits and souls of the just, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Holy men of humble heart, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
For he has delivered us from the nether world,
and saved us from the power of death;
He has freed us from the raging flame
and delivered us from the fire.
Give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.
Bless the God of gods,
all you who fear the Lord;
praise him and give him thanks,
because his mercy endures forever.

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