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 Grail Translation, which is used in the Liturgy of the Hours)

These two verses come from Zachariah’s Prophecy (full prayer is Luke 1:68-79), it also known as the Canticle of Zachariah. Canticle is a Latin word meaning “small song”.  This canticle is one of my favorite prayers in the Bible.  It is a part of Lauds (or Morning Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours, and so is prayed every morning by all bishops, priests, deacons, religious orders all around the world, and lay men and women who pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

To understand this prayer, read the first chapter of Luke. Zachariah’s son (St. John the Baptist) has just been born and Zachariah had just regained the ability to speak after six months of being mute, as a result of his not believing the words of the angel Gabriel. The two verses above are a very poetic way of describing what it is that Jesus will do for all of mankind when he (Jesus) arrives (in about 6 months), and has fulfilled the will of God the Father, in his ministry as recorded in the rest of the Gospel.

The “dawn from on high” is a metaphor for peace, goodness and eternal life, and the darkness is a metaphor of sin, evil, and death. The “dawn from on high” is Jesus, the One who is all peace, all goodness and all life.  While Jesus came to the earth 2000+ years ago, He still needs us to spread His message of peace, goodness and eternal life.  Before we can evangelize others however, we first need to know and believe it ourselves. This prayer, the “Canticle of Zachariah” is a great prayer to grow in both an understanding of peace and in the grace of peace, a peace which only Jesus can give.

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