The Benedictus is the name of a poetic speech given by St Zechariah, the father of St John the Baptist. It’s named after the first word of the poem – ‘Benedictus’ – which is the Latin word for ‘Blessed’. He uttered these words after regaining his faith and the power of speech.
Pope St John Paul II described the Benedictus as “the Canticle intoned by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when the birth of that son changed his life, wiping away the doubt that caused him to go mute, a serious punishment for his lack of faith and praise.”
The pope went on: “Now, instead, Zechariah can celebrate God who saves him, and he does so with this hymn, set down by Luke the Evangelist in a form that undoubtedly reflects the liturgical usage current in the original Christian community (cf. Luke 1: 68-79).”
In the first part of the poem, Zechariah praised God for the arrival of the Saviour, as previously promised to Abraham and the prophets. In the second part, Zechariah turned to his son John, predicting that he would become a prophet of God and a herald of the Lord, who was coming to save his people.
The pope added: “The Evangelist himself describes it as a prophetic hymn, inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:67). Indeed, we have before us a benediction proclaiming the saving actions and liberation offered by the Lord to his people. Thus, it is a “prophetic” interpretation of history, the discovery of the intimate, profound meaning of all human events that are guided by the hidden but active hand of the Lord which clasps the more feeble and hesitant hands of men and women.”
This stained glass scene of Zechariah is found within the church of Our Lady of Reparation, in West Croydon. Dating to 1949, it pictures Zechariah writing his son’s name on a tablet. This was the act that triggered the return of his voice – and enabled him to say the words of the Benedictus (Luke 1:64).
In the background, his relatives discuss what the child’s name should be. Above Zechariah is an angel (probably Gabriel) holding a scroll with these words in Latin: “John is his name”. In keeping with his role as priest, Zechariah is pictured dressed in his sacred robes. The window is part of a series telling the story of St John the Baptist’s life, including one of his execution. The artist is unknown.
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Where to find this work of art
Our Lady of Reparation, West Croydon
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: As a song, the Benedictus is comparable to the Psalms of David.
- From the New Testament: The Magnificat, the Virgin’s song of joy, also celebrates the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham.