Our “Nunc Dimittis” experience

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 03 February 2020

Detail of the Presentation painting by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) with Mary handing the Child Jesus to Simeon at the temple of Jerusalem (man at the middle Mary’s husband, Joseph).

As we come to close today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, I wish to share with you a Quiet Storm brewing within me which I call “the Nunc Dimittis experience”.

Nunc dimittis is the Latin opening line of Simeon’s Canticle that says “Now you dismiss” when he was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit upon meeting our Lord and Savior on his presentation at the temple.

According to St. Luke’s account, God had promised Simeon that “he would not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord” (Lk. 2:26). Hence, the overflowing joy of Simeon when he finally met the Child Jesus at the temple 40 days after Christmas!

Part of St. Luke’s artistry in his Christmas story is to put songs on the lips of some of its important characters to express their profound joys in their unique experiences of the coming of Christ.

The Nunc Dimittis is the fourth canticle in the Lucan Christmas story: first is Mary’s Magnificat when she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptizer; second is the Benedictus by Zechariah when he regained his speech after naming his son John; and third is the Gloria sang by the angels when Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Simeon bursting in joy as depicted by American illustrator Ron DiCianni’s “Simeon’s Moment”. From http://www.tapestryproductions.com

Of these four canticles recorded by St. Luke, Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis sounds the highest level of all, the fulfillment of time within each one of us when we personally recognize and meet Jesus the Christ our Savior like Simeon.

And so often, when we are overjoyed in experiencing Jesus Christ, that is also when we feel like saying “now I am ready to go, ready to die” exactly like Simeon because we have met the Lord.

That is why I call it “the Nunc Dimittis experience”: real joy can only come from that experience and intimacy with Jesus Christ, when we feel so close with him. It does not really matter whether we experience him here in this life or hereafter. What matters most is we feel so close with him, as if embracing him, here and now.

This may be a religious experience like after listening to a homily that really touched us, or after a good confession, or while attending a wonderful retreat or recollection. It may also happen when we feel so loved and accepted, when we are vindicated, or when assured of support and trust and confidence while going through difficult trials in life.

Our Nunc dimittis experience always comes at the end of each day, when we feel despite our failures and shortcomings, we are in God’s loving presence.

Simeon’s Canticle, our Night Prayer

Since the early sixth century during the time of St. Benedict, the “Nunc Dimittis” has been sung in the monks’ night prayer or “compline” from the Latin completorium or completion of the working day. Eventually, it was adopted into the Liturgy of the Hours or the prayers of the Church usually recited by priests and religious. (St. John Paul II had suggested in his encyclical Novo Millennio Innuete after the Great Jubilee of 2000 that the lay faithful also pray the Liturgy of the Hours.)

After the praying of the psalms and meditation of the Sacred Scriptures, there is a Responsory that declares, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Like Jesus before he died on the Cross, we offer to God our very selves. This is takes on a beautiful dimension especially if we have done a good examination of conscience at the start of the compline, before the psalms and readings.

Then, we recite the antiphon that introduces the Nunc dimittis: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”

The antiphon in itself is already a prayer!

It is after the antiphon that we chant or recite Simeon’s Canticle:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

From the Compline of the Breviary

The antiphon is repeated and immediately followed by the Closing Prayer.

The cross atop our parish church at night with the moon above taken with my iPhone camera, 02 February 2020.

Capping the compline is the blessing at the end that says: “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.”

Usually, a hymn to Mary is sung, then all the lights are turned off and the great silence (magnum silencium) begins until the morning prayers or lauds (Latin for praise).

See how our night prayer or the compline is oriented towards meeting God, or to put it bluntly, towards death.

Yes, it is always easy to say we are ready to die. It is a lot whole different when we are already face to face with death itself.

But, when we come to think of it, we realize that indeed, in death, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”.

When we die, everything happens so fast. We may not even feel anything at all. And unknown to us, every night when we go to sleep, we rehearse our death, so to speak!

And what a tremendous joy to keep in mind how every night, the Lord fills us with joy and faith within us even if we often forget him. Every night when we sleep, it is automatic within us to entrust everything to God “unconsciously” without even thinking we may never wake up!

It is a “Nunc Dimittis” experience too because most of us go to bed filled with joy, full of hope the following morning would be a better day than today. And that is Jesus still coming to us at the end of the day to assure us of his love and concern, never bothering us at all of this tremendous grace gratuitously given to us.

Next time you sleep, remember how blessed you are to have come to the end of another day, blessed and loved.

Pray, and start experiencing Jesus more from the beginning to the end of each day and forevermore. Amen.

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