The wisdom of night prayer

Laura Kelly Fanucci

By Laura Kelly Fanucci

Catholic News Service

Faith at Home

"Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled."

Thus begins the Canticle of Simeon, the prayer drawn from the words of the prophet who held the baby Jesus in the Temple at the presentation (Lk 2:29-32), a prayer often known by its Latin name "Nunc Dimittis" ("now dismiss").

A canticle is a hymn of praise, and the Church's daily prayer through the Liturgy of the Hours includes multiple canticles.

The Canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79, known as the "Benedictus") begins the day in morning prayer; and Mary's Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55) is lifted up in evening prayer. Add in the Canticle of Simeon for night prayer, and the whole day is wrapped round in praise to God.

But the wisdom of Simeon's song can speak to us not just at night, when we release to God's mercy all that has been done and undone in the day. Its words also bring truth to each stage of life and each moment in which we need to ask God's help in closing a chapter.

This fall, I found myself praying the words when I pictured my sister and brother-in-law as empty nesters, launching their last child off to college: "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled."

The words can speak to both parents and children, caught up in the endless dance of drawing close and letting go. The canticle came to mind again as I watched my fourth son leave for his first day of kindergarten, the lump welling in my throat as it did for all his brothers.

Let him go in peace into this new chapter that's beginning. Let me go in peace from this stage that's now ending.

Picture those you know who are transitioning into retirement, leaving behind single life for marriage, starting a new stage in life or watching a child do the same.

A thousand times in the span of a human life, if we're lucky, we can lift up our hands to heaven and pray the prophet's words as our own hope: "My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared."

The Church's wisdom invites us to remember Simeon's words each night. This short canticle reminds us of God's providence, preparing a way for salvation, and our own humanity, humbled to praise God for what we have witnessed even as we step back in surrender.

Imagine if we could truly end each day, each week or each year in peace, trusting in God's word and believing in God's care. The practice of prayer invites us to engrave these words on our hearts as we engrain these truths in our souls: What God has spoken will be fulfilled.

Even if it takes a lifetime to see. Even if some days we fear it will never come.

Each year on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, I love to picture Anna and Simeon holding the Christ Child as his parents watch in wonder. I catch echoes of grandparents meeting grandchildren, the joy of older faces beholding brand-new ones for the first time.

Simeon's wisdom invites us to behold – and to let go. To marvel at what God is doing in our lives, in each chapter's opening and closing.

Then to let ourselves step back, slipping into the silence of the night or the dawning of a new stage, trusting that what comes next has been prepared for us, too.

May "Nunc Dimittis" become your own prayer wherever you find yourself tonight: "Lord, now let your servant go in peace."

Laura Kelly Fanucci writes the "Faith at Home" column for Catholic News Service.