One of the features of the 2019 Prayer Book that has raised eyebrows among the hard-core prayer book traditionalists, and perhaps evoked mixed reactions from those familiar with the 1979 Prayer Book also, is the section of the book called Supplemental Canticles for Worship. Starting on page 79, after the Family Prayer and Additional Prayers, these are ten canticles that are offered for use in the Daily Office, each with a rubric recommendation of when it is “especially suitable” – Magna et mirabilia for Advent or Easter, Surge illuminare for Epiphany, and so forth.
The improvement here over against the 1979 Prayer Book is that the primary texts of the Daily Offices are not cluttered with a massive pile of Canticles to wade through. This also gives place of preference for the historic canticles (Te Deum and Benedictus for the Morning, and Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in the Evening). Those who want to “complicate” the Office, by drawing from a larger number of canticles, will not be overly bothered by the extra page-flip involved in doing so.
Let’s say you’re a regularly pray-er of the Office, or are getting into it now with this new prayer book. How should you go about choosing these canticles? When should you use them? Which of the standard options should they replace? To answer this question, let’s start with the “liturgical standard” of 1662.
The “original” Canticles
In Morning Prayer the first canticle was the Te Deum laudamus or Benedicite omnia opera (of which our Canticle 10 is a slightly-streamlined reduction). The second canticle was the Benedictus, except for when it shows up as a reading at Morning Prayer or the Holy Communion; on those handful of days each year the Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) is appointed instead.
In Evening Prayer the first canticle was the Magnificat or Cantate Domino (Psalm 98), the only stipulation being that the latter may not be used on the 19th day of the month, when that psalm is one of the regularly-appointed psalms of the day. The second canticle was the Nunc dimittis or Deus misereatur (Psalm 67) with the same stipulation as before – no repeating the psalm on the 12th day of the month.
In our American context it is worth noting that by the time of the 1928 Prayer Book, further options had emerged. Along with the Te Deum and the Benedicite was also offered the Benedictus es, which we find as an option alongside the Te Deum in the 2019 Prayer Book. In Evening Prayer, alongside the Magnificat and Psalm 98 was added Psalm 92; and alongside the Nunc dimittis and Psalm 67 was added Psalm 103 (well, a portion of it).
Between this, and other similar features of the Office in the 1928 Prayer Book, and there can be seen a clear trajectory of diversification when it comes to canticle usage.
the Canticles before the Payer Book
Another factor that may guide how we go about utilizing the canticles at our disposal (in any prayer book, but especially the 2019) is how the canticles were handled in the liturgy of the hours, the Offices, before the first Prayer Book of 1549. After all, Archbishop Cranmer didn’t just slap together a few random psalm and canticles, he was drawing from centuries of tradition and practice, simplifying what was needlessly complex and streamlining the wide sprawl of medieval monastic practice into something that all the laity could follow.
One major feature of canticle use was the trio of Gospel Canticles. I’ve written about them before, but in a nutshell these were standard daily canticles that were (as far as I’m aware) never replaced with substitutions. The Benedictus was said every morning, the Magnificat every evening, and Nunc dimittis every night (compline). You can see a hint of that in the 1662 rubric concerning the Benedictus – that it should only be replaced with Psalm 100 when its text shows up in one of the readings that morning.
As for the Te Deum, I am generally aware (but not authoritatively certain) that it was appointed to be said in one of the morning Offices on Sundays and Holy Days. This is also vaguely affirmed by the fact that, in prayer book history, it has the largest number of substitutions allowed.
the Saint Aelfric Customary – on the Canticles
Given all this, what’s our recommendation for using the canticles in the 2019 Prayer Book? Table first, brief explanations after…
- First Canticle
- Te Deum laudamus (page 17) on Sundays, weekdays in Christmastide, and other Holy Days
- Magna et mirabilia (Canticle 1) on weekdays during Advent (and perhaps the first Sunday)
- Surge illuminare (Canticle 2) on weekdays during Epiphanytide (perhaps including Epiphany Day itself)
- Benedictus es (page 18) on weekdays during Lent (and perhaps the first Sunday)
- Cantemus Domino (Canticle 5) on weekdays during Eastertide
- Dignus es (Canticle 6) on weekdays from Ascension Day through Pentecost week
- Ecce Deus (Canticle 8) on weekdays during Trinitytide
- Benedicite (Canticle 10) on Saturdays during Trinitytide
- Second Canticle
- Benedictus (page 19) except when it’s in a reading for that morning
- Jubilate (Psalm 100, taken from the invitatory option on page 15)
- First Canticle
- Magnificat (page 45) except when it’s in a reading for that evening
- Cantate Domino (Canticle 7) on those couple days a year
- Second Canticle
- Nunc dimittis (page 46) except for the following…
- Quaerite Dominum (Canticle 4) on Monday through Friday during Advent
- Kyrie Pantokrator (Canticle 3) on Monday through Friday during Lent
- Deus misereatur (Canticle 9) on Monday through Friday during Epiphanytide and Trinitytide
Two of the three Gospel Canticles are kept stable with almost no exceptions – the Benedictus and Magnificat only get replaced when their text will be read in a lesson at same time of day. What the 1662 book extended to the Benedictus, we also extend here to the Magnificat. The Nunc dimittis doesn’t receive this treatment however because it is a mainstay in Compline, which is now available in our prayer book.
Speaking of Compline, its seasonal replacements only apply “Monday through Friday.” This is because Saturday evenings are the “Eve of” a Sunday, and thus the ‘feast day’ quality of a Sunday begins to apply, hence the retention of the Nunc dimittis on Saturday nights. Indeed in many liturgical texts of a more Roman style, Saturday evening and night are called “Sunday I” and Sunday evening and night called “Sunday II.” We need not complicate our liturgy with such terms, but the principles are still sound.
It falls, then, to the Te Deum to receive the largest number of substitutions, rendering that Canticle primarily a feast-day role. Most of the seasonal substitutions note that they may be used “perhaps on the first Sunday” or something to that effect; this is for the benefit of those who hold regular Sunday Morning Prayer services and wish to utilize occasional seasonal changes while still retaining the Te Deum as the primary regular first canticle.
In order to divide the ten Supplemental Canticles across the various seasonal options, it became necessary to ignore or narrow two of their rubric recommendations: Canticle 1 we appoint in Advent only and not also Easter, and Canticle 4 we appoint in Advent instead of Lent. But because the rubrics in question are only recommendations, there is no rule violation involved here.
5 thoughts on “A Guide to choosing the Supplemental Canticles”
Thank you for writing this. This makes the most sense of anything I’ve seen on the subject. The traditional Benedictine office gets around this problem by having two cycles of variable canticles (which are only said in the morning): one for ordinary weekdays, and another for feasts. The rank of the day determines whether you use the ‘festal’ or ‘ferial’ canticle, and each day of the week has its own office. The suggestions in the Prayer Book seem somewhat chaotic by comparison, though in all fairness at must be acknowledged that some effort was made in the “Suggestions” to bring some order to the addition of the new canticles in 1979, mirroring what the Roman Catholic Church had done a few years earlier with the Liturgia Horarum (some of which, viz., the non-Gospel NT “canticles”, were 1970s-era innovations with little historical or liturgical warrant, and I think biblical scholarship since then has backtracked from some of the assumptions made by the well-meaning liturgists of the 1970s; of course that doesn’t mean the Church can’t or shouldn’t use these passages as canticles, especially with their having been in use now for the majority of Christians for nearly a half-century). The suggestions you have outlined do justice to both the more traditional use of the canticles as manifesting a specific “ethos”, if you will, as well as the intent of the revisions in providing more variety to the Offices.
Thank you! I’ve not tracked the details of Roman practice but I was happy to build off of what other proposed Prayer Books had offered in the use of more canticles.
It can be enlightening at times to note the convergences and divergences. The Benedictine office is the oldest version of the Divine Office still in continuous (monastic) use. The rubrics and structure are true a work of art (not even the Byzantine liturgy can match it when it’s done properly), and its effectiveness as a means of spiritual formation is unparalleled when done in accordance with the rest of the Rule of St. Benedict. Unfortunately, neither it nor its secular “cousins” (such as the lovely Anglican Breviary) is practical for the vast majority of laypeople on a day-to-day basis, as Archbishop Cranmer recognized 500 years ago. That being said, given that the animating principle of the Anglican Reformers was a return to ancient catholic practice, a consideration of continuous Benedictine (i.e., modified pre-Reformation Roman) practice, where and as the rubrics allow, could help on certain occasions to tilt the scales one way or the other where there are multiple legitimate options. I think the suggestions you’ve made here with regard to the canticles reflect in a modern liturgical context what St. Benedict was trying to accomplish with the Office in his own day. (And he was perfectly aware, and acknowledged, that some of the modifications he made to the existing Roman office in his own day were themselves innovations, which long use has now vindicated as being fundamentally sound. There’s no reason the same cannot be true of the Anglican pattern as well.)