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.