This canticle has been a part of the Morning Prayers of the Church (particularly Lauds) at least since the 5th century Rule of Saint Benedict. The Prayer Book tradition has consistently maintained its position as the second canticle – the one read after the New Testament lesson. Its legacy in America, however, has been curious. The 1790 Prayer Book printed only the first few verses, ending with “from the hand of all that hate us.” The 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books included the full text of the Benedictus, but noted that “the latter portion thereof may be omitted”, permitting the short version of 1790. Only in 1979 did the American Prayer Book tradition return to the reading of the full Benedictus without omission.
From the English Prayer Book of 1552 through to the American 1928, the Jubilate (Psalm 100) was offered as an alternative to the Benedictus. This originated from the Puritans’ hesitancy to use anything but the Psalms as hymns and canticles, but by 1662 had settled into an alternative to the Benedictus only when the text of Luke 1 would be found in the New Testament reading on a given morning. The first three American Prayer Books swapped the preferential order between these two canticles, 1979 offered extremely flexible guidance about the choice of canticles, and 2019 has reaffirmed the priority of the Benedictus as the second canticle in Morning Prayer.