A Guide to choosing the Supplemental Canticles

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…

Morning Prayer

  • 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)

Evening Prayer

  • 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

Explanations

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.

About that Magnificat…

One of the ancient staples of Christian prayer is the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, found in Luke 1, after Mary and Elizabeth have their encounter with their respective unborn sons recognizing one another in utero.  It has been associated with Vespers, or Evening Prayer, for many centuries, and the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is no exception.  The 1662 Prayer Book appoints it for Evening Prayer every day, all year, only replacing it with a Psalm when its text will appear in a lesson that day.  Subsequent Prayer Books, including ours, do not make that rule explicit, and so we technically do have more leeway with replacing the Magnificat with another Canticle, but in the spirit of the prayer book tradition, we should not.

And with good reason – the Magnificat is a fantastic song-prayer.  And its words are… startling.  The first half of it celebrates what God has done with, in, and through Mary herself, and the second half of it celebrates what God has done for the whole world.  “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the humble and meek.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent empty away.”  Taken in a (very) anachronistic context, this could be an anthem for class warfare!  But this is prophetic language – a survey of the Old Testament prophets will yield multiple hits of phrases like these.  The work of God, however spiritualized and gospel-centric you describe it, still yields real-work effects.  Sometimes such in-breaking of the Kingdom of God can resemble all sorts of political and economic and social theories without actually confining itself to any one of them.  So while one can not read the Magnificat as a socialist manifesto, one can see elements of a socialist ideal drawn from the Magnificat.  Sure, Marx was an anti-religious nut who didn’t always know what he was criticizing, but that didn’t stop him from absorbing select elements of the Gospel.

The Kingdom of God is like that… it gets everywhere and changes the world in all sorts of ways, whether every individual accepts it wholesale or not.

Meanwhile, regarding the first half of the Magnificat, we can learn a startling amount about the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.  Since we’re in the the midst of Advent now, and that’s basically the only time of year most Protestants dare breathe the name of Mary out loud, let’s talk about her.  What do Anglicans believe about the Virgin Mary?

Subject Index:
* 00:00 Yes Mary did know! (see this for more)
* 02:05 Lessons from the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
* 07:25 Lessons from the Early Church (the Mother of God / theotokos)
* 08:51 An Anglican take on approaching Mariology
* 12:37 Lessons from the Anglican Prayer Book (a “pure Virgin”)
* 19:22 Summary wrap-up which is a bit scatterbrained because I had a headcold at the time, sorry

The Least-read book of the Bible?

Article VI famously lists the biblical canon for the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the “Other books” commonly called Apocrypha (for which I’ve taken preference to the particularly Anglican term Ecclesiastical Books).  Not every book listed in that third category has shown up in Anglican lectionaries.

  • Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (of Solomon), and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) were read in full in the original Daily Office lectionary.  Our 2019 lectionary highlights the majority of those books, yet curiously and sadly omits Tobit entirely.
  • 1 & 2 Maccabees were not touched by the original Daily lectionary, but are very briefly sampled in the 2019 lectionary.
  • The additions to Esther and to Daniel were not originally included, but the former at least were always easy to add in as lengthened readings.  The 2019 lectionary includes one of the additions to Daniel (Susanna), and the Prayer Book tradition has always included another addition to Daniel (the Song of the Three Young Men) among its Morning Prayer canticles.
  • The Prayer of Manasseh, too, has in recent times been distilled into a canticle.
  • A few snippets of 2 Esdras (or 4 Ezra) have appeared in some 20th century Daily lectionaries, including the first draft (but not final copy) of the 2019’s.

That leaves 1 Esdras (or 2 or 3 Ezra) as the only one that isn’t used at all in Anglican liturgy, despite being listed as a canonical book in Article VI useful for reading and instruction.  The reason for this is the same as the reason why 1 & 2 Chronicles were omitted from the original Daily Office lectionary (and are still only sampled in the 2019) – because the vast majority of the book is redundant.  For the most part, 1 Esdras repeats the end of 2 Chronicles and the majority of the book of Ezra.

If you want to know more about this under-noticed book, watch on!

Singing Simplified Anglican Chant

Ideally, both according to Prayer Book tradition as well as the general history Christian worship, the Psalms are most appropriate sung, not simply read aloud.  And when people talk about singing, that universally means chanting (until, say, the 14th century when modern European music began to emerge out of the Greco-Roman chant tradition).  Among the early Anglican Reformers, chant did get a new lease on life in the English language thanks to composers like John Merbecke, but for the most part among Anglicans the chant tradition went into hibernation in the 17th and 18th centuries, finally to re-emerge in 19th century as “Anglican Chant.”

Anglican Chant is distinct from plainchant or Gregorian chant in that it has contemporary harmonizations – a choir or congregation can chant together in four-part harmony.  Thus it utilizes the melodic simplicity of plainchant and the harmonic beauty of English hymnody.  Anglican Chant also stands distinct from ancient plainchant in that it has very little over-arching regulation on matching tunes to texts.  So there is much more room for freedom of expression, new chant tunes and combinations, and even in pointing the text (meaning, lining up the text with the notes).

Why Anglican Chant?  The singing of “metric psalms” enjoyed pride of place for those couple centuries when chant was in remission.  Metric psalms are perhaps easier for us to sing because they use familiar tunes and styles.  The downside of metric psalms, however, is that the Psalms are not written in English poetic rhythms or rhyme schemes, necessitating an entirely new translation.  This means neglect of the beautiful Psalter in our Prayer Books, less standardization of the actual translation (so the formation value is less prominent), and a much looser translation overall in order to force thousands-of-years-old poems into modern poetic styles.  If you use plainchant, or Anglican chant, you don’t have to re-translate the Psalms, but sing the text as it stands.  And to those of us who care deeply about the Word of God, that should be a very important consideration indeed!

There are videos on YouTube such as this one which can help you learn Anglican Chant.  There are also books and hymnals that have detailed written explanations.  But what I’d like to introduce you to here is Simplified Anglican Chant.  As the name suggests, this is a simpler version of the Anglican Chant you’ll hear and see in the videos and books above.

Simplified Anglican Chant is notated as four measures of music with two sets of notes each.  Each measure equals one half-verse of Psalm text.  Thus one full line of Simplified Anglican Chant equals two verses in the text of the Psalm.*  The majority of the half-verse is sung on the first note; the last ‘strong’ syllable is where you switch to the second note.

If you have the Book of Common Praise 2017, you’ll find an excellent explanation of this, complete with pictures, at “hymn” #738a.  Hymns #739-750 are twelve different Simplified Anglican Chant tunes.

Whether you have that book or not, however, you can take a look at this video I put together a little while ago.  In it, I go over some of the basics described above, and then demonstrate a few verses of Psalm 96 (which is among this morning’s appointed psalms, by the way).

The sample tune I used is not one of the twelve in the hymnal; it’s just one I vaguely remembered from when I was in a church choir nearly nine years ago.

simplified anglican chant

* From the 2017 hymnal: “But what if a psalm contains an odd number of verses rather than an even number?  Rather than finish the chant formula halfway through, which would be musically unfulfilling, the congregation can repeat the second half of the chant formula (measures 3 and 4) for the last verse of the psalm.

Let’s pray Morning Prayer together right now!

Okay, we’ve got a daily hymnody plan available, an order for using the Occasional Prayers, and some advice on the use of Canticles so far.  Let’s put it all together and see what Morning Prayer can be like. Listen and pray along!

Order of service (so you can get your books ready)…

  1. Opening Sentence (BCP 11)
  2. Morning Hymn (#229) *
  3. Invitatory with the Venite (BCP 13-14)
  4. Psalms 79, 80, 81 (BCP 373-377)
  5. 1 Samuel 7
  6. Canticle 8 Ecce Deus (BCP 85-86)
  7. 1 Corinthians 15:1-34
  8. The Benedictus (BCP 18-19)
  9. The Apostles’ Creed (BCP 20)
  10. The Prayers (BCP 21-24)
  11. The Anthem (Hymn #439)
  12. Occasional Prayers #25, 35-37
  13. The General Thanksgiving (BCP 25) **
  14. Closing Sentences (BCP 26)

* The first rubric on page 31 allows for the Confession and the Creed to to be omitted in one Office provided it is said in the other that day.  On my own I tend to say the Creed in the morning and the Confession in the evening.

** I tend not to pray the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom when alone, as the rubric on page 25 indicates it’s optional, and because its language of being gathered for corporate prayer is not exactly fulfilled in private.

Psalm 67 in Evening Prayer

Since at least the 1662 Prayer Book, Psalm 67 has been an alternative option to the Nunc dimittis – the second canticle in Evening Prayer.  When Thomas Cranmer first compiled the Prayer Book, he telescoped the 7-fold daily monastic office into two: Morning and Evening, so that anyone could pray them.  The service of Evening Prayer thus ended up with the traditional Vespers (evening) canticle: the Magnificat, and the traditional Compline (night) canticle: the Nunc Dimittis.  He then appointed a psalm as an alternative to each canticle, usually with the express purpose of standing in for the canticle when the text of the canticle is found in one the day’s lessons.

Modern Prayer Books, however, following popular Anglican devotion since the beginning, bring Compline back as a minor office, and the Nunc dimittis is therefore a dual resident: it lives both in Evening Prayer and in Compline.  If you regularly pray both Evening Prayer and Compline most days, then it may be a good idea to substitute the Nunc for a different canticle, as I’ve suggested before here.

However, today may not be the day to do that.  Psalm 67 is the typical replacement for the Nunc through the majority of the year, but tonight Psalm 67 is one of the regular psalms at Evening Prayer.  So unless you want to say Psalm 67 twice in the same office tonight, perhaps it’s best you don’t use it as a canticle today!

A Canticle for Eastertide

We’ve already looked at the Pascha Nostrum, but there are other ways to distinguish the Easter season in the Daily Office!  Among our Supplemental Canticles provided at the end of the Daily Office section of the Prayer Book are four that are labeled as appropriate for the Easter season.

#1 Magna et mirabilia (Song of the Redeemed, Rev. 15)

The rubrics indicate this canticle is appropriate both for Advent and for Easter.  Since Advent has fewer options, this Customary recommends this canticle serve as the first canticle during Advent, rather than Easter.

#5 Cantemus Domino (Song of Moses, Ex. 15)

This canticle is a prime choice for the Easter Vigil as a response to the reading of the crossing of the Red Sea.  And it’s also great for the Daily Office – consider making use of it as an alternative to the Te Deum on weekdays throughout the season!

#6 Dignus es (Song to the Lamb, Rev. 4 & 5)

This canticle is indicated as being appropriate both for Eastertide and Ascensiontide.  This customary appoints Canticle 6 in place of the Te Deum in Morning Prayer for the weekdays starting on Ascension Day through Pentecost Week.

#7 Cantate domino (Sing unto the Lord, Ps. 98)

Historically, this canticle was appointed as the alternative for the Magnificat, presumably for the days on which that text, the Song of Mary, was appointed to be read in the New Testament lesson.  That is how this Customary recommends Canticle 7 continue to be used, and thus not have a particularly Easter-related role.

Nunc Dimittis doing double duty

Most liturgical ingredients in the Prayer Book tradition are set into one particular function with little or no variance.  The Daily Office has its own opening and closing sentences, the Communion liturgy has its own acclamations and dismissals, each major liturgy has its own prayer of confession (though the rubrics now allow cross-pollination  to some extent), and every canticle has its particular home.

But the Nunc dimittis has two appointments in the Prayer Book, such that it’s even printed in the book twice.  It is the second canticle of Evening Prayer, and it is the anthem/canticle in Compline (the night office).  This is a particularly odd repetition, since Evening and Compline are both pretty similar in function and usually near one another in time (evening, bedtime).

The reason for this is that in the English Reformation when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer assembled the first Common Prayer Book he reduced the monastic offices from seven in the day and one at night down to two: Morning (Matins) and Evening (Vespers).  There are elements of three monastic morning offices wrapped up in Anglican Morning Prayer, and elements of Vespers & Compline wrapped up in Anglican Evening Prayer.

So what happens when you try to bring back in one of those “extra” monastic offices?  You get little hints of repetition with the Anglican Daily Office.  In the case of the Nunc dimittis its original home was the night office, Compline, which the Prayer Book tradition rolled into Evening Prayer.  Thus in modern books that bring Compline back to Anglican liturgy, we’ve got a situation where the Nunc dimittis has two homes.

If this doesn’t bother you, well and good.  But if you are someone who regularly prays both Evening Prayer and Compline, and desires to highlight separate identities for both offices, then there is something you can do about that: the 2019 Prayer Book has an appendix to the Daily Office section labeled Supplemental Canticles for Worship.  This is an expansion of what earlier Prayer Books (before 1979) did: offering usually two options of a Canticle for each slot (that is, position of response after each reading in the Morning & Evening offices).  Now, instead of 8 or 9 total Canticles with specific directions on which ones to use where, we have 15 Canticles, 10 of which provide minimal guidance as to their expected use.  If you want to make use of these and reduce the repetition of the Nunc dimittis between Evening Prayer and Compline, consider the following pattern of alternatives:

The Second Canticle, the Nunc dimittis, is to be recited on Saturdays and Sundays, and on other days throughout the year not superseded by the following.

Canticle 4, the Quaerite Dominum, is to be used in its place on the First Sunday of Advent and on weekdays throughout the season.

Canticle 3, the Kyrie Pantokrator, is to be used in its place on Ash Wednesday, the First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, and every weekday throughout the season.

Canticle 9, the Deus misereatur, is to be used in its place on Monday through Friday during Epiphanytide and Trinitytide, and on the occasion that the text of the Nunc dimittis is part of the New Testament Lesson.

The Easter Anthems – Pascha Nostrum

The Pascha Nostrum is a beautiful set of anthems that Anglican tradition uses at Easter.  It is built upon three scriptural references: 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Romans 6:9-11, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, each bookended with an Alleluia for good measure.

It has always been in Anglican Prayer Books, but its location has changed in modern practice.  Traditionally, it was placed among the Propers (the Collects and Lessons), for Easter Day; in modern books it is placed in the Morning Prayer liturgy.  It’s interesting to note how the rubrics for this canticle have changed over the years.

1662 BCP:

At Morning Prayer, instead of the Psalm: O Come, let us, &c. these Anthems shall be sung or said.

1928 BCP:

At Morning Prayer, instead of the Venite, the following shall be said, and may be said throughout the Octave.

2019 BCP:

During the first week of Easter, the Pascha Nostrum, without antiphons, is used in place of the Invitatory Psalm, and it may be used throughout Eastertide.

What stays the same? its function.  This Canticle is always used in place of the Venite in Morning Prayer.  What has changed? its duration of use.  The implication back in 1662 is that this canticle (or set of anthems) only gets used on Easter Day.  By 1928 in the US, it was authorized throughout the octave – that is, the first eight days of Eastertide.  Now, it is appointed (not merely authorized) throughout Easter Week and authorized for the rest of Eastertide.  With this increased anticipated use, it’s no wonder that modern prayer books have opted for printing this canticle directly in the Morning Prayer liturgy, so it’s more accessible!

There is also a custom in some places of using the Pascha Nostrum in place of the Gloria in excelsis Deo near the beginning of the Communion service, under the modern rubrics that allow other hymns of praise to take its place.  Especially in church cultures where nobody is really praying the Daily Office, this can be a great way of introducing elements of the Office liturgies to the congregation.  Such points of contact and familiarity will prove helpful when trying to make that move toward teaching people to pray the Office.

Canticles for Lent

One of the fun resources in the 2019 Prayer Book is the collection of Supplemental Canticles for the Daily Office.  As we proceed through this season of Lent, there are two Canticles in particular that stand out as appropriate for regular use at this time.

First is the Benedictus es.  This Canticle is taken from the Greek Old Testament version of Daniel 3, known separately in our Bibles as “The Song of the Three Young Men” – when Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were in the fiery furnace alongside the fourth man, the pre-incarnate Christ.  There are two hymns in that passage, and this Canticle is a summary of the first one.  Liturgically, this Canticle is offered directly in the Morning Prayer text itself, presented as an option in place of the Te Deum during Lent.  This Customary recommend using it on Ash Wednesday, the First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, and on weekdays throughout the season.  (For the 2nd through 5th Sundays, it may be prudent to bring back the Te Deum in recognition that though Lent continues, Sundays are not fast days; and though it is still a penitential season, we are still celebrating the victorious Christ.)

From the Supplemental Canticles,  #3, the Kyrie Pantokrator, may be used in place of the Nunc dimittis (the second Canticle in Evening Prayer) on Ash Wednesday, the First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, and every weekday throughout the season.  This Canticle is also from the Greek Old Testament, entitled in English as the Prayer of Manasseh.  It is a prayer of penitence attributed to the wicked King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-20, especially verses 18 & 19).  As with the Benedictus es above, this Canticle is shortened a bit from its original version; also some of its hyperbolic language is toned down so as not to confuse the average reader.  This Canticle, in particular, is a marvelous offering of penitential worship.  In this age where so many of us run fast and loose with sin, the strong language of condemnation and grace in the Kyrie Pantokrator could do us a world of spiritual good.

And it’s got an awesome name, to boot!