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!

The Presentation / Purification / Candlemas

February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Mary, or Candlemas for short.  I thought I’d take up some of the liturgical tid-bits that characterize the celebration of that day, and point out something of how they inform us of the Christian Faith, and biblical interpretation.

There are three primary worship services in Western liturgical tradition: Morning Prayer (or Mattins), the Mass (or Communion or Eucharist), and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).  Although they are normally held throughout the day in that order, the Communion service is the “principle” celebration of the day; that means that the scripture readings in that service are usually the most significant ones for the given holiday, and the readings in the Office are supplementary.  Also, what exactly the readings are, and how many of them exist, will vary between different specific traditions.  Older Anglican Prayer Books differ slightly from newer ones, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies also have slightly different choices in many cases, but over all the similarities tend to outweigh the differences.  With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The Collect

The “Collect of the Day” is a prayer that is meant to collect together the theme(s) of the day from the Scripture readings.  Looking at how this is done in a given Collect can reveal the theological, devotional, or practical emphases that the tradition is putting forth.  Here is one Collect for the feast of the Presentation:

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This focuses on the historical event (Jesus’ presentation in the Temple) and draws a spiritual analogy to the end product of our salvation: the Day we are all made completely holy in Christ such that he may present us to the Father as adopted members of the household of God.  It also points out that Jesus was in “our flesh,” providing an emphasis on the incarnation and the exchange that takes place: God entered into our humanity so that we can enter into His divinity.

Morning Prayer readings

One Old Testament reading that some of the classic Prayer Books set forth for the Office of Morning Prayer is Exodus 13:1-16.  This makes for a great first reading on this holiday because it gives the Old Testament Law of Moses background for what’s going on with Jesus and his family.  In the wake of the Passover (Exodus 12), God instructs Moses that by destroying all the firstborn males in Egypt except for those households protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb, all firstborn males in Israel now belong to Him.  Therefore they must be redeemed (or bought back) after they are born.  It’s like a first-fruit offering, except because children are not to be sacrificed, they are to be paid for instead.  (Interestingly, it’s the same concept as an indulgence – a debt is owed, but another form of payment is accepted.)

This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the Temple with 40-day-year-old Jesus; they were obeying this law going back to the time of the Exodus.

Holy Communion readings

Across the board, the Gospel reading for this holiday is Luke 2:22-40, as that is the account of the event on which this holiday is based.  There we find the story of Jesus’ family in the Temple, Simeon recognizing Jesus and singing his prophetic song (or Canticle), and Anna the prophetess recognizing Jesus and sharing the good news of His arrival as well.

The Old Testament reading often included here (including our 2019 Prayer Book) is Malachi 3:1-5.  Much of that passage provides material for the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which inevitably draws the participant in the liturgy back to the season of Advent.  For there we heard for one or two Sundays about John and his preaching, and the accompanying Advent theme of the future return of Christ for the final judgement echoes in this reading too.  But most importantly, the very first verse here says “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  Obviously this has multiple fulfillments, as Jesus visits the Temple many times in his life and significant things take place at several of those visits.  But this is his first arrival in the Temple, and there are two people there (Simeon and Anna) who had been seeking him there.

Other readings

An Epistle reading found in some Daily Office lectionaries is Galatians 4:1-7.  There we find a theme mentioned briefly in the Collect – our own becoming sons of God.  It also mentions the dynamic of moving from being bound to the Law to being adopted as sons.  Jesus himself, it says, was “born of a woman, born under law,” which this holiday describes.  So the sharing of Christ in our humanity leads to our sharing in his divinity, because “since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

One reading often used at the end of the day is Haggai 2:1-9.  This prophetic writing speaks of the newly-build second temple and its inferiority to the original built under King Solomon.  And yet, God promises that it will be greater in glory, for “in this place I will grant peace.”  This promise is empty and void throughout Old Testament history; it is not until Jesus arrives there that God’s presence actually ever even enters the Temple again!  As the Christian goes through Evening Prayer and sees this promise of peace at the end of the Old Testament lesson, he or she will be drawn back in memory to the Gospel reading earlier, specifically the words of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Haggai’s words are directly answered by Simeon in Luke’s Gospel book!

The Canticle of Simeon

Let’s stick with Simeon’s song for a moment here.  It’s Luke 2:29-32, specifically, and is actually used throughout the entire year as a canticle (prayer-song) in the Daily Office.  Traditionally it’s a canticle appointed for Compline, the bedtime office of prayer.  In that context, it is read by Christians sort of in union with Simeon with our approaching bedtime as a picture of our eventual death (as Simeon had been promised that would not die until he’d seen the Savior).  In Anglican practice, the Canticle of Simeon is also used in Evening Prayer, but the end-of-day/end-of-life context and effect is the same.  My point is that a regular participant in the liturgy will be intimately familiar with the Canticle of Simeon.  As a result, hearing it in the liturgy for this particular holiday will have an interesting effect.

Two major promises stand out in the Canticle of Simeon: Christ will be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and will be a light to be the glory of Israel.  The theme of light coming into the world is echoed throughout the seasons of Advent (Romans 13:12’s armor of light), Christmas (John 1:9’s light coming into the world), and Epiphany (Isaiah 60’s light shining upon the nations).  So as this holiday wraps up the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, the theme of light is brought to the foreground and celebrated quite visually.

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The Blessing of Candles

This holiday’s nickname is Candlemas, because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day.  All the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are gathered up to be blessed for their sacred purpose.  Additionally, other candles are blessed and distributed to the people to carry in procession and to take home.  This is a physical enactment of what we learn from Simeon – Christ is the light of the world for all nations, including ourselves!  One can also find in the Gospel books the words of Christ, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 and following).

Light does many things.  It drives out darkness and exposes what’s hidden.  Thus, the blessings spoken over the candles include both penitential aspects as God’s people repent of their sins, and apotropaic aspects as demonic spirits are to flee from the light of Christ.  The Scriptures do attest, after all, that the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).  So, by receiving candles and lighting them, we participants in the liturgy are given physical reinforcement to the words and teachings of Scripture that we are God’s adopted children, receiving Christ the light of the world promised in ages past by the Prophets.  And we receive this not just as some abstract teaching, but as historically linked to real events that actually happened.  Christ the Light of the World is not just a spiritual reality that occurs in our hearts, but is grounded in the real arrival of the real Christ child in the real (though now long-gone) Temple.  And with all that in place we are pointed to look ahead to the Day we each are presented in the heavenly temple to our heavenly Father by our adoptive brother, Christ Himself.

This post, apart some new edits, was originally published on my blog Leorningcnihtes boc, on 3 February 2016.

Canticle of the Martyred

For perhaps the first century of the life of the 1662 Prayer Book, January 30th was a national holiday (literally, holy day) with its own special liturgical observances.  Morning Prayer, the Communion, and Evening Prayer each had their own unique edits for this day.  The commemoration appointed was for the Martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritan Parliament that went on to outlaw the Prayer Book and suppress the office of bishops, in addition to temporarily ending the monarchy in England.  This holy day, with its special liturgies, was eventually removed from the Prayer Book, I suppose it was a bit too nationalistic.

Check it out for yourself, if you have the time; it’s very interesting!  But let’s just glean a couple things from this defunct holy day to see what we can learn about the potential in Anglican liturgy for special occasions.

Observation #1 – the Anglican Church called for prayer and fasting

Stereotypically we think of appointed fast days as a Roman Catholic or East Orthodox practice.  Yet the Church of England does have a tradition of such days also.  Most Fridays, technically, were intended as such.  And January 30th was, for a time, an additional day of fasting.  Here is the introductory text in the 1662 Prayer Book for this day:

A FORM of PRAYER with FASTING, to be used yearly upon the Thirtieth Day of January, being the Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King CHARLES the First; to implore the Mercy of God, that neither the Guilt of that sacred and innocent Blood, nor those other sins, by which God was provoked to deliver up both us and our King into the hands of cruel and unreasonable men, may at any time hereafter be visited upon us, or our posterity.

¶ If this Day shall happen to be a Sunday, this Form of Prayer shall be used, and the Fast kept, the next Day following. And upon the Lord’s Day next before the Day to be kept, at Morning Prayer, immediately after the Nicene Creed, Notice shall be given for the due observation of the said Day.

While the intersection of State and Church might be a bit too much for our palate today, the idea that the Church can call for a day of fasting and prayer is clear.  There are occasions in the life of a country or region when special prayer and fasting can (and should) be called for.  However one feels about the appropriateness or execution of this particular example, it nonetheless stands as an example of how we might go about such an occasion.  It substitutes a number of prayers, lessons, and canticles for the usual ones appointed, giving the liturgy of the day a different flavor and emphasis without breaking from the ordinary flow of worship.

Let’s zoom in on just one of those liturgical changes from the old January 30th material.

Observation #2 – the Invitatory Canticle

“¶ Instead of Venite Exultemus, the Hymn following shall be said or sung; one Verse by the Priest, another by the Clerk and people.”  To translate it from the 17th century language to that of the ESV Bible…

Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
You have been righteous in all that has come upon us,
for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed.
They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant.
For I hear the whispering of many, terror on every side,
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
Speaking against me with lying tongues,
they encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread,
has lifted his heel against me.
They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft.
Those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has
forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”
The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed,
was captured in their pits, of whom we said,
“Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.”
Foe and enemy enter the gates of Jerusalem, saying,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
“A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know.
This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men.
The man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction.
We fools! We thought that his life was madness
and that his end was without honor; but he is at peace.
For though in the sight of men he was punished,
his hope is full of immortality.
Has he not been numbered among the sons of God,
and his lot among the saints?
O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance:
do good to Zion in your good pleasure.
Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel,
whom you have redeemed,
and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst
of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.
Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.

This is a fantastic Canticle, working together a wide range of verses from throughout the Bible.  The old Prayer Book even had the courtesy of giving us all the references:

Ps. 119:137, Neh. 9:33, Ps. 73:2-3, 2:2, 83:5, 31:13, 109:2b-3, 41:9, 35:12, 71:10b-11,
Lam. 4:20, 4:12, Ps. 41:5b, 41:8, 35:11, Lam. 4:13, Gen. 49:6, 80:17, Wis. 3:2, 5:4b, 3:3b, 3:4, 5:5, Ps. 94:1, 51:18a, Deut. 21:8, Ps. 26:9, 51:14, 5:4, 5:6, 73:19, 73:20, Rev. 15:3b,
and Ps. 119:137.

Although this Canticle is officially defunct, the style of its arrangement has been copied in later developments, perhaps most notably for Remembrance Day in the Church of England, which has its own special liturgies with unique Canticles and so forth.

I heartily recommend reviving this Canticle for appropriate occasions.  If you’re not as big a fan of observing the martyrdom of Charles I, then perhaps you can use it for the commemoration of a different martyr.  We have no shortage of martyrs in our calendar of commemorations, after all!

A Canticle for Epiphanytide: Surge illuminare

In the “Supplemental Canticles” document which will be appended to the Daily Office in our new Prayer Book, Canticle #2 is marked “especially suitable for use during the season after Epiphany.”  Well, now we’re there, so let’s look at how to make use of this Canticle.

Throughout the history of Western liturgy, there can be found many Psalms and Canticles that get special treatment and use in various offices and rites.  The early Prayer Books were generally simple and minimalist about them, but still allowed a couple options in most cases.  If you trace the continuity of the Prayer Book Daily Office from its monastic predecessor, some basic principles can be drawn.  Most importantly:

  • The three Gospel Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis) are said daily: morning (matins), evening (vespers), and night (compline).
  • The Te Deum is said on Sundays and feast days.

So, when looking at the Canticles of the Daily Office in current Prayer Book tradition, the usual best practice is to keep the Benedictus in the Morning and the Magnificat in the Evening, and replace the Te Deum or the Nunc Dimittis.  For these “seasonal” Canticles in our present list, it is the recommendation of this Customary to use most of them on weekdays in place of the Te Deum.  Perhaps, starting this week, you can try out Surge illuminare as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer?

What’s especially neat about this canticle in particular is that it was the Old Testament reading back on the Day of the Epiphany (January 6th), so to have parts of it as a Canticle in the subsequent season is to maintain a thematic and textual link to where this whole section of the calendar began.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

A Canticle for Advent: Quærite Dominum

A few days ago we looked at the canticle Magna et mirabilia as a great canticle option for the season of Advent.  Today let’s look at another one, Quærite Dominum (#4 in the present draft documents).  The rubric accompanying it observes that it is especially suitable for use during Lent, but if you look at all the options available, there are quite a few that are suggested for Lent… that season could end up a bit crowded.  So consider making use of it during Advent instead.

Taken from Isaiah 55, this canticle starts off with a penitential tone: “Seek the Lord while he wills to be found… Let the wicked forsake their ways… let them turn to the Lord.”  But this penitential aspect doesn’t overpower the canticle like in other cases; the bulk of Quaerite Dominum focuses on God’s redemptive work, especially with images of creation.  God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours, the water cycle is a picture of God’s providence, the harvest cycle is a picture of God’s providence, the cycle of God’s Word is a picture of God’s providence.  In this second week of Advent, the theme of God’s Word (particularly in the Scriptures) is already made prominent by the Sunday Collect, sometimes called “the Scripture Collect”, which we can take a look at in a couple days.

Furthermore, the accomplishment of of God’s purpose and the prospering of his Word at the end of the Canticle suggest eschatological themes, pictures of the End of the Age, to which the entire season of Advent points.  In short, this Canticle is a great option to bring into the Daily Office this season!

As Magna et mirabilia has already been recommended for Morning Prayer, consider this Canticle for Evening Prayer, in place of the Nunc dimittis.  If you are a regular or semi-regular pray-er of Compline, the night office, then you will get the Nunc dimittis in that liturgy instead, so it’s more “expendable” to Evening Prayer in the big picture of the Prayer Book liturgy.

A Canticle for Advent: Magna et mirabilia

An interesting feature of our Prayer Book, like the 1979 book, is that the number of Canticles for Morning and Evening Prayer is noticeably expanded.  The Prayer Books have always offered choices, if originally only a Psalm as an alternative for each Canticle.  But as the centuries went by, more options got thrown in, and now we’ve got quite a bunch.  But, unlike the 1979 book, it looks like ours will be placed in a collection after the Office so as not to interrupt the page-turning flow of the liturgy.  This seems to me like a smart move.

If you, like me, are interested in making use of the various options of our Prayer Book in a sensible and orderly way, consider Advent a good opportunity to make use of Canticle 1, Magna et mirabilia.  Taken from Revelation 15, this brief canticle praise God as the great King of all creation.  A rubric rightly observes that it is “especially suitable for use in Advent and Easter.”  I would recommend appointing this Canticle in place of the Te Deum on Monday through Saturday mornings during Advent.  It gives the Morning Office an extra Advent flair, as well as providing a shorter option than the lengthy Te Deum.

Prayer Book traditionalists might shake their heads at this advice, pointing out that the Te Deum ought to be said daily, and the use of alternative Canticles should rarely, if ever, be done.  To that I would observe that in the monastic offices, from which the Prayer Book tradition was born, the Te Deum was only said on Sundays, and even then possibly only on feast days.  (I’m not intimately familiar with the tradition; I just know it wasn’t daily).  So if you want to make use of the fancy optional extra canticles in the new Prayer Book, this is one part of how to implement it.

Skip the Venite today!

O come let us sing unto the Lord; *
Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation!
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; *
And show ourselves glad in him with psalms!

Except, no, don’t say that today.  I often forget this until it’s too late… today is the 19th day of the month, which means that Psalm 95 is one of the psalms appointed in the traditional 30-day cycle.  If you use it as the Invitatory Psalm then you’re stuck saying it twice.

I mean, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that; and if you’re game, power to ya.  But there is a background here which may (or should) inform your decision.  The Prayer Books have always had a choice of Invitatory Psalm, but always for a precise reason.  The rubric introducing it in the 1662 book explains:

Then shall be said this Psalm following: Except on Easter Day upon which another Anthem is appointed: and on the nineteenth day of every month it is not to be read here, but in the ordinary course of the psalms.

The “other Anthem” appointed for Easter was (and remains in our new book) the Pascha Nostrum, a canticle made from three New Testament passages.  On the 19th day of the month it seems that the 1662 book called for no Invitatory Psalm at all, and Psalm 95 is just read immediately along with the other daily psalms.  But in our prayer book we have three Invitatory options: the Venite (Psalm 95), the Jubilate (Psalm 100), and the Pascha Nostrum.  The 19th day of the month is, in historical context, the appropriate time to use the Jubilate as the Invitatory Psalm.

And if you like to use the antiphons for the Invitatory Psalm, you can use them for the Jubilate.  (Though it is the preference of this Customary that the antiphons be reserved for Sundays and other Holy Days.)

The Gospel Canticles

This evening has an interesting happenstance if you’re using the ACNA’s current draft lectionary: all three of the Gospel Canticles will be read during Evening Prayer tonight!

What is a Gospel Canticle?  Well, a Canticle is a song-prayer that is read during the Daily Office, and a Gospel Canticle, specifically, is one that is found in the Gospel books.  There are three: the Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), the Magnificat (Song of Mary), and the Nunc dimittis (Song of Simeon).  The first two are from Luke 1, and the last from Luke 2.  In the traditional monastic offices the Benedictus is a morning canticle, the Magnificat is said at Vespers (the evening office), and the Nunc dimittis is for Compline (at night).  In the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, which reduced all the monastic offices to two, the first is found in Morning Prayer and the latter two are found in Evening Prayer.

But tonight, the lectionary gives us Luke 1:57-end for the New Testament reading, which includes the Song of Zechariah.  Therefore we have the rare opportunity to hear all three Gospel Canticles in one service!  Neat, huh?

Apart from this being just a fun fact, this is also an opportunity to give special thought to our use of these canticles at all.  They are scriptural, literally the words of Scripture simply translated more elegantly for the liturgy.  But they aren’t scripture readings; canticles function differently from a reading, even though they’re from the Bible.  Canticles are song-prayers, they are offerings of worship.  Rather than reading and studying a Canticle, we sing or proclaim or pray it before God.  So to have two prayed and one read in the New Testament lesson is an interesting change of pace – a text we normally treat like a Psalm has become a scripture lesson.

This highlights for us the various ways that we can, and should, interact with the Bible.  On one level it is for reading and for study – the lessons in every Office and liturgy are didactic moments: opportunities to teach and learn.  On another level the Bible is for worship and intimacy with the Lord: we pray and meditate upon its words.  Not all parts of Scripture are equally helpful for these differing purposes – the genealogies of 1 Chronicles make for some very silly songs, and offer minimal value in prayer; they’re almost exclusively for our information, not our devotion.  But the Gospel Canticles are rich for all sorts of uses, so enjoy this evening’s opportunity to hear them all in just a few minutes’ span.

The Song of the Three Young Men

Happy Saturday!  As you pray through Morning Prayer today, consider changing up the first canticle if you don’t normally do so.  The Te Deum is of course a beautiful hymn of the Early Church, but sometimes it’s edifying to dip into some of the other Canticles the Prayer Book has to offer.

Canticle #10 in the ACNA book, Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, is noted to be “especially suitable for use on Saturday.  Since today is not a special commemoration, why not shift this marvelous canticle in the place of the Te Deum this morning?

The Benedicite is a simplified text drawn from the Song of the Three Young Men, attributed to Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the fiery furnace in the middle of Daniel 3.  The full text is one of the “Additions to Daniel” in the Greek Old Testament, and is therefore useful “for example of life and instruction of manners” as the Articles of Religion say.  Therefore, as a worship text, it is as close to the Psalms as possible without actually being numbered among them.  With the Church’s addition of the Triune name of God at the end of the Canticle, it is a wonderful expression of praise, drawing all of creation into the eternal song, much like Psalm 148.  Enjoy it!