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!

Less-than-Occasional Prayers

In both Morning and Evening Prayer, after the three Collects, the rubrics in our liturgy states:

The Officiant may invite the People to offer intercessions and thanksgivings.

In older Prayer Books, a handful of suggested prayers and collects were printed in this place, indicating those certain prayers for the crown, state, society, and so on, were appropriate for that point in the Daily Office.  In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books, no such collection is provided immediately, but a larger collection of “additional” or “occasional” Prayers and Thanksgivings is provided in an appendix of sorts near the back of the book.  This is, basically, the modern equivalent of the earlier, traditional, collection.

On the ACNA page for Texts for Common Prayer, and thus what will probably show up in the 2019 Prayer Book, is a list of 123 prayers and collects.  A few of them are occasion-specific (like for a birthday, or for someone’s healing) but most of them are perfectly appropriate for general use.  To this end, it is the recommendation of this Customary to work through all (well, most) of these prayers on a regular basis towards the end of Morning and Evening Prayer.  This is a two-week rotation of prayers, averaging about 4 or 5 prayers per Office.

Week I                              Office                          Week II

95-96, 107-108             Sunday Morning          97, 99-102
98, 103, 106, 109-110   Sunday Evening           104-105, 111-113

1-5                               Monday Morning         6-10
11-15                           Monday Evening          16-19

26-31                           Tuesday Morning         25, 32-37
70-73                           Tuesday Evening         38-41

48-53                           Wednesday Evening     42-47

78-82                           Thursday Morning       90-94
114, 120-123                Thursday Evening        115-119

54-58                           Friday Evening             59-63

20-24                           Saturday Morning        64-69
85-89                           Saturday Evening            74-77, 84

Let’s look at why this scheme is recommended the way it is.

Sunday, being the principle day of worship for the church gathered, has the section of prayers labeled At Times of Prayer and Worship as well as the prayers on Death, the Departed, and the Communion of Saints, as that is when most of the saints on earth are gathered.  The assigned prayers skip around, numerically, in order to avoid prayers that are too similar from being read at the same Office.

On Monday the prayers start at the beginning of the list, covering the section For the Church.  In general, the prayers for the morning are more specific and the prayers for the evening are more general or topical.

Tuesday morning covers the next section, For the Nation, again arranging the prayers so that too-similar collects aren’t prayed on the same day.  Depending upon which country you hail from, certain prayers along the way will be appropriate to omit (mainly in the USA versus Canada distinction).  In the evening, one day dips into the Personal Devotions list and the other starts the For Society section.

Wednesday morning is omitted, because that’s a traditional time for saying the Great Litany.  The evening finishes the For Society section and begins the next section, Intercessions For Those in Need.

Thursday morning skips ahead to more of the Personal Life and Personal Devotions sections, while Thursday evening (in light of the day’s traditional Eucharistic theme) covers most of the Thanksgivings.

Friday morning (like Wednesday morning) is omitted so you focus on the Great Litany.  The evening covers the rest of the prayers For Those in Need where Wednesday left off.

Saturday covers the prayers about Creation and Family Life, as well as Personal Life and Devotion.  The creation theme matches the Morning Prayer Collect recommended for Saturdays (Collect for Sabbath Rest), and the family section is chosen to match the fact that Saturday is often a “day off with the family” for much of the working world.  The remaining personal devotions also serve as a sort of introspective preparation for corporate worship on the following morning.

For sake of simplicity, “Week I” should line up with odd-numbered weeks in the liturgical calendar, and “Week II” with even-numbered weeks.  For example, yesterday was (in modern reckoning) the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany, so this week could be considered an odd-numbered week.

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.

Christmas & December Psalms

Merry Christmas!

If you’re reading this on Christmas morning… well, props to you for being a liturgy nerd I guess.  And I’ll keep this short so you get back to whatever you’re “supposed to be doing” at this time.

In the 1662 Prayer Book, Christmas Day is one of the six days in the year that gets its own Psalms Appointed, interrupting the 30-day cycle.

Morning Prayer: 19, 45, and 85
Evening Prayer: 89, 110, 132

If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to replace the “Day 25” Psalms with these.  It’ll make the Offices a little bit longer, but you will find they are festively appropriate for the birth of our Lord.

And, in case you’re concerned that this means you’ll have to skip the Psalms for the 25th Day of the month, fear not!  Because December has 31 days in it, you can pick up with Day 25 on the 26th, Day 26 on the 27th, and so forth such that you finish the Psalms at the end of the month.  If you can stand being “off a day” for a week, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, go have a merry Christmas.

Opening Sentences in the Daily Office

The Prayer Book tradition has always begun the Morning and Evening Offices with “opening sentences of scripture.”  In the modern prayer books, the Communion service also begins with a choice of seasonal “Acclamations” that tend to be viewed in a similar light as these Opening Sentences.  Indeed, the way our 2019 book looks like it’s going to be treating them, the implication seems to be that they are correspondent to one another.  However, this has not always been the case.

People like to complain about the 1979 Prayer Book – and understandably so: much of the standard format and content of historic prayer books got radically re-written, re-ordered, and altered to the point of unrecognizability in some places.  And in the case of the Sunday lectionary, 1,500 years of slowly-evolving tradition got chucked out the window.  But when it comes to the Opening Sentences, the 1979 book is not where the change began; this was a slower evolution through the American Prayer Books.  Already in the American 1928 Prayer Book (if not before), the Opening Sentences included various seasonal verses for use during Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and so on.

The idea that the Office should begin with a “seasonal” verse is not a bad one.  It helps sets a devotional mood that links the Office to the church calendar more strongly than it is otherwise.  But it is also helpful to understand the mentality and purpose that existed before.

The Daily Office, by nature, used to be very static and unchanging.  The options we now have simply weren’t offered in the past.  The Opening Sentences were no exception.  Instead of seasonal or occasional verses to read, the older Prayer Books offered a large pile of verses, and any number of them could be read (not just one verse, as the 2019 Prayer Book looks like it’ll direct).  If you look at the “sentences of scripture” listed in the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, you will find that they are largely penitential.  In fact, if you read all of them, straight through, in the order they are presented, you’ll find they form a sort of outline of salvation.  There are Sentences about repentance, God’s grace toward sinners, trust in God’s mercy, and expressions of commitment to God’s judgment and cleansing.  These are not Opening Sentences that are meant to set the mood for the Office as a whole, these are preparatory words of Scripture meant to lead into the Confession that follows.

If you’ve ever felt like the Opening Sentence of Scripture is a little lonely there at the beginning, left hanging, that’s why.  Its original purpose was to be part of the sequence of Confession & Absolution that begins the Daily Office.

Granted, knowing this history will not necessarily translate to the use of our 20th and 21st century prayer books… the listed verses we have are so different from the original that it’s going to be somewhat contrived to attempt to use our seasonal Sentences as preparations for Confession.  Some of them will work better than others, though, so it can be a helpful thing to remember.  When it doesn’t link well to the Confession, that’s when we just have to treat them like the “Acclamation” at the beginning of the Communion service, and consider them a call to worship in general, if not to confession specifically.

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.