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.

Evening Hymn: The day thou gavest

Evening Prayer used to be a a much more common feature of Anglican worship than it is today.  You can tell just by looking at old hymnals (such as the Episcopalian hymnal of 1940) and observing that there are far more Evening hymns than Morning hymns.  And several of the Evening hymns in the Anglican repertoire are absolute gems of English hymnody!  If you’re an American under the age of 50, or new to the Anglican tradition at any age, chances are you’ve hardly ever heard any of these beauties before.

There are two points in our Evening Prayer liturgy where inserting a hymn comes most naturally.  The first place is after the Invitatory: the Phos hilaron has a rubric above it saying “The following or some other suitable hymn or Psalm may be sung or said.”  Because the Phos hilaron itself is a new addition to the Prayer Book (only dating back to 1979) we are well within our traditional rights to sing something else in its place.  The second spot in the liturgy is after the three Collects: “Here may be sung a hymn or anthem”.  This is the most traditional placement for a hymn, and is a great way to break up the formal collects of the liturgy and the additional intercessions and thanksgivings that may follow.

Might I recommend, this evening, one of the best of the best?  The day thou gavest is a beautiful hymn, both musically and lyrically, reflecting upon the practical and theological meaning of the end of the daytime, awareness of the cycle of daily prayer across the globe, and the subsequent unity of Christ’s Church.

Check it out on YouTube if you want to hear it first, grab the lyrics online, or pick up any Anglican hymnal and sing or read it at Evening Prayer tonight!

The Week’s Collect

Now that Saints Simon & Jude’s Day is behind us (assuming you celebrated it yesterday), you might be wondering what to do about the Collect of the Day for the rest of the week?

The custom, as you probably know if you’re following these posts, is to repeat the Collect of the Day from the Sunday Communion service in the Daily Office for the subsequent week.  The custom, as far as I understand it, is that most Major Feast Days, like Sts. Simon & Jude, only impact their day and the evening before.  That means that today, and for the rest of the week, we return to the Collect of the Day for the Sunday that we skipped.

If you’re using the draft Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in North America, then here’s the Collect of the Day for the rest of the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

If a mid-week Communion service is held early this week, it would be advisable to use the omitted Sunday’s lessons to sort of “make up for” what the Saints Day overrode.  Bear in mind, though, that All Saints’ Day is on Thursday, so its Collect will step into the Office on Wednesday evening through Thursday.  More on that later, though…!

Sts. Simon & Jude Tomorrow

Although the American Prayer Book tradition has (inexplicably, to me) pretended the Athanasian Creed (or, Quicunque Vult) doesn’t exist, the 1662 Prayer Book ordered for it to be read on various holy days throughout the year, averaging about once a month.  The feast of Saints Simon and Jude, which is tomorrow, October 28th, is one of the days that it was appointed to be read.  The practice was to read it in the Morning Office in place of the Apostles’ Creed.

Especially now that the ACNA has recognized the original form of the 39 Articles among our formularies, rather than the Episcopalian version of them from circa 1801, the Athanasian Creed is back with us, and there’s even a draft contemporary translation of it to be included in our Prayer Book.  So consider printing out yourself a copy of that Creed today so when you’re saying Morning Prayer tomorrow morning, it’ll be ready.  Sure, it’s long, but it’s very useful.  And considering how poorly American evangelicals have scored in basic Christian dogma in recent years, this is probably the sort of liturgical teaching tool we need to bring back in our congregations too.