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.

Mindful of death in the evening

One major hallmark of historic Christian piety surrounding eventide is the mindfulness of death.  Going to bed, the lights going out, going to sleep, is both culturally and biblically a metaphor for death.  Countless evening hymns and prayers make reference to death, keeping the singer or pray-er mindful of his or her mortality.

Modern and post-modern culture does not encourage us to be mindful of death, rather, we are told to put death out of our minds entirely.  Don’t worry about it, don’t obsess over it; it is morbid, we are told, to think about death.  As a result, even at Funeral or Burial services we pressure ourselves and one another to think about life instead – it’s  Memorial Service or a Celebration of Life, rather than mourning for the dear departed.

But the Prayer Book tradition continues faithfully on the track of historic Christian awareness of death.  For example, the Wednesday Evening Collect, for Protection, reads thus:

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night.  Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Even though death is not the central theme or subject of this prayer, its reality is present and unavoidable.  God is identified as “the repose of the dead” and Jesus specifically is invoked as the one “who died”.

Don’t breeze past prayers like these.  It is not morbid to reflect upon your future death.  It is wise, it is healthy, it is biblical!  We do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s returning, and we hardly ever get forewarning of the the day or hour we finish this life either.  It is good to be prepared, to have a last will & testament, to have funeral wishes written down, to be at peace with our brethren, to be ready to meet our Maker.  Let these death-aware devotions each evening bring that moment of sobriety into your spiritual life… the world certainly won’t!

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!

Introducing Isaiah

Isaiah, the first of the Major Prophets, has been appointed to be read at the end of the year in every Anglican Prayer Book I’ve ever looked at.  The reason for this, I have long assumed, is that it contains many prophecies of Jesus that are well-known, well-loved, easily recognizable, and often associated with either Easter or Christmas.  And since there is so much Scripture clamoring for our attention through Holy Week and Eastertide, and those dates are not fixed anyway, the Old Testament slot of the lectionaries have always concluded the year with the book of Isaiah.  Normally this wouldn’t begin until mid or late November, but because the current draft ACNA daily lectionary appoints separate reading tracks for the Morning and Evening Offices, we end up starting the book of Isaiah today, on October 19th.

Chapter 1 is a fantastic opening chapter for such a rich book.  Many people might find it frustrating that it doesn’t introduce us to the man Isaiah himself – that doesn’t happen until his commissioning account in chapter 6.  But think of chapter 1 as the opening scene of a movie or television show: it’s action-packed, it draws you in, it gives you a taste of what’s to come and stuns you with the intensity of the book as a whole.  Then in a few chapters it’ll step back and give you a little of Isaiah’s backstory and character, once you’ve gotten the teaser at the beginning.

What does chapter 1 have that makes it so great an opening?  The first verse gives us an impressive array of kings under whom Isaiah ministered, hinting to us of his longevity and long-suffering. Verses 2-17 then launch into a blistering accusation against the kingdom of Judah, denouncing their sinfulness, discrediting the efficacy of their sacrifices, comparing them to the long-ago-destroyed city-states of Sodom and Gomorrah, and imploring them to repent, wash themselves, and act justly once again.

God offers a word of hope in verses 18-20: “let us reason together.”  If you just think about what you’re doing and come back to me, I will make you clean!  Otherwise, in the meantime, God calls the condition of his people to be akin to that of a whore in verses 21-23.

And finally verses 24-31 describe the blessing of a future restoration.  When God has finished punishing them, and they finally repent and turn to him, he will rebuild Jerusalem, restore the efficacy of the sacrifices, strengthen his people, and punish their enemies.

Isaiah is a long book to get through; but if you really soak in this chapter at the beginning, you will find its content, tone, and themes echoing throughout the next 65 chapters, all the way to Christmas!

Additional / Occasional Prayers & Thanksgivings

Prayer Books have always contained a section of extra collects and prayers on various subjects.  Most of the historic Prayer Books have placed them after the Morning Office, with the intention that they be used as additions to the Office.

The 1979 Prayer Book (and presumably the 2019 book also) did something different.  On the plus side, the collection of additional prayers and thanksgivings was vastly expanded and indexed for ease of use.  On the negative side, they were placed as a sort of appendix towards the very back of the book such that there was no clear implication that they are meant to enrich and expand the Daily Office.

Since Saturday is a common day of rest for many, for families to gather, to enjoy the outdoors, perhaps this is a good opportunity to use prayers #26-30, for the Natural Order!  You can find the full list of Occasion Prayers and Thanksgivings here.  Or, here are the prayers concerning the natural order:

26. For Joy in God’s Creation

O heavenly Father, you have filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

27. For Stewardship of Creation

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

28. For the Harvest of Lands and Waters

O gracious Father, you open your hand and fill all living things with plenteousness: Bless the lands and waters, and multiply the harvests of the world; send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth; show your loving-kindness, that our land may yield its increase; and save us from selfish use of what you provide, that men and women everywhere may give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Or the Collects assigned for Rogation Days

29. For Rain

O God, our heavenly Father, by your Son Jesus Christ you have promised to those who seek your kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we pray, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to your honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

30. In Time of Scarcity and Famine

O God, our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son taught us to seek our daily bread from you: Behold the affliction of your people, and send us swift aid in our time of necessity. Increase the fruits of the earth by your heavenly benediction; and grant that we, receiving your gifts with thankful hearts, may use them to your glory and the relief of those in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.