Canticle Rant

Musically, it’s a Garden of Arcane Delights kind of morning.


Liturgically, I’m wondering about canticles… M suggested—wisely—that periodically we do the Offices from Rite II just to maintain currency with that way of doing things. My basic principle is that when I do Rite I, I follow the rubrics as interpreted through the 1662 book; when I do Rite II, I follow the intentions of the editors of the ’79 book. Thus, for MP, I use the table in the Additional Directions section (I just can’t bring myself to use it for EP, though…).


Anyway, in reading through it the past few mornings, I’ve been wondering why we have the canticles that we do. As you recall, the original intention of MP is that it is Cranmer’s collation of the Night Office (Matins + Lauds) + Prime—so, the first three Hours. Matins on Sundays and feast days always ends with the Te Deum; Lauds always incorporates the Benedictus. Hence, these are the master canticles for MP. The 1662 rubrics direct the use of the Te Deum outside of penitential seasons for the first reading and the Benedictus daily. Thus, this is fully in line with the original intention. During penitential seasons, though, the Benedicite is utilized. Now—where did this come from? In the old system, an OT canticle was said daily at Lauds slipped in between the fourth and fifth (and final) psalm. The Benedicite was the canticle for Sundays. So, the canticles retained in the 1662 book for MP mirrored certain selected elements of Sunday practice.


To complicate things a little, there were, in the old system, two forms of the Lauds office—one for penitential days and one for non-penitential days. The Benedicite was (if I remember right) the Sunday canticle in the non-penitiential; the one in the penitential version was the Benedictus es. Flip to Rite I for a second…yep, there they are… So, even the ’79 book through the influence of earlier books retains the elements of the old system.


Now, the major difference between Rite II and all predecessor rites is the great multiplication of options. Clearly this appears in the canticle options. I understand the desire to include more biblical materials and I have no problem with that. But…why not go back to the original source? Why not bring in the canticles from  Lauds 1 and 2 in the old system? Hatchett (the main commentator on the ’79 book) gives no insight here.


I’m really not against liturgical change—but if we are going to change something and there’s a good historical precedent that accomplishes what we’re trying to do, why not use it?   

4 thoughts on “Canticle Rant

  1. Annie

    Do you have any trouble when you switch rites with saying them by rote? I hate the way it trips me up when I am in church sans BCP. Of course, I always default to Rite 1.

    Otherwise, I just have to trust you on the rest. ;)

  2. Caelius

    My best guess is that it was an attempt to imitate the broader canticle range of the Roman Breviary without being entirely obvious about it. The canticle choices fit no previous scheme that I know of. And of course, there’s something deeply wrong about including Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in Morning Prayer.

    I actually like the variety in the morning myself, though I would appreciate it if it were systematic as in the Breviary. Returning to the Benedictine usage, which is in the 1549 Book, would simplify matters, though.

  3. Anonymous

    For what it’s worth, our parish’s Rite II offices use the canticles thusly:

    Morning Prayer
    1st canticle as suggested on p. 144
    2nd canticle always Canticle 16
    Except on days when Te Deum is suggested, in which case we use Canticle 16 as the first canticle and then Canticle 21 (Te Deum) as the second canticle.

    Yes, this means we never do three (I think) of the canticles.

    Evening Prayer
    Easy: always, always Mag & Nunc.

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Anonymous, that sounds like the pattern I remember from a church I frequented some bit. I like that one because it retains the proper place and significance of the Benedictus. It is one of the grounding canticles of our tradition and we impoverish ourselves when we don’t use it.

    As a concrete example…note how many prayers in the BCP use the phrase “holiness and righteousness”–an important pairing that comes straight out of it…

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