Canticles. Again.

I keep going back and forth on the whole canticle issue. Deirdre has a nice article at the Cafe that looks at the Song of Judith and reminds us that when singing the canticles, it’s important to learn the stories from whence they come. That is, the canticle means a lot more when you consider its proper context and how it portrays God acting through Judith.

I note (indirectly) in the comments that the Song of Judith is one of the new canticles given us by EOW. I’ve discussed these in the past—especially with Christopher—concerning whether more canticles is a better choice. Following Deirdre’s logic, more is better because we get exposed to more songs that have literary contexts that folks may then be interested to go and learn. More Bible is always good.

My fear is that more canticles mean that we we don’t learn any of them well. In order for more canticles to be better they have to be sung/read regularly and in a discernable order.

I’m also a complete stick in the mud and refuse to budge on the Benedictus (Song of Zechariah) as the invariable second canticle of morning prayer which means that there’s really only one free spot in the rotation—the canticle after the first MP reading.

Ack! Fewer, more, what’s a liturgy geek committed to Scripture to do! Perhaps the Benedictine option is the best—weave more canticles in amongst the Psalter…

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12 Responses to Canticles. Again.

  1. Scott says:

    I’m with you on the Benedictus. Our parish has Morning Prayer every day, and we typically have as the first canticle the one given on BCP p. 144 and then always the Benedictus – except on days when Canticles 16 and 21 are prescribed, and we do those two in that order. Personally, I’d like us to use Te Deum (21) first and Benedictus (16) second, but I think the 16-21 order is used to keep moving forward in the book and lessen confusion. To me, Te Deum and then Benedictus preserves the Matins/Vigils-to-Lauds progression, but of course the BCP office melds these, and I suppose trying to preserve the traditional order is a bit artificial.

    Our pattern also means we never say Canticles 18 (Dignus es) and 19 (Magna et mirabilia). Not sure what I think about that.

  2. Well that’s the thing… The presence of NT canticles in the Office apart from the Gospel Canticles is an innovation that, IMO, detracts from the importance and formative nature of the Gospel Canticles.

    The Benedictus and Magnificat weren’t used for millennia because the Church didn’t realize that there were other songs in Scripture. Rather, they were used daily because of their importance in how catholic Christianity teaches the faith.

    It’s no accident that the first half of the Office is OT (Psalms & canticles) and then transitions at the hymn and Gospel Canticle. It was designed that way! (And I know you’re well aware of all of this, Scott, I’m generally ranting now…)

    So I suppose to put a finer point on it—more OT canticles are ok in my book, but NT ones aren’t as they disrupt the pattern that the Office intends to shape us in.

  3. Scott says:

    Well said! This is very helpful (as always!).

  4. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Derek:

    May I please add a (predictable) exclamation point to your rant?

  5. Absolutely!

  6. Oriscus says:

    A commitment to the Benedictus as as the “*invariable* second canticle of morning prayer” also severely limits one’s choice of paired choral settings. There are vastly more Te Deum/Jubilate sets than Te Deum (or Benedicite)/Benedictus pairings, or “Great Services” setting all four 1662 options.

    Then, I suppose you could be just another liturgist telling the musicians to get stuffed, in which case, never mind.

  7. Joe Rawls says:

    For what it’s worth, I use Benedictus and Te Deum (in that order)on Sundays and major feasts, and the other MP canticles on ferial weekdays following a particular order. It works for me and I feel that my experience of praying the office is much enhanced.

  8. Scott says:

    Oriscus, I think we’re just discussing a different form of the Office than choral Matins and Evensong. We’re also talking about different BCPs (USA 1979 and CofE 1662). Nothing anti-musician here that I’ve been able to detect!

    Scott, who dearly loves a Choral Matins with Te Deum and Jubilate, or with Benedicite and Benedictus, but is fine with the OT-Canticle-plus-Benedictus pattern we’ve been discussing, for monastic, parish, or individual recitation of Morning Prayer

  9. Actually, Oriscus, I’ve never been to a Choral Matins service. My only experiences of Matins are by myself or spoken so music (aside from when I chant it myself) has never entered into it for me.

  10. Oriscus says:

    Hi, all –

    Derek, I haven’t been a part of a choral Mattins in ages, but I think much has been lost as a result of its scarcity. It really wasn’t that long ago (the 80’s, in Birmingham, AL) when the major snakebelly-low-to-broadish Parish Church would regularly alternate MP and Communion between the 9 & 11 AM services of a Sunday.

    Now, I yeild to no fellow AffCath in my preference for the Mass, but sung Mattins is almost dead now.

    I get, btw, that we’re talking about monastic/private recitation of the office, but I’m a choirman, and the peculiarities and requirements of that form of the office are, in my mind, of equal importance.

    I also wasn’t confused about the form of the BCP under discussion.
    FWIW, I came into the Episcopal Church after the adoption of the ’79 BCP, and find it more than satisfactory. (I gotta say, though, I’ve only gotten to use the ’28 & the UK 1662 a few times, and it gave me chills.)

    Not a troll, in other words, I just got my back up about the “invariable” bit on the Benedictus. I get similarly worked up about the remarkable instability of the modern-language texts for liturgy. (I’m currently preparing a collection of materials for Compline groups, and, for all the fauxbourdon settings of the Nunc Dimittis I’m editing myself, the 1662/1928 is the default text.)

  11. Your comment suggesting that my preference for an invariable Benedictus was due to me being “just another liturgist telling the musicians to get stuffed” was uncharitable (and unnecessary).

    Several of my regular readers are church musicians including some who are both musicians and priests—as is my wife whose undergrad degree was a BCM.

    The issue at hand is the ever-vexing problem of norms for Anglican worship. Your point deserves a serious and full answer which I hope to get to—but we’re currently in the midst of cleaning the basement so it’ll have to wait a bit…

  12. Oriscus says:

    Derek – you’re right, of course, that the tone of my comment was uncharitable. I’m sorry. Hermeneutic of suspicion and all that…

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