Canticles, canticles, canticles

by David Ouzts, Minister of Music and Liturgy

Printed church directories (One of the first true examples of Facebook perhaps?) have been a not-so-blessed necessity in my experience. Of printed church directories, in the church business we often say, “It’s out of date the moment you print it,” which is actually a true statement.

Some will say the same thing about our principal worship resources, The Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982.There are those on one side of the Episcopal Church via media fence who will say, “There is no need to ever revise the prayer book and hymnal,” while others will say that in contemporary times we are always in need of supplemental worship texts in order to stay current.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979) was ratified in 1979 and published in 1982, while The Hymnal 1982 was ratified in 1982 and published in 1985. In the long history of our prayer books, the canticles (hymns or songs of praise with texts from scriptures other than the Psalms) are fundamentals of our Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies.

In the 1979 book Morning Prayer (Rite One) begins with the standard Venite, Jubilate or Pascha nostrum. The liturgy then continues with optional usage of seven canticles beginning with Canticle 1 (A Song of Creation, Benedicite omnia) and ending with Canticle 7 (We Praise Thee, the Te Deum laudamus). In Rite Two, in addition to contemporary translations of all of the above canticles, there are 14 canticles beginning with Canticle 8 (The Song of Moses, Cantemus Domino) and ending with Canticle 21 (a contemporary version of the Te Deum).

In 1989 the Episcopal Church published Supplemental Liturgical Texts and included two new canticles, Canticle 22 (A Song of Wisdom) and Canticle 23 (A Song of Pilgrimage). And in 1998 again the Church published a supplemental liturgical volume, Enriching Our Worship, which contained many new canticles that were assigned letter names rather than numbers: The Song of Hannah, A Song of the Wilderness, A Song of Jerusalem Our Mother, A Song of Hosea, A Song of Jonah, A Song of Judith and numerous others.

The canticle Gloria in excelsis, also contained in the Morning Prayer canticles, is one of the liturgical components of the Eucharistic rite. We most often use the Gloria in the Eucharist, but this fall we have been using Canticle 13 (A Song of Praise, Benedictus es Domine), of which John Rutter’s musical setting is a particular favorite to sing in this parish. Using another canticle in place of the Gloria in excelsis is allowed by rubric in our Eucharistic rite: “the Gloria in excelsis or some other song of praise is sung or said.”

Canticles sometimes appear in the Revised Common Lectionary in place of an appointed psalm, which often occurs during the Advent season. This year Canticle 16 (The Song of Zechariah) appears in the lectionary on Advent II, and Canticle 9 (The First Song of Isaiah) is appointed for Advent III. This past Trinity Sunday (May 31), Canticle 13 was appointed in place of the psalm.

This Sunday (Nov. 15) Canticle C (The Song of Hannah), one of the letter-named canticles, is called for in place of the psalm, and we will sing the canticle in the 10:30 service. The text of this beautiful canticle from 1 Samuel 2:1-8 is a natural response following the appointed lectionary First Reading, 1 Samuel 1:4-20.

 The first few lines of The Song of Hannah are:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.

Artist: Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 08:00