We’ve been focusing on the origins and structure of the Daily Office. This week, we’re featuring another significant component: canticles.
“Canticle” comes from the Latin for “song,” so these are poetic passages of scripture or ancient church hymns (like the 4th century Te Deum) that might be sung, chanted, or recited (in unison or responsively). Some come from Isaiah or other Hebrew Scripture writings. Of the New Testament canticles, the most familiar are four we find in the first two chapters of Luke:
To greet the rising sun:
Zechariah’s Song (Benedictus; 1:68-79)
Traditional for Evening Prayer (Vespers):
Mary’s Song (Magnificat; 1:46-55)
Traditional for Night Prayer (Compline):
Nunc dimittis; 2:29-32)
For various occasions:
Angels’ Song (Gloria in excelsis deo; 2:14) Canticles are often placed between psalms (or after, if there’s only one) in the central portion of the office at morning and evening prayer; the Song of Simeon usually comes at the end of Night Prayer. They’re often accompanied by an antiphon, a refrain (spoken or sung) repeated before and after the canticle. To accommodate the technology and 140 character constraints of Twitter, Virtual Abbey prayer leaders offer a few verses, all or none of the canticles; an antiphon before, rather than before and after.
Want to learn more?
+ A liturgical Book of Canticles (beautifully translated & illustrated) is published by Liturgy Training Publications.
+ Te Deum Laudaumus (also known as the Ambrosian Hymn) on Wikipedia.
+ Interested in learning the tradition of chant? Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide comes with a CD, too!
Image: Gallican Psalter with Canticles