Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Morning Canticle

Canticles are simply defined as "liturgical songs not Psalms taken from Scripture." The Canticles for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline are all "Gospel Canticles"; all are taken from that section of the Bible - and in fact, all are taken from the Gospel of Luke. The most well-known Canticle, the Magnificat (or "The Song of Mary"), is sung in monastic communities each day at Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Another very famous Evening Canticle is the Nunc Dimittis (or "The Song of Simeon"), sung every night at Compline.

Less well-known is the Morning Canticle, Benedictus Dominus Deus (also called "The Song of Zechariah"), sung every morning at Lauds (or Morning Prayer) just after the Verse/Response following the hymn on the day.  Here's a video of the canticle sung in Latin; it's sung with Hodie Christus natus est as its antiphon - which is a bit strange, since Hodie is normally the antiphon upon Magnificat for Christmas Day, usually sung, that is, at Vespers and not at Lauds.  The video says the singers here are Vienna's "Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz"; perhaps they do use Hodie at Lauds.  I'll check it out and will post what I find.  At any rate, you can hear Benedictus Dominus Deus sung to Canticle Tone 1, and that's a great thing!  The Canticle itself starts at about :55 seconds in; the words are all there, so you can see this for yourself anyway.

Here are the Latin and English words; the Latin words come from the Vulgate, and the English from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
Benedictus [Dominus] Deus Israhel quia visitavit et fecit redemptionem plebi suae
et erexit cornu salutis nobis in domo David pueri sui
sicut locutus est per os sanctorum qui a saeculo sunt prophetarum eius
salutem ex inimicis nostris et de manu omnium qui oderunt nos
ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris et memorari testamenti sui sancti
iusiurandum quod iuravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum daturum se nobis
ut sine timore de manu inimicorum nostrorum liberati serviamus illi
in sanctitate et iustitia coram ipso omnibus diebus nostris
et tu puer propheta Altissimi vocaberis praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius
ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi eius in remissionem peccatorum eorum
per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri in quibus visitavit nos oriens ex alto
illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis
puer autem crescebat et confortabatur spiritu et erat in deserto usque in diem ostensionis suae ad Israhel

BLESSED be the Lord God of Israel : for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.

There is a Taize version of this Canticle also; this one's in Latin, French, and English - quite nice, too!

The Roman Breviary does something interesting; in addition to singing the "The Song of Zechariah," it appoints a different Canticle for Morning Prayer every day, to take the place of a fourth Psalm. (Most of these Canticles can also be found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer - but not in any earlier version.) Here's that list:
  • On Sundays and Festivals, the "Canticle of the Three Children" (Dan., iii, 57).
  • On Mondays, the "Canticle of Isaias the Prophet" (Isaiah 12).
  • On Tuesdays, the "Canticle of Ezechias" (Isaiah 38:10-20).
  • On Wednesdays, the "Canticle of Anna" (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
  • On Thursdays, the "Canticle of Moses" (Exodus 15:1-19).
  • on Fridays the "Canticle of Habacuc" (Hab., iii 2-19).
  • On Saturdays, the "Canticle of Moses" (Deuteronomy 32:1-43).

That Wikipedia entry also says that:
In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches there are nine Biblical Canticles (or Odes) that are chanted at Matins These form the basis of the Canon, a major component of Matins.
The nine Canticles are as follows:
Originally, these Canticles were chanted in their entirety every day, with a short refrain inserted between each verse. Eventually, short verses (troparia) were composed to replace these refrains, a process traditionally inaugurated by Saint Andrew of Crete.[5] Gradually over the centuries, the verses of the Biblical Canticles were omitted (except for the Magnificat) and only the composed troparia were read, linked to the original canticles by an Irmos. During Great Lent however, the original Biblical Canticles are still read.
Another Biblical Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), is either read or sung at Vespers.

Something else that's interesting: Roman Canticle replacing the 4th song for Tuesday, above, is "Hezekiah's Canticle." It's from Isaiah 38:

    10 I said, "In the middle of my life
         I am to enter the gates of Sheol;
         I am to be deprived of the rest of my years."
    11 I said, "I will not see the LORD,
         The LORD in the land of the living;
         I will look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world.
    12 "Like a shepherd's tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me;
         As a weaver I rolled up my life
         He cuts me off from the loom;
         From day until night You make an end of me.
    13 "I composed my soul until morning.
         Like a lion--so He breaks all my bones,
         From day until night You make an end of me.
    14 "Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter;
         I moan like a dove;
         My eyes look wistfully to the heights;
         O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security.

Below is a public domain image at Wikipedia Commons, of "Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 103v - Hezekiah's Canticle the Musée Condé, Chantilly."

If I can find a complete mp3 of a choral Benedictus Dominus Deus - or a recording of Hezekiah's Canticle! - I will come back and post it.

[EDIT: Wow, it looks like Orlando Gibbons wrote a "Prayer of Hezekiah"! I'm not sure if it's the same text, but you can listen to it here.]

Here is a Russian ikon of Zechariah:

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