CANTICLE: A REFLECTION ON THE 5TH DAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS
Someone asked me yesterday about what the word ‘Canticle’ means and why we only have canticles for morning, evening and night prayer and not at the other hours of prayer. So, I will use this post to answer that question. Interestingly, the canticle for night prayer occurs in our gospel of today. The word ‘Canticle’ is derived from Latin ‘Canticulum’, which refers to a ‘song’. This word reminds us of other English words like ‘Chant’ ‘Cantor’, etc.
The psalms, even though we may recite them, were written as songs, and are at best chanted. The Book of Psalms is considered the official prayer book of the church. That is why in all the hours of the divine office, the psalms have a dominant presence. It is all about singing God’s praise and that is what our whole life as well as our eternal life with God is all about. What else do people in heaven do if not to praise God? Whenever we pray the divine office, we are already, though not yet, in heaven.
But there are other songs in the bible which are not from the psalms. These we call canticles. There are several canticles in the Old Testament. But there are three major canticles in the New Testament. We have the song of Zechariah, which is the Benedictus, the song of Mary, which is the Magnificat and the song of Simeon which is the Nuc Dimitis. The song of Zechariah is used at morning prayer, that of Mary at evening prayer and that of Zechariah at night prayer. From Monday, we will begin a series on the canticles. We will start with the Old Testament ones and end with the New Testament ones.
The reason why canticles occur only at morning, evening and night prayer is partly because the office of the reading already have two long readings, and would not be made longer than it already is. The daytime prayers occur at busy hours of the day and so have been kept as short as possible. However, there are three majoy New Testament canticles and they are well spread through the day. The Old Testament canticles are usually used in place of a psalm. Therefore, we speak of Psalms and Canticles. I look forward to journeying with you on the canticles in the bible and where we can find them.