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In the context of Christian liturgy, a canticle (from the Latin canticulum, a diminutive of canticum, "song") is a psalm-like song with biblical lyrics taken from elsewhere than the Book of Psalms, but included in psalters and books such as the breviary.[1] Of special importance to the Divine Office are three New Testament Canticles that are the climaxes of the Offices of Lauds, Vespers and Compline; these are respectively Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). There are also a number of Canticles taken from the Old Testament.

Catholic Church

Prior to the Pope Pius X's 1911 reforms, the following cycle of seven Old Testament Canticles was used at Lauds:

These are rather long, and the weekday ones display something of a penitential theme, but some were not often used, as all feasts and the weekdays in Eastertide had the Canticle of Daniel, assigned to Sunday.[clarification needed]

The 1911 reform introduced for weekdays not of penitential nature, and for lesser feasts and days of the lesser octaves, the following Canticles:

For weekdays in Advent, Pre-Lent, Lent and the quarterly Ember Days, if not superseded by higher-ranking feasts—due to the multitude of feasts in the rest of the year, these make up almost the totality of the days that did not have the Canticle of Daniel before—the original seven Canticles would still be used.

The Liturgy of the Hours (introduced in 1971) uses one canticle from the Old Testament each day at Lauds, "each weekday of the four-week cycle [has] its own proper canticle and on Sunday the two sections of the Canticle of the Three Children may be alternated".[2] The liturgy prior to the reform after Vatican II used fourteen Old Testament Canticles in two weekly cycles.

At Vespers according to the Liturgy of the Hours, a Canticle from the New Testament is used. These follow a weekly cycle, with some exceptions.[2]

Additionally, the following Canticles from the Gospel of Luke (also called the “Evangelical Canticles”) are said daily:

This usage is also followed by Lutheran churches.


In the Church of England, Morning and Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer make extensive use of canticles, specifically those below and also in some enumerations, the Venite (Psalm 95). Nonetheless, the only text called a canticle in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer is the Benedicite, while the Song of Solomon is called the Canticles in the Lectionary.[3]

Eastern Christian

Further information: Canon (hymnography)

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern 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.[6] 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.

Armenian Liturgy

At Matins (or Midnight Hour; Armenian: Ի մէջ Գիշերի i mej gisheri), one canticle from the Old Testament is sung, associated with a reading from the Psalter, followed by hymns according to tone, season, and feast. There are eight such canticles which are determined by the musical tone of the day. These are, along with their respective portions of the Psalter and their tones:

Note that Psalms 148-150 and Psalm 151 are not part of this system because they are read every day at the Morning Hour, following the canticles presented below.

At the Morning Hour (Armenian: Յառաւուտու Ժամ haṟavoutou zham), corresponding to Lauds, the following canticles are fixed parts of the service each day:

Following the Song of the Three Youths and the Prayer of Simeon there are sets of hymns as well as other texts which are proper to the commemoration of the day or of the liturgical season.

In the other hours, sections of these and other canticles are included in fixed material, consisting of amalgams of verse material from the Old Testament: Ninth Hour: a citation of Daniel 3:35; Peace Hour (after Vespers): Isaiah 8:9–10, Isaiah 9:26; Rest Hour (after the Peace Hour): Daniel 3:29-34, Luke 2:29-32, Luke 1:16-55.

This list does not take into account citations of these texts in the Divine Liturgy (Armenian: Պատարագ patarag) or in the movable Old Testament verse material or in hymnody.

Coptic Orthodoxy

Further information: Tasbeha

In the Coptic Orthodox Church there are four Biblical Canticles (or ϩⲱⲥ (hos, literally praise/song)) that are chanted during midnight praises. The fourth of these canticles is also chanted during vespers praises.

The four Canticles are as follows:

See also


  1. ^ The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music (1978) says "a scriptural text", though Anglican usage seems to be wider, including Te Deum &c. There is no entry for "canticle" in the 1906 Jewish Enclyclopedia.
  2. ^ a b General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, No. 136
  3. ^ Book of Common Prayer, 1662, Cambridge.
  4. ^ Canticle Two is normally only said on Tuesdays of Great Lent.
  5. ^ a b In many Protestant versions of the Bible, this is found separately in the Apocrypha.
  6. ^ Ware, Kallistos (1969). The Festal Menaion. London: Faber and Faber. p. 546.