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The Unsung Canticle

For months a tune has been running through my head.  I wake up hearing it and end up singing the song throughout the day. It is the First Song of Isaiah  – the tune is by Jack Nobel White – and I learned it from the Bishops Choir CD, Trouble at the River.  At any point or place in the day I might burst out with “Surely it is God who saves me!” or “Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy!”  Of course, at Morning Prayer we don’t sing Canticle Nine we speak it, but after listening and singing along with the bishops, the First Song of Isaiah is the one canticle I know by heart.

As children we learned many things and committed many more to memory by learning songs and rhymes.  “Thirty days hath September . . .” “Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .”  “Ada, Adams, Bannock, Bear Lake . . .”  Today I can still name the 44 counties in Idaho because I learned them to the tune of Ten Little Indians.  I probably know the words to the Gloria better than I do the Nicene Creed because, instead of speaking it, we often sing it to the tune of S-280.

How much better would we know the words to all of the Canticles and how much more often could we burst out with “Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers!” or “Let the people of God glorify the Lord!” or “The white-robed army of martyrs praise you!” (Okay, maybe not that one) if we could sing them?

The word “canticle” means “little song” and doesn’t it just sound like it?  Say “canticle” and you can just feel the tiny notes trip off your tongue.  A canticle is similar to a psalm, but not part of the book of Psalms and canticles have been included in worship from the earliest days of the church.  The three canticles from Luke – The Song of Mary (BCP – p. 91), The Song of Zechariah (p. 92), and The Song of Simeon (p.93) – are called the Greater Canticles.  The others are considered the Lesser Canticles.  The Gloria and the Te Deum are the only ones that do not come to us from scripture.

The Rev. Dr. Hatchett helps us understand (p. 110-121) that each of these songs has its own history and conveys its own significance to our worship.  What can we do to learn and appreciate what these special poems contribute to our sense of spirit especially if we are in small churches with limited music support?

My go-to answer for all things “music” is YouTube.  Many of our canticles have been put to music, albeit several hundred years ago, and you can hear them – and some newer versions – on YouTube.  A few of the canticles can be found in the Service Music section of the 1982 Hymnal.

Deacon Tammy Jones, our guest blogger from last week recommends that we consider using the Table of Suggested Canticles on page 144 in the Prayerbook to mix it up a little.  Expanding on Tammy’s idea of reading the Psalms in different voices, we might try making up our own tunes or setting the canticles to familiar music.  After all, if Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to The Yellow Rose of Texas, surely we can find  existing melodies for our favorite canticles.

If you meet with success from any of these ideas, be sure to comment.  We would love to hear from you.

YouTube links:

8 – The Song of Moses                                                   

13 – A Song of Praise                                                

15 – The Song of Mary                                                      

17 – Song of Simeon                                                       

21 – You are God                                                        

Of Studies, Psalms and Saints

The Rev. Tammy Jones is a deacon at St. Matthew’s in Rupert, Idaho and at the Church of the Good Shepard in Fort Hall.  Tammy is also the Living Stones coordinator for the Diocese of Idaho.  Here she shares excerpts from a sermon she gave on January 29.

I am curious how many of you made New Year’s Resolutions and have been able to keep them so far.  I have read that four out of five people who make New Year’s resolutions will eventually break them. In fact, a third won’t even make it to the end of January.  I myself made two commitments for this year.  (1) I would exercise at least three times a week for a year and (2) I would do a year-long study on the Book of Common Prayer.  I have already broken my commitment to exercise three times a week!  I have, so far managed to keep up my daily discipline of studying the Prayer Book.  This study consists of reading 3-4 pages every day from Marion J. Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book, followed by looking up certain pages in the Prayer Book, and ending with a Psalm reading.

Reading the Psalms has been a good exercise for me.  I have never been a big fan of the Psalms.  Even when we read them on Sunday, I just read the words I don’t really listen to them.  The Psalms always seemed to me to have a good part and a bad part.  A mean God and then a beautiful loving Almighty God.  My study Bible says this about the Psalms:  “The Psalms describe the distress being experienced and then appeals for divine intervention.”  This explains the mean God, loving God.  It goes on to explain that the main function today, however, within Jewish and Christian tradition is that “the Psalms have become a type of inspirational literature where worshipers may find proper words to express the depths of their religious feelings.”

I decided to start reading the Psalms in a different way to see if I hear words that express the depths of my religious feelings. So, I now read the Psalms in different voices, changing at the asterisk.  So, for example in Psalm 111 I would read it like this: (soft voice): Hallelujah!  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *(loud voice) in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.  Great are the deeds of the Lord! *they are studied by all who delight in them….  After reading the Psalm I pick an inspirational word or phrase that strikes me and write it down.  In today’s reading of Psalm 111 that word or phrase is:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. By the time I am done with my year-long study of the prayer book I will have read the Psalms twice.  I wonder if I will pick out the same words or if I will choose differently.

In January my prayer book study took me through the calendar of The Saints, the Feast Days and the Holy Days.  Learning about the Saints has been really, really interesting.  The way the Saints and martyrs died ….burned at the stake, thrown to wild beasts to be eaten alive, beheaded, crucified in strange positions.  They died like this because they were Christians, followers of Jesus.  It makes me wonder if I have it in me to be a Saint.

With our  focus on unclean spirits in Mark this month on, I have wondered about unclean spirits and what keeps me from being a saint.  We tend to think of “unclean spirits” as demons or disease or mental illness, but it can also mean something different.  I believe we all have unclean spirits from time to time. I look at unclean spirits as those little sins we don’t think much about, but keep us from our relationship with God.  I love to do the crossword puzzle out of the paper every morning.  I also try to read scripture or something spiritual every day.  Sometimes I will do the crossword puzzle and forget about the spiritual piece because I only have so much time in the morning to get ready for work and I would rather do the crossword puzzle.  Now it is not a sin to do crossword puzzles, but the sin is I didn’t spend time with God that day.  I put a crossword puzzle in front of God. This might be a weak example, but I am sure you all have a similar story.  Jesus is calling out to us to help us rid our unclean spirits to free us from our sin, to help us explore, to grow, and be the best we can be.

So be kind, rid yourself of unclean spirits, and like the Saints follow Jesus to the end of your life.    Amen.








Come and Be Joyful

Our first guest blogger is The Rev. Blake Coats from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church  in Weiser, Idaho.  After retiring from teaching high school English and drama, Blake was called to the priesthood and was ordained last summer.

From Fr. Blake:

For the years of my growing up in little St. Luke’s Church in Weiser, the 1928 Prayer Book led our congregation through its worship, most Sundays using the form for Morning Prayer, and singing the 1940 Hymnal settings for our canticles. Always the service opened with the singing of either the Venite or the Jubilate as Invitatory. If those attending knew nothing else by heart from the service, they knew those two canticles.

As the Church moved on with new prayer book and hymnal, our organist kept to the old Rite One settings whenever we worshiped with Morning Prayer. In fact, we sang both invitatory canticles nearly every time. (Don’t tell the bishop!) Without a resident priest, morning prayer still held its place as the primary liturgy for many Sunday mornings. The Venite and Jubilate still were the best known parts of the sung liturgy.

Sadly, as we all must, our organist, Marvin, moved on and we explored this pair of canticles a cappella and also discovered that the 1982 Hymnal had great settings for the Rite Two versions. These canticles continued to provide a foundational introduction for our worship, Sunday after Sunday. For those of us who remembered our childhood experiences of church in the ‘50s, these songs tied us to a lifetime tradition, which anchored us together to the fathers and mothers of the past.

Anchors are great when one wants to stay put, but there is a time when one must move ahead. For all the easy worship nostalgia the Venite and Jubilate brought to the old-timers, the repetitive tunes and out-dated images sometimes were stumbling blocks to newcomers. In addition, the comfortable, but perhaps mindless warm-up to the readings and themes of the day, that the continual use of these invitatory canticles provided, could close worshipers’ minds to a more lively sense of spiritual presence during the service.

Today, with our new local priest, we celebrate Eucharist more often — Morning Prayer may come but once or twice a month. And the Rite Two versions of the invitatory canticles have now become familiar and even comfortable. The Venite setting can sometimes lead to hand clapping, if not mid-east dancing, and the 1982 setting we use for the Jubilate is a beautifully meditative way to begin worship. Still we Come and we Are Joyful as we begin our weekly worship together, using these ancient psalms to direct our focus to the work at hand, the proclamation of God’s word and the offering of our prayers in thanks for our past and in hope for our future.

In So Many Words

In his section on The Calendar of the Church Year Dr. Hatchett has included many terms that once again have me running to Google, Wikipedia and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.  Here are a few  words that we don’t have much call for in today’s lexicon:

Sabbatarianism (Hatchett page 41) was – and is – a movement to restore strict observance of the Sabbath in accordance with the Fourth Commandment.  Protestant reformers in England and Scotland advocated laws to keep people from working, playing games or even walking on the Sabbath.  When the Puritans came to America they brought their ideas about the Sabbath with them and soon colonies were enacting “blue laws.”  Today some states still have laws about purchasing or drinking alcohol on Sundays, but slowly states are relaxing and are giving up these regulations.  In the United Kingdom, Day One, previously known as the Lord’s Day Observance Society, is maintaining the Puritan world view on Sabbath observance.

Non-jurors (page 82), from the word nonjuring meaning “not swearing,” were a group of nine bishops, about 400 priests and a large number of laypeople (oh, I guess back then they would be called “laymen”) who would not swear allegiance to William of Orange as king after the Revolution of 1688.  They believed that in doing so they would be breaking their previous oath to James II.  Their position created a schism in the Church of England until the last Stuart heir died in France in 1788.

Forest laws (page 83) governed the Royal Forest system that was introduced by William the Conqueror to preserve open space and wild life in England.  The opportunities for abuse of this system were many.  The flora and fauna were made available to those who could afford to pay and the poor who lived on the land were considered poachers and were oppressed by the foresters and rangers who served the king.  This adds another dimension to the Robin Hood story or, if you are staying current with your young adult literature, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Earlier in the week we read the 23rd Psalm.  Here are a couple of interpretations from YouTube that you might enjoy:

Early On

When I was new to the Episcopal Church, our children were swimming competitively around the state and we were gone many weekends during the season.  A couple of times a month we would load up the car and travel to a town in Idaho, Nevada or Oregon and spend the weekend shuttling between the motel and the swimming pool.

Trying to understand more about our new church, on Sunday mornings I would send the rest of the family to the pool and head out to find a worship service.  This was before GPS in cars and internet in hotel rooms, so I relied heavily on the Yellow Pages and answering machine messages for directions and service times.  I was never really able to shake my nervousness about where I would park, how I would find the door (Don’t laugh – you might be surprised to know how many churches don’t use the front door.) and where I would sit.  Once in the pew, though, all was well because there in front of me was the one thing I knew would be easy to find – the Book of Common Prayer.

Nothing illustrates the meaning of the word “common” more for me than the knowledge that in any town in Idaho, in the country or in the Anglican Communion on that Sunday morning we were saying the same words and hearing the same readings and sharing the same Eucharist as my home church in Twin Falls.

Some churches I visited had not brushed up on their welcoming or greeting skills, so I had plenty of time to meditate over the Title Page, the Certificate, the Table of Contents, the Ratification and the Preface.  While those pages didn’t mean much to me until I read about them in Hatchett’s Commentary, I did realize that we take this book very seriously.  We even have a custodian!  The current Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer, The Rev. Canon Gregory M. Howe was nominated by the House of Bishops and confirmed by the House of Deputies at General Convention in 2000.  For a little more about the custodian of the Prayerbook you can go to

If you are interested in perusing the texts of older Prayerbooks, and I mean way older, check out  You will find dozens of Books of Common Prayer from throughout history and around the world.

We Begin . . . Again!

Yes, this begins the second year of A Year with the BCP.  A handful of folks in Idaho completed the study last year, but there are many good intentions out there, so others will be sharing the experience this year.  I hope you will join us!

The big question might be why someone, particularly lay someones for whom the study is designed, would want to take on a yearlong study of the Prayerbook.  First, considering that two million Episcopalians are usually familiar with about twelve pages (355-366) of the BCP, it might be a good thing to spend some time learning more about this book that guides and defines our worship life.

We could learn more, but also, this study could serve as a practice.

Years ago while at an education conference, I rode in an elevator with someone who said,

I listen and I forget.  I read and I remember.  I do and I understand.

Three days of posters and charts and educational theory and the only thing I can remember about the conference is that comment in the elevator.  It has stuck with me because it is true.  I would be quick to admit that at worship I often listen and forget and, only sometimes, read and remember.  Taking on a study as a daily practice means doing and understanding.

The challenges in all of this for me are in the word “daily” and in working alone, so the idea behind this blog is to keep each other company as we work our way through the year.  You may notice that the blog didn’t go so well last year, but as a “practice” I will be a faithful blogger this year.  And, in case you get tired of one person’s perspective, we will have guest bloggers who may actually know something!

There is a lot of information in the Hatchett Commentary and much of it leaves me with more questions; sending me to reference books and Google almost daily.  Some of what I found I will share here and I hope you will add your comments and findings, too.  Photos, quotes and YouTube clips may also be part of the experience.

Today we read Psalm 8.  If you would like to sing along, here are YouTube links to a couple of interpretations:

Clap your hands

You may remember reading in the Introduction to A Year with the BCP that the Psalms appointed for each day does not necessarily match the readings.  This is true and this fact caused some frustration with the original editor team. 

Today, however, is an exception.  The reading (Hatchett p. 128-129) is about the hymn or anthem in Morning Prayer and the Psalm is #47, a wonderful song about clapping, shouting and singing praises to God.  I have included YouTube links for a couple of interpretations of Psalm 47 for you to enjoy:

Jo Leuze

Our good friend, Jo Leuze, passed away last week.  She was a longtime member of the Church of the Ascension, a worship leader, the founder of our prayer shawl ministry and a lay Eucharistic visitor.  Jo was devoted to the Prayerbook and the rites of the church.  Her son said at the memorial that the family had to plan trips around the church seasons because Jo wanted to spend the important days with her church family.

 Jo was also one of the editor/proofreaders for the A Year with the BCP project.  Some of you may not know how this worked.  Rather than just one having to read, edit and proof the entire project, I invited twelve people to each take a month of the booklet and during the month of August 2010, the group did the daily readings for the month they each had been assigned.  Jo had the month of May which includes collects for Holy Days.  She protested that it was August, she was assigned the month of May and she was reading collects for Holy Week! 

 She kept lengthy notes about her readings and it has been fun to go through them again this week.  Here is one from May 5 (written on August 5) while Jo and her husband, Jim, were on vacation.  With typical thoroughness and good humor she took her assignment with her.

 “May 5 – To anyone who is familiar with the technological age it is not                     a problem, but for old goof-offs on vacation, the shear weight of the        resources is a handicap.  As I shlump from motel to house to ____ it              would be nice to check a screen rather than 20 lbs of books!”

 When we get to the month of May, I will share more of Jo’s insights from her notes.

                  Almighty God . . . We give you heartfelt thanks for the good                 examples of all your servants, who, having finished their course in faith, now find rest and refreshment. . .                                           

Rest in peace, friend Jo.

We begin!

We begin our study, not at the beginning of either book, but with the Psalms.  Since we will be reading the Psalter daily and, in fact, will read all of the Psalms twice in one year, it makes sense to read the sections about the Psalter as we start. Continue reading

Read, mark, learn, etc!

This blog is being developed as part of a year long study of the Book of Common Prayer, but until January 1 we are learning and inwardly digesting all things WordPress so please bear with.  If you are interested in participating in the study you will need a BCP, a copy of Marion J. Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayerbook and the study guide,  A Year With the BCP by Stephanie Crumrine.  You can order the Commentary through Amazon or at Cokesbury and the study guide by emailing .