Give us back our Benedicite! A task for General Synod?

2/1/19 7pm

Further updates added and all updates have now been moved to the end of the original article below and some light editing done.


One of the great losses unintentionally created by the Parish Communion movement was Matins sung in church as a public service on Sunday morning. With that loss has come also the loss to many Anglicans of the knowledge of two great Canticles, the Te Deum and the Benedicite.

I have written briefly about the Te Deum here, and provided two singable simple versions here. I wrote about Benedicite as a resource for the ‘Creation Season’ here. Sadly neither canticle finds a good place in the office provided in Common Worship: Daily Prayer. I would suggest rectifying this by singing Te Deum at the end of Matins (after the Lord’s Prayer and before the blessing) on all days when the Gloria is required at Mass (ie all Sundays outside Advent and Lent, all Principal Feasts and Festivals). Benedicite could also be used on these days (adding Sundays in Advent and Lent) and in the Christmas and Easter Octaves as the OT Canticle.

However, there is a problem with the text of Benedicite as it appears in Common Worship. It has been ‘de-Judaised’. The reference to Israel has been translated as “people of God” and the names of the three young men have been omitted. An omission that first appears in Anglican liturgy in the ASB 1980.

Seeking the source of this truncation Fr Angela of the Sodality sent me these pictures of pages in Ronald Jasper’s The Companion to the Alternative Service Book which explains the history of this:

What is clear is that the omission was made unofficially in the 1948 BBC Psalter. I am told that the changes also appear in the Joint Liturgical Group’s Daily Office of 1968 and 1974.

Christianity is always a religion of specifics, of time and place and people. Including the names of the three young men is important. “He will know you by your name”. Jesus is Jesus of Nazareth, clergy must be ordained to a place. The Incarnation makes us people of the particular not the generic.

Even more importantly, in these days of increased anti-semitism we should do everything we can to remember that Christianity has its origins in Judaism, that Jesus was Jewish. We need to remember Ananias, Azarias and Mizael, and remember that they were part of the people Israel.

I propose that CW be amended in the following way, and that we paste restored versions of the text in our books, in CWDP it is only page 603 that needs replacing, and in fact only the last part of the Canticle. Perhaps someone on General Synod might work towards a formal correction to restore our Anglican heritage and biblical faith?

The final two lines after the Christian doxology are a repeat from earlier in the Canticle and reproduce the pattern of the Benedicite as it appears in the Roman Catholic Divine Office, this maintains the four line stanzas but could be omitted to end with a two line doxology. Israel is replaced at verse 11. I have proposed the spelling of the names as they appear in The Divine Office to enhance ecumenical consensus, and because they are easier to pronounce and sing than the softer Mishael in NRSV.

(PDF link and pictures below).

1    Bless the Lord all you works of the Lord:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

2    Bless the Lord you heavens:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

3    Bless the Lord you angels of the Lord:

      bless the Lord all you his hosts;

      bless the Lord you waters above the heavens:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

4    Bless the Lord sun and moon:

      bless the Lord you stars of heaven;

      bless the Lord all rain and dew:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

5    Bless the Lord all winds that blow:

      bless the Lord you fire and heat;

      bless the Lord scorching wind and bitter cold:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

6    Bless the Lord dews and falling snows:

      bless the Lord you nights and days;

      bless the Lord light and darkness:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

7    Bless the Lord frost and cold:

      bless the Lord you ice and snow;

      bless the Lord lightnings and clouds:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

8    O let the earth bless the Lord:

      bless the Lord you mountains and hills;

      bless the Lord all that grows in the ground:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

9    Bless the Lord you springs:

      bless the Lord you seas and rivers;

      bless the Lord you whales and all that swim in the waters:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

10  Bless the Lord all birds of the air:

      bless the Lord you beasts and cattle;

      bless the Lord all people on earth:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

11  O Israel bless the Lord:

      bless the Lord you priests of the Lord;

      bless the Lord you servants of the Lord:

      sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

12  Bless the Lord all you of upright spirit:

     bless the Lord you that are holy and humble in heart;

     Bless the Lord,  Ananias,  Azarias, Mizael,

     sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

Bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: 

sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord you heavens:  

sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

The Song of the Three 35–65

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing.


Benedicite restored



In a discussion on my Facebook page Andrew Burnham and Trevor Lloyd who were members of the Liturgical Commission that created CWDP, comment on the source of the omission, below are the key bits which provide a fascinating insight into the process of Liturgical revision.

Trevor’s final sentence is significant:

“As to the general principle, I think you have to balance the undoubted attraction of a bit of semitic local colour with the mission problem that it can sound a bit mumbo-jumbo-ish to people who are ignorant of the history.”

My own preference would be to teach what people are ignorant of and to suggest that including the names is more theologically significant than just “semitic local colour”, as I have indicated above.

And on Twitter today this, on the 1789 BCP:


UPDATE (31/12/18)

Thank you to an American correspondent who points out that the American BCP has always (since 1789) omitted the names, although keeping ‘Israel’ which became ‘people of God’ in the 1979 edition. If anybody has a commentary on the 1789 prayer book which explains this I would be glad to hear from you.

Interestingly, the Scottish Prayer Book, which the US BCP 1789 followed in many places, does include the names.

This is what E C Racliffe says in his chapter on the Choir Offices in Liturgy and Worship: A Companion to the Prayer Books of the Anglican Communion, SPCK, 1959, ed WK Lowther Clarke. It was Racliffe who edited the 1948 BBC Psalter which omitted the names but he doesn’t refer to the omission here, although does call for a restoration of the proper doxology.

This what the Oxford Prayer Book Commentary, Massey Hamilton Shepherd, OUP 1959, has to say:


This refrain/ antiphon adds to the specificity and biblical origins of the Canticle.

Source: Conception Abbey


  1. In my last position as rector before retirement, for the 22 years, with the support of parishioners, we used BCP – and the favourite service (polled) was Morning Prayer (replacing the Ante Communion) and Communion. We sang the Benedicite in Advent and Lent to a simple chant, a very appropriate reminder of the environment. However, we sang the opening words twice (O ye works of God, bless ye the Lord) so that three-fold pattern of this canticle was apparent – e.g. winter & summer, dews & frosts, frost and cold… earth, mountains & hills, green things … wells, seas & floods, whales.. et seq. I have never been able to find the source of the chant though it was commonly used in Sydney Diocese when I was a boy in the 40s. If anyone would like it, I can provide it – from


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