A canticle (from the Latin) means 'little song'). It is mostly used in Christian contexts, where it has two main meanings:
- One of a small number of special hymns, or songs of worship , whose use has long been established. ("In the English Prayer-Book applied only to the Benedicite; but often used also of the Benedictus, Jubilate, Magnificat, Cantate, Nunc Dimittis, and Deus misereatur, and sometimes of the Te Deum - OED.) A canticle forms part of most orders of service where these are prescribed.
- Different denominations recognize different canticles as canonical. Anglicans use the Venite, Te Deum (a medieval, rather than biblical, text) or Benedicite, the Benedictus or Jubilate Deo at Morning Prayer, and the Magnificat or Nunc dimittis at Evening Prayer. Roman Catholics use seven canticles from the Old Testament, and the same three New Testament ones as the Anglican. The OT ones are: the "Canticle of the Three Children" on Sundays (and Festivals); the "Canticle of Isaias the Prophet" on Mondays; the "Canticle of Ezechias" on Tuesdays; the "Canticle of Anna" on Wednesdays; the "Canticle of Moses" on Thursdays; the "Canticle of Habacuc" on Fridays; and the "Canticle of Moses" on Saturdays. The NT canticles used by Catholics are: the Benedictus, or Song of Zechariah/Canticle of Zachary at the service of Lauds, in the early morning; the Magnificat, or Canticle of the Bl. Mary Virgin, at Vespers, in the evening; and the Nunc dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon at Compline, the last service of the day. The Eastern Churches regularly use nine Canticles: the First Song of Moses, or the 'Song of the Sea', as in Exodus 15:1-19; the (Second) Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43); the 'Song [or Prayer] of Hannah' (Samuel 2:1-10; The Prayer of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1-19); The Prayer of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:9-20); The Prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2:2-9; The Prayer of the Fiery furnace [or Three Holy Children] (Daniel 3:26-56); The Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88); the Magnificat (or 'The Song of the Theotokos') (Luke 1:46-55) and the Benedictus (or 'Song of Zacharias') (Luke 1:68-79).