An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Nunc dimittis

Canticle based on the words of Simeon, who recognized the infant Jesus to be the Messiah at the Presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:29-32). It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. When Simeon saw the child Jesus he took him up in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.” Simeon was peaceful and ready to face death because he had seen the long-expected Messiah. The canticle is also known as the Song of Simeon. The term Nunc dimittis is from the initial words of the Song of Simeon in Latin, which mean “now let depart.” The canticle is identified as the canticle for Evening Office by the Apostolic Constitutions of the late fourth century. In the seventh century, Pope Sergius (d. 701) introduced in Rome a procession with candles and the singing of the Nunc dimittis to celebrate the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. The day came to be known as “Candlemas.” The Nunc dimittis became the canticle for use at Compline in the west. It was also used as the canticle following the second lesson at Evensong in the 1549 BCP. It has appeared in this place in every subsequent Prayer Book except the 1789 BCP. The 1979 BCP uses the Nunc dimittis after the second lesson at Evening Prayer (p. 120) and near the conclusion of Compline (p. 135). At the Burial of the Dead, the Nunc dimittis may be used as an anthem as the body is borne from the church after the commendation. The Nunc dimittis also appears as Canticles 5 and 17 for optional use at Morning Prayer (pp. 51, 93). The Hymnal 1982 provides musical settings of the Nunc dimittis (S 196-S 200, S 254-S 260). The Hymnal 1982 Accompaniment Edition, Vol. 1 also provides musical settings of the Nunc dimittis (S 395, S 405).

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.