The concluding formula that was historically prescribed in the Latin rite for the Divine Office. Before the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, it was also used as an alternate concluding formula for masses when the Gloria was not sung. The earliest traces of the Benedicamus as a concluding formula at Mass are to be found in the Gallican liturgy c. 800 (Bishop, Liturgica historica 323; Theodulf of Orleans, Capitulare 2; see gallican rites, chants of).
As a replacement for the ite, missa est in the Roman rite it appears, under Galilean influence, for the first time in the 11th century (Bernold of Constance, Micrologus 19, Patrologia latina 151:990). The criterion for its use to replace the Ite appears to have been twofold. First, it was used on days when the Mass did not have a Gloria. Thus, the idea developed that the Ite was an expression of joy to be used only on festive days, while the Benedicamus was substituted on days of a more penitential character. Similarly, the Requiescant in pace began to replace the Ite in Requiem Masses from about the 12th century. Second, it was used when the divine service continued, as at the midnight Mass of Christmas when Lauds followed, or on Holy Thursday when the procession with the Blessed Sacrament followed the evening Mass.
The medieval melodies for the Benedicamus Domino may be grouped in three basic categories: (1) those composed for the Divine Office (e.g., Lauds and Vespers); (2) those adapted from the Ite, missa est melodies for use at Mass; and (3) those composed especially for the Mass. The melodies composed for use at the Divine Office show the greatest sensitivity toward the characteristics of the Latin language: the adapted melodies for use at Mass are decidedly inferior in this regard. The Benedicamus tropes, as found in early 12th-century MSS of the school of St. Martial in Limoges (Paris B.N. lat. 1120, 903, 887, nouv. acq. 1871), show the development of one of the most important structural devices in all medieval music: the tenor. Furthermore, the Benedicamus trope Humane prolis, also of the St. Martial school, has two simultaneously sung texts (the chief feature of the early motet). The Benedi camus trope Congaudeant catholici found in the Codex Calixtinus (c. 1140) of Santiago de Compostela is often cited as the oldest three-part composition known.
Bibliography: Antiphonale monasticum (Paris 1934). Gradual Romanum (New York 1961). j. handschin, "Trope, Sequence and Conductus," New Oxford History of Music 2:128–174. j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 1951–55) 2:434–437. g. reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York 1940). w. apel, Gregorian Chant (Bloomington, IN 1958).