On pages 107 & 125 of the Book of Common Prayer, 2019, the following rubric is found:
The Gloria or some other song of praise may be sung or said, all standing. It is appropriate to omit the song of praise during penitential seasons and days appointed for fasting.
This in itself is not a particularly strange rubric. The 1979 Prayer Book renders the Gloria optional, and it is already a widespread custom (rooted in Western liturgical tradition) that the Gloria should be omitted during Lent, Advent, and on other occasions of similar tone.
You can read more about the use (and even placement) of the Gloria in this article from last year’s series on the Communion liturgy. You will also find there some notes about evaluating songs to replace it which are worth re-stating here:
- If it is Advent or Lent, this is an excellent point at which to sing a hymn specially appointed for that season. Or just let the Decalogue stand on its own strength!
- At other times of the year, be sure it truly is a “song of praise”, as the rubric twice describes it. A song of praise does NOT talk about me/us, but sings only of God – his character and his works. The Gloria barely glances at “us”; let that set the standard for whatever replaces it.
What’s so weird about this, though?
I submit this under the banner of Weird Rubric Wednesday not because the rubric itself is weird, or even the reasons behind it are weird, but because some common executions of this rubric are pretty weird. And it’s on a sliding scale from “okay” to “weird” to just plain “bad”.
One approach to replacing the Gloria is to not simply put in one “song of praise,” but a whole set (say, three on average) of contemporary worship songs. Singing multiple songs here stretches the language of this rubric – “song” is in the singular, after all – but it’s not necessarily an outright violation. Besides, a lot of contemporary worship songs are shorter than hymns (in terms of word-count through the lyrics) so it’s not necessarily a bad idea to stack up two or three contemporary songs to form a substantial substitute for the Gloria or other single hymn of praise.
Sometimes that “okay” idea gets taken a step further: it’s a contemporary “worship set” of three-ish songs in a row, but they’re not brief. Instead they repeat their refrains multiple times and include interludes within or between the songs for people to sing or pray extemporaneously. This is popular evangelical worship practice, and has made its way into the practice of many Anglican churches. If you’re going to import other traditions into the Prayer Book tradition, this is probably the least disruptive point in the Communion liturgy in which to do it, though it is worth observing that many Anglicans find contemporary pop-evangelical worship theology incompatible with historic Protestant (as well as Catholic) theologies of worship. So music ministers and clergy alike should give careful thought to the use of music in the liturgy before stretching the rubrics this far.
It is not normally the purpose of this blog to call out bad liturgy; there’s enough grumpy negativity on the internet already. But occasionally problems in worship (just like problems in doctrine) do need to be confronted. Moving from “okay” to “weird” to “bad”, the next step in this descent would be to add the excesses of Pentecostalism: speaking in tongues, inviting “words of knowledge” to be shared, and other extemporaneous expressions of charismata according to 20th-century Pentecostal theology. Much of this runs in the face of St. Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 14, let alone an historic liturgical theology, but this has been known to happen in some Anglican churches today.
So what do you suggest?
When in doubt, keep it simple and consistent. Say or sing the Gloria for every Communion celebration on Sundays and Holy Days. For a short mid-week service, perhaps skip it entirely. During Lent, replace it with a Lent Hymn; during Advent, replace it with an Advent Hymn. Or just don’t sing anything at all after the Decalogue during those seasons – there’s a lot to be said for stark simplicity in worship, especially in our culture that is over-drenched with activity and sound.