Singing of St. Paul’s Conversion

January 25th is one of the holy days in the Church year, and a momentous event in the early years of Christianity: the conversion of St. Paul.

Last year I wrote a note about the Collect of the Day which you’re welcome to peruse.

Today I thought I’d highlight a hymn verse appropriate for today, from Horatio Nelson’s 1864 fill-in-the-blank hymn, From all thy saints in warfare.

Praise for the light from heaven,
Praise for the voice of awe,
Praise for the glorious vision
the persecutor saw.
Thee, Lord, for his conversion,
we glorify today;
So lighten all our darkness
With thy true Spirit’s ray.

What we have here is such wonderful Epiphany language – the star the Magi followed, the light to lighten the Gentiles, the light from heaven that blinded St. Paul before his conversion and until his baptism.  The light of the Gospel lightens our darkness, it made St. Paul (and us) truly see.

Think on that today; what has the Light of the World done unto you?

Book Review: The American Psalter

A couple years ago I jumped on a rare offer: someone was selling a pile of old and out-of-print books of liturgical music and I managed to procure a nice stack.  The downside with them is that they are keyed to the traditional lectionary and calendar, so very little of it is stuff that I can use in my own church without careful adaptation and re-purposing.  But if I do end up in a 1928 Prayer Book parish some day, or start up a traditional service, this vintage materials could be super handy.

The book I’ve ended up using the most, in my own devotions, is The American Psalter, published by The H. W.  Gray Company in 1930, for the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The Preface provides a quick history of Anglican Chant, noting John Merbecke and dwelling particularly on Thomas Tallis, both from the first century of the English Reformation.  Some people accuse Anglican Chant of being an Anglo-Catholic invention of the 19th century; historical information like this helps bust that myth.  The method of “pointing”, that is, matching the text to the chant tune, is outlined, noting its diverse methods over the years since, and works its way toward explaining how the present volume works, and how to sing its contents.

The American Psalter contains chants for the “Choral Service” (that is, the main prayers and responses of the Daily Office), Anglican Chant tunes for the various Canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, and all 150 Psalms.  A handful of other anthems are provided after, and every chant tune is indexed in the end.  Of course, the text of all these canticles and psalms match the 1928 Prayer Book, but now that we have the New Coverdale Psalter in the 2019 Prayer Book, with verbiage that closely resembles the original Prayer Book Psalter, it is pleasantly easy to line up this 90-year-old book with our brand-new Prayer Book.  I used it pretty frequently this past summer, as I began to settle into the 2019 BCP and got into a chanting mood for a while.

Now, this book is probably hard to find these days, so in a sense writing about it today, in 2020, seems a bit silly.  How are you, the reader, going to benefit from this?  I’ll share an example of an insight from this book that may spark creativity from my fellow modern-day chanters.  Several Psalms are quite long, and using the same chant for fifteen minutes could get monotonous.  What The American Psalter does is break up a long psalm into multiple chants.Psalm 107This isn’t the whole of Psalm 107, but you can get the idea.  It begins (on the previous page) with a cheerful Single Chant in D Major for three verses “O Give thanks unto the Lord…” followed by a somber Single Chant in D Minor for verses 4 & 5 “They went astray in the wilderness…”  Then, on the pages shown in the picture above, the Psalm switches between about three different-but-related chants reflecting the different voices and moods as the narrative of Psalm 107 unfolds.

This is probably the most complex example; other long psalms receive more simple treatment.  Psalm 109 spends verses 1-4 in a pleasant C Major Double Chant, changes to an A Minor Double Chant with a similar melodic contour for verses 5-19, and switches back to the original chant for verses 20-30.  Even simpler is Psalm 44, wherein verses 1-9 are sung with a Double Chant in G Major, and verses 10-26 sung in the exact same chant tune transposed to G Minor.

The underlying lesson here is that chanting does not have to be boring or unimaginative.  The wealth of chant tunes, and the ease with which one can edit them, opens up a world of musical possibilities.  Opting for Anglican Chant in your church does not have to mean that your skilled musicians are out of a job!  Yes, chanting is extremely simple, and you don’t need particularly talented musicians to make it happen (which is kind of the point of chant, really, being something simple for all voices to join in), but there is still room for talent, creativity, and skill to step in.

Anyway, don’t go out of your way to track down a copy of this book unless you’re particularly trying to build a church music resource library.  Instead, keep your eye on the ACNA committee for music’s Psalter Page.  They’re still pretty early in their work of compiling chant psalters for the 2019 Prayer Book, so if you’ve got ideas, encouragements, or questions, now’s your chance to make a difference!

A New Epiphany Hymn: “On this clear night”

One of the things I quite enjoy about the Book of Common Praise 2017, or as its latest edition is named, Magnify the Lord, is that it has a number of contemporary songs and hymns.  Yes, contemporary hymns too.  Hymn #87, in the Epiphany section, was written by Cynthia Erlandson in 1997.  Like the older classic Songs of thankfulness and praise, this new hymn outlines the Gospel themes of the traditional Epiphanytide, and does so brilliantly.

On this clear night, led by a star much brighter than the rest,
Wise Gentiles travel west to see God’s Wisdom manifest:
Emmanuel has come to earth in human vesture dressed.

Incense and gold they give to him, the King whom Herod fears,
To those who see the Light of lights, salvation now appears,
Ordained before all times until the fullness of the years.

The boy Messiah’s wisdom in the temple soon is heard,
The wond’ring scribes astonished by God’s flesh-encompassed Word,
More powerful, more piercing than a soul-dividing sword.

In Jordan, God’s beloved Son fulfills all righteousness,
Baptized by John, the prophet, crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare a highway for our God, the way of holiness.”

Thus marked, the Groom-to-be as guest performs a wondrous sign:
At wedding feast, the Word-made-flesh turns water into wine,
The best has been withheld till now: the fruit of Christ the Vine.

To one born blind, the world’s true Light reveals a radiant sight:
The vision of his kingdom, coming into earth’s dark night.
Unto his saints, once blind to Truth, the healer shows his might.

Unto the Father, Son, and Spirit, Holy Trinity,
The Three in One, the one and only glorious Deity,
All praise and honor be for Jesus’ great epiphany.  Amen.

This is set to the tune MORNING SONG, which is better known for the text Awake, awake, to love and work.

The poetry of Mrs. Erlandson’s lyrics are striking, often matching similar names and titles for Jesus in the first and second lines of a given verse.  Several of them are hyphenated, or at least multi-word titles, drawing from the rich treasures of biblical language to expound our Savior in the various epiphany gospel stories recounted here.  The best poems, lyrics, and songs are really just sermons in artistic format, and this one definitely fits the bill.

If you want to see what else she has written, I would point you to the book The Slumbering Host, which is just now being released from Little Gidding Press.  I had a small role in wrangling the typesetting and formatting of this book, and would be very happy to see the fame of its many poet-contributors spread abroad.  You’ll find that Mrs. Erlandson’s contribution to this book is of a similar style to this epiphany hymn: another poem that explores a foundational Christian doctrine sequentially in three-line stanzas.

An Ember Day Hymn

The Advent Ember Days are upon us (see the link if you need a refresher on what ember days are).  A set of Ember Days comes around every three months or so, so we get to enjoy them with a different contextual emphasis each time.  In this time of year, having just heard about St. John the Baptist on the previous Sunday gives an interesting angle on the ministry: preaching the gospel, calling for repentance, baptizing, all good stuff.

But we’re in the thick of Advent, and chances are you don’t have a lot of spare time for a midweek Communion or Antecommunion service, so how about you take a page out of my book (figuratively for now) and include an appropriate hymn in your ordinary rounds of worship today?  The one appointed in this customary’s daily hymnody cycle is Pour out thy Spirit from on high.  The lyrics in the 2017 hymnal read thus:

Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, thine assembled servants bless;
Graces and gifts to each supply,
And clothe thy priests with righteousness.

Before thine altar when we stand
To teach the truth as taught by thee,
Savior, like stars in thy right hand
The angels of thy churches be.

Wisdom, and zeal, and faith impart,
Firmness with meekness from above,
To bear thy people on our heart,
And love the souls whom thou dost love;

To watch, and pray, and never faint,
By day and night strict guard to keep,
To warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
Nourish the lambs, and feed thy sheep.

Then, when our work is finished here,
We may in hope our charge resign.
When the Chief Shepherd shall appear,
O God, may they and we be thine!  Amen.

This hymn is unusual in that it’s spoken mostly from the minister’s voice.  In that sense, it’s almost not a congregational song, which is very unusual indeed.  But, knowing that a fair number of clergymen read this, I can happily commend this hymn to you as a lovely prayer indeed for our character and our work.

I’m not going to break down all the scriptural references in this hymn, but a few should be noted: “clothe thy priests with righteousness” is in Psalm 132 and the Daily Office Suffrage.  The reference to being “stars” and “angels” is from Revelation 1.  The call to faintless watching and prayer is reminiscent of Jesus’ later teachings about anticipating the Kingdom of God, echoed a bit in St. Paul’s writings, and is particularly appropriate to the Advent season.

So please, take a moment today or Friday* to sing or pray this hymn, or others like it, on behalf of your bishop(s), priests, and deacons.  We need all the prayer we can get!

 

* Ember Days usually come in threes: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but this year we “lose” Saturday’s Ember Day to the feast of St. Thomas.

An Ancient Advent Hymn

There’s an Advent Hymn that I’ve wanted to point out to people for a while, and I figured I’d pull it up for you all at this blog.  It’s called Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding, and the reason why I’ve had it in mind is because it quotes the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in its first verse.

… except, as I suddenly realized as I sat down to write about it, this hymn was written in around the 6th century.  So it’s probably not quoting the Collect as we know it.  But it’s making the same Romans 13 reference as the Collect, which means that the way we collect Scripture together to develop the themes of Advent is the way the Church has done it for over 1,500 years.  Let’s check it out.

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

There it is, our “cast away the works of darkness” reference from Romans 13.  Christ is near, we are children of the day, so put on the armor of light.

Waken’d by the solemn warning;
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.

The theme of waking up, or staying awake, is also a prominent refrain in Advent hymnody and Scripture.  Christ as the morning star, or the sun at dawn, is also a common Advent image, depicting his Return as the beginning of a new and eternal day.

Lo! the Lamb, so long-expected,
Comes with pardon down from heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiv’n.

Now we’ve got an echo of “Come thou long expected Jesus” (another Advent hymn).  And this third verse also highlights something that tends to get downplayed by a number of people today: Advent is a penitential season.

So when next he comes with glory,
And the world is wrapped in fear,
May he with his mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
With the everlasting Spirit,
While unending ages run.

I think it’s nice to see the same conflicting emotions from the 500’s that we have today when it comes to the subject of eternity and judgment: fear, mercy, and love.

The Trinitarian doxology in the final verse, by the way, is characteristic of ancient hymns.  It’s impressive how many subtly different ways people find to praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same 8.7.8.7 meter.

Another great thing about this hymn is that it fits anytime during Advent.  The reference to the first Sunday’s Collect makes it especially good for the first Sunday (in modern prayer book tradition, which no longer repeats that Collect throughout the season).  It also appeals well to the Collect for the 4th Sunday, so the end of the season works as well for this song as the beginning.  But apart from that, the wide sweep of classic Advent themes make this hymn great for any time in the season.

Harvest Home (but which one?)

Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving hymn is Come, ye thankful people, come, also known in other books as Harvest Home.  Typically when dealing with hymns and songs on this blog, I stay away from the most popular entries, since people are more likely to have learned something about them already.  But this one… well, let’s just go for it and we’ll see what happens.

This is a great Thanksgiving Hymn, picking up immediately on one of the key origins for this holiday: the end of the harvest season.  Hence the first stanza:

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in
‘Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest-home.

Pretty straight forward, yes?  God is the creator and supplier of all things, that time of year draws to its close, so let’s go worship and thank him.  Simple.  Almost too simple.  But the second stanza is where things start to transform:

All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then then full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

Suddenly, while keeping the same imagery, the theological meaning has completely changed!  Now the field is God’s creation, the purpose of creation is praise him, wheat and tares grow together in the church, and we are called (planted) to bear the fruit of praise and thanksgiving.  Several parables and teachings of Jesus can be seen here, both distinctly and discreetly, and whether you follow either the 2019 prayer book or the traditional prayer book Sunday lectionary, themes like these have become prominent in recent weeks.

But we’re not done yet; stanza 3 takes it to another level:

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take his harvest home,
From his field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Give his angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In his garner evermore.

Woah.  The return of Christ!  Judgement day!  The angelic harvest of the church… again the same parables alluded to, but now with a distinctly Advent theme.  This song can singlehandedly transition the worshiper from late Trinity to Advent!  The 4th and final stanza turns this into a prayer:

Even so, Lord, quickly come
To thy final harvest-home;
Gather thou thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In thy presence to abide;
Come with all thine angels, come;
Raise the glorious harvest-home.  Amen.

“Come, Lord Jesus” is the prayer at the end of the book of Revelation, and a key theme of the season of Advent (indeed, it is the Acclamation at the beginning of the modern Communion liturgy.)

It helps a great deal that Thanksgiving Day normally lands three days before the beginning of Advent, like it does this year.  Occasionally Thanksgiving is early enough that there’s still one Sunday left before Advent, but however it works in a given year, this hymn is a fantastic end-of-the-year song to sing.  There are a handful of Thanksgiving songs that I really like, and even more available in most hymnals, so I kind of feel bad appointing it every year at the expense of the others… but you know what?  I think this one’s worth it.

Thanksgiving Hymns

Thanksgiving Day, in the USA, is always the 4th Thursday in November, which makes it land on the 22nd (at the earliest) through the 28th (at the latest).  This year it’s on the 28th, the latest possible date.  There’s a fun fact for you!

But that’s not why we’re here.  The point of Thanksgiving is not its unusual calendar date challenge, but in taking time to be particularly attentive to the great virtue and practice of giving thanks.  You know that never-ending question “What is God’s will for my life?”… well, consider this as one of the answers:

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Anyway, if you look in most hymnals (American hymnals at least, I don’t know for sure about other countries) you will find a section of Thanksgiving Hymns.  Most of them are keyed to the harvest, which is one of the major sources for the timing of Thanksgiving in the US (and probably also Canada… theirs is a month earlier, but perhaps their growing season ends earlier than ours?).  And so, when constructing a sing-the-hymnal-in-a-year plan, the simple idea in my mind was to spread out the Thanksgiving Hymns through the period of time in which Thanksgiving Day might land.  When I originally did this with the 1940 hymnal, I keyed it to Thanksgiving Day and the weekdays leading up to it and following it, but the 2017 hymnal, Book of Common Praise, has more Thanksgiving Hymns, so instead they are lined up with the seven days in which Thanksgiving Day could land, plus an extra day before and after.  Here’s the list:

  • 21 Nov. #199 We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing
  • 22 Nov. #200/201 Now thank we all our God
  • 23 Nov. #202 Give thanks with a grateful heart (1978 praise song)
  • 24 Nov. #203 Come, ye thankful people, come (Harvest Home)
  • 25 Nov. #204 We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
  • 26 Nov. #205 Thank you, Lord (African-American spiritual)
  • 27 Nov. #206/207 For the beauty of the earth
  • 28 Nov. #208 Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
  • 29 Nov. #209 Sing to the Lord of harvest

Some of these have two numbers because in this hymnal alternate tunes for the same lyrics get separate numbers – not all hymnals handle this the same way.

If you have a different hymnal at home, feel free to find these songs in your book, or simply read/sing through what you’ve got at an appropriate time.  I sometimes wish we could have a “Thanksgiving Sunday” instead of Christ the King Sunday, so we could have a chance to sing some of these truly marvellous songs with the whole congregation, rather than the weekday chosen few.

A Pre-Advent Hymn: Behold! the mountain of the Lord

Recently we discussed the transitional features of the month of November, how All Saints Day kicks off a sequence of Sundays in calendars both old and new, that increasingly anticipate the season of Advent.  You can revisit that here if you need.  Today I thought I’d put theory into example – let’s look at a hymn that fits into this time of year.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord is not a hymn that’s super famous, as far as I know.  I didn’t pick it with any special interest in mind; it’s simply the hymn appointed for Friday in the week of Proper 26 in this Customary’s daily hymnody plan.  As you get toward the back of most hymnals (at least Anglican ones), you start getting into the eschatological stuff – church triumphant, kingdom of God, sabbath rest… themes like that which play perfectly into this season’s thematic features.  So that’s where this hymn comes in.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain-tops above the hills,
And draw the wond’ring eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues, shall flow;
“Up to the hill of God,” they’ll say,
“And to his house we’ll go.”

This is a pretty close approximation of Isaiah 2:2-3 and Micah 4:1-2.  As I recall, Micah picked up a lot of Isaiah’s themes and ideas in his prophetic writings, so the close similarities between those two texts should be no surprise.  Let’s continue.

The beam that shines from Zion shill
Shall lighten ev’ry land;
The King who reigns in Salem’s tow’rs
Shall all the world command.

Among the nations he shall judge;
His judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just,
And quell the sinner’s pride.

Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4 are particular inspirations behind these two stanzas.  Curiously, this hymn is so faithful to the biblical text that it never actually names the King as Jesus for us.  Hopefully that much is obvious to the singer.  The section header, KINGDOM OF GOD, in this hymnal, helps direct our interpretation of these words too – we’re directed to look past earthly-kingdom fulfillments of the Prophets’ words, and look to the heavenly kingdom that Christ is inaugurating even now in his Church.

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feud
Disturb those peaceful years;
To plowshares men shall beat their swords,
To pruning hooks their spears.

No longer hosts*, encount’ring hosts,
Shall crowds of slain deplore;
They hang the trumpet in the hall,
And study war no more.

Come then, O house of Jacob! come
To worship at his shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.

Wrapping up with adaptations of Isaiah 2:4-5 and Micah 4:3 and 5, we celebrate the great peace of heaven in the age to come.

In a culture that is much better at writing and singing celebratory Christmas music, hymns like these, which draw out forward-looking Advent themes, are very helpful for us.  Lyrics like these are meditations on the Last Things, the Christian goal, the telos** of creation.  And that’s a great way to get into the Advent spirit!

* hosts means armies
** telos is Greek for end (in the sense of a purpose, or goal)

The Singing Schedule has changed

Did you know that The Saint Aelfric Customary offers a sing-the-hymnal-in-a-year plan, for the Book of Common Praise (2017) put out by the Reformed Episcopal Church – a subjurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America?  It’s true, and you can read about it here.  Like the Bible, thanks to the daily office lectionary with its expansion, and like the options in the Prayer Book itself, the principle of completionism is at work here.  The idea of completionism is that if (or as) these books are fully authorized and endorsed by ecclesiastical authority, it is right and good for the Christian to (at least have a means to) read or make use of every page in its appropriate time.

Even if you’re not using this daily hymnody plan, at least skip to the last paragraph for a calendar insight.

With the hymnal, as we draw near the end of the liturgical year, the pace of the hymnody has changed.  From Trinity Sunday until this past Sunday (Proper 24) it has brought us two hymns almost every day of the week, working through the bulk of the General Hymns half of the book.  The “Christian Warfare” section has been running its course for the past week or so, some of it lining up neatly with the war stories of 1 & 2 Maccabees.  But now we’re down to one hymn a day, allowing more room for the Morning & Evening Hymns, and generally decreasing the time it takes to say the Office.  But there’s another practical reason also…

As the month of November approaches, the number of holy days increases.  The second half of October is unusually rich with major feast days but November starts off with All Saints’ Day, which is one of the seven principle feasts of the year, and includes Thanksgiving Day.  Both of these holidays have a substantial number of hymns associated with them, and therefore the regular progress through the hymnal is slowed at this to make room for the numerous special hymns of the season.  More than half of the days in November have at least one holiday hymn appointed for them.  So if you’re not normally a user of the hymnal in the rounds of daily worship, this time of year is a good one to consider picking one up and giving it a try on occasion.  Here are some of the hymns coming up, for your consideration:

  • 23 Oct. (St. James) – #195 Rise again, ye lion-hearted
  • 28 Oct. (Sts. Simon & Jude)- #169v20 From all the saints in warfare
  • 31 Oct. – #617 Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
  • 1 Nov. (All Saints’) – #186 For all the saints, #193 Lord, who shall come to thee
  • 2 Nov. (Commemoration of the faithful departed)
    – #187 Behold a host, arrayed in white, #319 O Lord, my God, I cry to thee
  • 3 Nov. (now filling out the All Saints/Souls Octave)
    – #191 Who are these like stars appearing
  • 4 Nov. – #192 I sing a song of the saints of God
  • 5 Nov. – #194  The saints of God! their conflict past
  • 6 Nov. – #318 Tempted and tried
  • 7 Nov. – #320 I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds
  • 8 Nov. (now leading to Veteran’s/Remembrance Day)
    – #215 Thou by heav’nly hosts adored
  • 9 Nov. – #216 Rejoice, O land
  • 10 Nov. – #217 God bless our native land
  • 11 Nov. – #218 God of our fathers, whose almighty hand

How not to use music in church

Don’t worry, this is not going to be a style-bashing article.  Although we have looked almost exclusively at traditional hymnody on this blog, I have always maintained that there is a place for contemporary songs and styles in the liturgy.  There is more work involved when it comes to discerning the value and use of a new song, if at least because no previous generations have already done that work for us, but I don’t proclaim an “inherent value” of one style over another.  Chant is precious, hymnody is precious, and the various culture-specific expressions of worship music are precious too, at least in their home cultural contexts.

Rather, when I come up with a title “How not to use music in church“, I am concerned with the function of music in the liturgy.  The basic worship-related axiom for us as Anglicans must always be this: the Prayer Book is our liturgy.  Everything else, including music, is brought in to support the frame and plan of worship set out therein.  An opening song is not to “get people in the mood,” but to open the door between heaven and earth; an offertory song is not to “fill time during the collection”, but to reflect on the sermon, or the theme of offering, or begin meditation on the Communion; a closing song is not to “go out with a bang”, but to wrap up the themes heard that morning and/or send the people out into the world to do all the good works the Lord has prepared for them to walk in.  We take our cues from the Book of Common Prayer; it shows us how to worship, and keeps the Scriptures at the forefront, provided we don’t drown it in excessive music (or excessive incense, or excessive spontaneous prayer, or anything else).

To this end, I encourage you to read this article that came up earlier this week: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ponderanew/2018/04/20/a-call-to-reject-the-orgasmic-worship-experience-and-return-to-liturgy/

I know not everyone will read it, so I’ll give a brief summary.  The author is critiquing the methodology of popular megachurch-inspired “worship”, which uses music in very powerful ways.  He uses the analogy of a sexual experience, where a standard set of five songs works like this:

  1. Set the mood (while people are still settling into the service)
  2. Musical foreplay (building momentum)
  3. Experience ecstasy (the song that goes big and all-out)
  4. Bask in the afterglow (a quiet, restful, meditative song in which to “linger”)
  5. Get up and make breakfast (last song starting gentle but ends with a bang)

Some call this emotional manipulation.  I’ve called it “addict spirituality.”  Whatever you call it, the problem is this: music is used as a substitute not only for liturgy, but for biblical reflection and intellectual participation.  This is worship according to the doctrine of “Sola Feels” as some, snarkier than I, have put it.

Where the article I linked to above falls short, I think, is setting out the clear corrective to the obvious abuse-with-music problem.  The Prayer Book liturgy does have emotional ups and downs, a rise and relax, high points and lows.  The steps of Collect of the Day, Old Testament reading, Psalm, Epistle, Gradual/Sequence music, and Gospel, form an upward movement leading us closer and closer to Jesus, until we plateau at the Sermon and Creed (in whichever order).  Similarly, the Prayers, Confession, and Great Thanksgiving form another upward movement toward the high point of walking up the aisle and receiving Holy Communion.

These can be emotionally-experienced too, but we needn’t force that like megachurch liturgy does with its music sets.  It can be oh-so-tempting for some evangelical Anglicans to mimic the worship forms of their former church homes, or of the large “successful” church down the street.  But we have to remember that this model of worship they put forth is manipulative, sexualized, and encourages addiction rather than devotion.  We would not do well to try to import such practices into our own.  The liturgy already has ups and downs, highs and lows, variations of intensity, which are much more time-tested, much more biblical in pattern, and contain far more Scripture in its prayers and dialogues than a megachurch music set can ever hope to achieve.

Can some of their individual pieces of music find a home in our liturgy?  Absolutely!  But, just as with traditional hymns, the music minister or priest has to use wisdom and discernment to apply the right pieces of music to the right parts of the worship service such that the liturgy is reinforced, not shaken apart.