Sunday, May 11, 2008

Favorite Whitsunday hymn

Today is Pentecost, née Whitsunday, a once major feast that has fallen into some neglect. Over on GetReligion, Lutheran Mollie Hemingway (one of the would-be saviors of Issues Etc.) had a very good article on the limited coverage of Pentecost, the birth of the church. At church today, we celebrated the occasion with birthday cake, although without the rector’s admonishment (as at our previous church) to wear the liturgical red that evokes the tongues of fire of the first Pentecost.

Today was the first time this year my wife and I got a chance to sing Vaughan Williams’ Salve Festa Dies. It is one of five Whitsunday hymns (plus two alternate tunes) in my favorite hymnal. (It is also one of eight Pentecost hymns — including alternate tunes — in the current PECUSA hymnal, although 33% of the verses have been lobotomized).

The music director at our current church refuses to schedule “Hail Thee Festival Day” at Easter, holding off to the last possible usage. My wife and I grew up singing it at all three major feasts — Easter, Ascension, and Whitsunday — so much that the feasts seem empty without it.

In his wonderful hymn companion, Ian Bradley notes that the Whitsunday version “is the most widely used nowadays, appearing in the hymnbooks of a number of different denominations and not just, as it once did, in those of a High Anglican persuasion.”

Dr. Bradley notes that the Fortunatus poem (reprinted in a 13th century Sarum missal) was the Easter version (the one that comes to mind when I hear the tune), translated for the 1906 COE hymnal by George Gabriel Scott Gillett. He concludes
All the Festival Day hymns owe much of their modern popularity to the vigorous unison tune Salve festa dies which Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed for their appearance in the English Hymnal in 1906.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rome to Anglicans: time to end your fudge

Religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill of The Times of London had an explosive posting this week on her blog:
Hard words for Anglicans from the head of the Council for Christian Unity in Rome. Cardinal Walter Kasper has told the Catholic Herald that now, with Lambeth approaching, is the time for Anglicans to decide whether they are Catholic or Protestant.

'Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong?' he said. 'Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -Catholic and Orthodox - or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions.'

The genius of Anglicanism has always been its ability to straddle the divide, but maybe the Cardinal is right and the Communion's present difficulties reflect the impossibility of continuing to do this.
The posting has attracted many comments, including a variety of political and theological perspectives. But let me quote two:
Hasn't this always been obvious to people [who disagree] that the [Anglican] failure to have a coherent theology is a genius, [but] rather [believe it to be] a crippling flaw.

If Anglicanism is Catholic then why are half the Anglican congregations not very Catholic at all, and if it is Protestant then what is Walsingham all about? Anglicanism does need to make up its mind, and maybe that will require that it become the 3 or 4 Churches it really is. It cannot be either Catholic or Protestant while it is trying to be both.
Another helpfully quotes the Cardinal himself:
Cardinal Kasper has already touched on the subject in his 2004 book, “That all may be one- the call to Christian unity today”

“Thus we are confronted with two different approaches: on the one hand, the universally-oriented, episcopal approach of the Anglicans and some Lutheran churches, inspired by ancient church tradition; and, on the other hand, a more local, community-centred, presbyteral approach.

Behind the two approaches lie different interpretations of the precise intention of the Reformation. Did the Reformers intend to renew the then universal Church, maintaining continuity with its fundamental structure, as the Augsburg Confession (1530) suggests? Or was the development of a new type and paradigm of the Church an inevitable and deliberate consequence of their actions? Is there a fundamental consensus or - as many state nowadays - a fundamental difference?
I would be inclined to agree with the Cardinal — like Gledhill and many of the commenters — that the “Anglican fudge” has reached the end, and that the fissures can no longer be papered over.

In England, there’s enough parishioners to split Anglicanism into 3 or 4 Churches, but in the US you couldn’t. However, part of PECUSA wants to be just like its bigger brother ELCA, so perhaps those two could merge. And the evangelical wing might align with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, assuming they get to keep their bishops. Not sure where us Anglo-Catholics are supposed to go — become Anglican Rite Catholics?