Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beginning at the beginning

Today is the first day of the liturgical year, and (as with last year) the first hymn at the first service of the year was Hymn #1, “Come thou long expected Jesus.” The 18th century melody includes words by Charles Wesley, four of the eight verses he wrote in 1744 or 1745.

Prominent in Hymnal 1940, the hymn is buried as #66 in Hymnal 1982, but given all its failings as to political correctness, it’s a relief it’s still there. Strangely, the CoE wasn’t much interested in Wesley’s ditty (due to some sort of Anglican-Methodist split?) It’s nowhere to be found in the 1869 (Hymns Ancient and Modern), 1906 (The English Hymnal) or 1933 (Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition) CoE hymnals. It does show up in their 1986 Hymnal (New English Hymnal) as Hymn #3, although with tunes unfamiliar to American ears.

The liturgical index at the back of Hymnal 1940 recommends for morning services three other hymns from the Advent section: #7 (which we sang), #8 and #9 (which we skipped). It turns out we skipped the wrong one.

We began the service with the Advent I collect from the 1928 BCP (also found in the 1789 and 1892 BCP):
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
Apparently this is a collect from Thomas Cranmer himself.

Our rector emphasized “cast away the works of darkness” as the theme for his sermon and for all of Advent 2008. That familiar phrase sent me flipping pages in my hymnal. Sure enough, Verse 1 of Hymn #9 contained a parallel phrasing:
Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding:
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say.
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day!”
The Complete Book of Hymns (by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen) attributes the text to Malachi 4:2, Matthew 3:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5. None of these have the “cast away” metaphor of Cranmer or the hymn.

Hymnal 1940 attributes to a 6th century Latin text, translated by Edward Caswall. Other books on hymns and hymn writers don‘t discuss the hymn, perhaps because its origins are lost to history.

However, The Hymnal 1940 Companion says that the original Latin text has been attributed (non-authoritatively) to St. Ambrose (340-397). Let me pick up the story
In the Sarum and other English liturgies, it was assigned to Lauds for the First Sunday in Advent and then daily until Christmas Eve. It is found at this point of the litrugy in many manuscripts from the tenth century, although it may be somewhat older.
The companion also notes that the 1850 tune (Merton by William Henry Monk) “has been firmly wedded to this hymn since the original musical edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861.”

Finally, our communion hymn was #199, which uses a 1263 text by Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The tune, termed Pange Lingua, is a Mode III plainchant from the Sarum liturgy, and is also use for Hymn #66, which uses a 6th century text by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus. My references don’t provide a date for this tune, but the Sarum rite (from the great Norman cathedral in Salisbury) was written down (based on prior practice) sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Both Hymns (#9 and #199) are examples of the liturgical continuity cast aside by CCM and other modern worship. In our Anglo-Catholic worship, we are not just linking to Wesley 250 years ago or Luther some 500 years ago, but also to Christians going back 1000 or even 1500 years. We do not have accurate missals and hymnals from the 1st century Christian church, but we do have many texts (and a few tunes) from ancient and medieval sources that clearly capture early church practice.

Such linkages cannot be used to justify requiring that every church service everywhere be filled with Sarum or Gregorian chant of Latin texts. However, it does strongly argue for a form of worship that includes these ancient texts and tunes in everyday use.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is CCM really appropriate?

Catching up on reading blogs, here is an interesting commentary on a LCMS youth retreat in S. California
We on the left coast have just experienced (unfortunately) what these men from Water’s Edge have to offer by way of preaching as their “Missions Pastor” (Travis Hartjen) led the Pacific Southwest District Youth Gathering this past weekend in San Diego.
The “worship band” hailed from one of our not-so-confessional SoCal churches and played the top 20 CCM Dove award winning hits almost exclusively. Most of these songs emphasized, yep you guessed it: I, you, me, and we giving some lip service to God or Jesus. I have no problem with rock music as I am a musician that plays in a rock band here in San Diego. But I DO NOT play it on Sunday in my church. Everything has its proper place. Looking at the authors of the songs offered at our DYG I found them to be: Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and always Arminian. Thankfully, they did play one hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and I sung it with gusto!
As always, the most obvious difference with CCM is the rock band and the musical format, but the theologically important difference is in the lyrics.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hymn blogs

Here is LCMS vicar Josh Osbun’s new list of hymn blogsplus of course his own blogI’m already listing some of these. I’ll be checking out the others.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Social activism carols

The Telegraph reports on efforts of anti-Israel activists in London to protest the country’s Palestinian policies. Their Nov. 26 protest service will include this parody:
Once in royal David's city
Stood a big apartheid wall;
People entering and leaving
Had to pass a checkpoint hall.
Bethlehem was strangulated,
And her children segregated.
Telegraph correspondent Damien Thompson asks
I wonder if the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, has given his permission for it and, if not, whether he will do anything to stop it. If the gay wedding fiasco at St Bartholemew's is anything to go by, his grip on his diocese is rather shaky these days.
This “carol” is not terribly subtle and is unlikely to gain widespread adoption. But it’s yet another reminder than words have consequences in shaping the views of the faithful and faithless alike.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott

Monday was the 525th birthday of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. The birthday was also observed on Issues Etc. with an interview with Pastor Paul McCain.

Beyond his work as a theologian — creating what became the Lutheran church — Luther also penned a few hymns. The unofficial anthem of the Lutheran church is “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott,” with word and music by Luther. In the LCMS branch in the US, the song is played every year on Reformation Day — Oct. 31, commemorating the day in 1517 that Luther nailed his 95th Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.

Today, “A Mighty Fortress” is found in every Protestant hymnal and — as Episcopalian hymn blogger “C.W.S.” notes — even in the Catholic hymnal. (S)he also notes the dozens of English translations from the German original, including one by the inveterate 19th century hymn translator Catherine Winkworth.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zondervan buys

I’ve occasionally linked to scripture passages on, a free website owned by Gospel Communications. I always wondered how they made money — and it turns out that they didn’t. Last week, the money-losing site was bailed out by Zondervan, the Michigan-based Bible publisher that owns the rights to the NIV.

Today Christianity Today has an interview with the Zondervan CEO about their plans for BibleGateway (and I’m not sure if they’re going to make any more money, but they have deeper pockets and intend to keep it free for now. There’s even discussion of creating a Bible social networking site.