Friday, April 9, 2010

Save us from the time of trial

Apparently the Virginia Theological Seminary — a center-left seminary in the increasingly liberal TEC — is having a seminar series celebrating 30 years since the creation of the 1979 not-quite-a-Book-of-Common-Prayer. This week, one of the speakers was Prof Ruth Meyers of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

I don’t know Prof. Meyers, but here in California CSDP is known by Anglicans the Berkeley seminary that vies with its counterparts in NY and at Harvard to harbor the most extreme revisionist theologians in the TEC, if not American Protestantism. Prof. Meyers also heads the TEC’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. (Does that mean she’s blessing same sex marriage rites?)

As quoted by the Living Church, Prof. Meyers laments the ending of a brief period of English translations shared by Protestant and Catholic churches during the ascendance of the Revised Common Lectionary:
But the liturgical and ecumenical unity underpinning common texts — which flourished in the 20th century — is now losing strength, Meyers said. She cited two primary sources of weakening liturgical unity: widespread ethnic divergence in worship styles around the world, and the Vatican’s moving toward a more literal translation of the original Latin in its new Roman Missal, which is nearing completion.
The story talks about how the RCL banished the male pronoun and promoted dynamic equivalence for translation from the original Latin:
Dynamic equivalence meant that translators working with the ancient Latin texts were to use language familiar to the people. The new English translation of the Roman Missal, she said, uses the concept of “formal equivalence,” a more literal, authentic translation that places high value on the ancient Latin.
The report doesn’t seem to be inaccurate, but it shows the problems of a one-sided, single-source story. (Reporters who attend a public talk or event without doing background research are prone to these problems.)

The story doesn’t really explain the Catholic side of why they are moving away from the inaccuracies of the dynamic translations, such as “And also with you.” The new more authentic translations may be anathema to the TEC, but should be well received by Schism I, perhaps by Schism II and also other conservative Protestants — say those who favor the ESV over the political correctness of the NRSV or the dynamic translation of the NIV.

Like modern-day politicians, Prof. Meyers seems to think that change is inherently good:
Meyers said that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer offers different options for some familiar prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer. But, she said, “The Lord’s Prayer has been the most resistant to change.”

People develop a “deep familiar attachment to old forms of prayer,” she said, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Lord’s Prayer. Thus, she said, some worshipers will always want to say the familiar “And lead us not into temptation” rather than the newer “Save us from the time of trial.”
I, for one, think the Lord’s Prayer being “resistant to change” is a really good thing: newer is not always better.

I am not tempted by this new liturgy. Instead, I pray for the Continuing Anglicans (particularly ACNA) to follow the lead of the RCC (and that of the late Peter Toon) to save us from the trial of theologically dubious translations.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrating our Risen Lord

There are a wealth of wonderful Easter hymns to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. How to choose from them all? Based on fond childhood memories and dozens of Easters since, here is a highly personal list, with subjective difficulty rankings:
  • “Hail thee, Festival day.” (H40: #86; H82: #175). Very difficult. The mandatory Easter processional that combined the 6th century Foratunatus poem with the stirring Ralph Vaughan Williams tune.
  • “Jesus Christ is risen today.” (H40: #85; H82: #207). Easy. The 14th century hymn, with a 1708 English translation and melody.
  • “He is risen, he is risen!” (H40: #90; H82: #180). Easy. Evocative of #85, but a 19th century lyric set to the 17th century Joachim Neander tune.
  • “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing.” (H40: #89; H82: #174). Moderate. A 17th century Latin hymn and melody with a J.S. Bach harmonization, as translated in the 19th century.
  • “The strife is o’er, the battle done.” (H40: #91; H82: #208). Moderate-Difficult. Another 17th century Latin hymn — but one with a more martial feeling — set to aptly named tune Victory by Palestrina, harmonized by W.H. Monk (musical editor of Hymns Ancient & Modern.)
  • “That Easter Day with joy was bright.” (H40: #98; H82: #193). Easy. The Hymnal 1940 translation of a 5th century Latin poem, set to the Puer Nobis, a Praetorius tune better known at Epiphany.
  • “The day of resurrection!” (H40: #96, 1st; H82: #210) Moderate. A 8th century poem by John of Damascus, translated by John Mason Neale, set to a German Catholic hymntune and harmonized by W.H. Monk.
  • “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain.” (H40: #94, 2nd; H82: #199). Easy. A second J.M. Neale translation of John of Damascus, set to a stirring march by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
  • “Welcome happy morning!” (H40: #87; H82: #179). Moderate. Another Fortunatus poem, with another Arthur Sullivan tune.
Which of these would I chose if I were music director? Looking at the (1 year) liturgical index in Hymnal 1940 — and adapting the two Communion and the morning prayer recommendations — suggests the following
  • Opening: “Hail thee, Festival day.”
  • Sequence: “He is risen, he is risen!”
  • General: “At the lamb’s high feast we sing.”
  • Closing: “Jesus Christ is risen today.”
For communion, H40 suggests #207 (“Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest”) or #210 (“Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness”). These are both fine hymns, but for the C&E communicants — if I didn’t use the Messiah or another choral piece — I’d select the sublime communion hymn sung with the four part Bach harmonization: “Come with us, O blessed Jesus” (#211).

While “The day of resurrection!” makes a great Easter recessional, H40 oddly recommends it as the recessional for Communion (or morning prayer) on Low Sunday, Easter I. (Oddly, because “the day” was a week earlier.) H40 also recommends “Welcome happy morning!” as the entrance hymn.

As at Christmas, I guess we sing about our feast day many weeks later, because there is an embarrassment of hymnal riches to be sung throughout the entire season, not just on the principal feast day.