Sunday, December 25, 2016

Luke 2 in popular culture, 1700-2015

The Gospel according to St. Luke bears powerful witness to the coming of Our Savior into this world more than 2,000 years ago. Certain passages — such as the Annunciation — provide a unique perspective on how and why the Christ child came into the world.

In the very first (1549) Book of Common Prayer, the gospel reading for Christmas Day was Luke 2:1-14. In the 1928 (US) Book of Common Prayer, this passage is assigned for the earlier of the two services — typically Christmas Eve — with John 1:1-14 for the later service.

Although the 2016 ACNA lectionary has a three year cycle — with separate readings for Years A,B,C — at Christmas it uses the same readings every year. It allows for three possible Christmas services — with different psalms and Isaiah readings at teach — but assigns Luke for Christmas I and II (nowadays afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve) and John for Christmas III (Christmas Day). In the RCL, there are three services and Luke 2:1-14 is assigned for the first.

Authorized Version (1611)

The 1549 BCP used the Tyndale translations of the Gospels, but the version most often used is from the King James Version (“Authorized Version” in England).

The initial verses of Luke 2 explain how it is that Mary and Joseph end up in Bethlehem, and end with Jesus being laid in the manger. The passage beginning with verse 8 — which explains the appearance of the angel to the shepherds — appears to have been the often quoted over the next 400 years.

In the KJV, Luke 2:8-14 reads:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (1700)

In 1700, Irish poet Nahum Tate (1652-1715) published a collection of sacred poems that included one derived from Luke 2: 8-14. Here is the version of the poem that appeared in Hymnal 1916:
While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

"Fear not," said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

"To you, in David's town, this day
Is born of David's line,
The Savior, who is Christ the Lord;
And this shall be the sign:

"The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid."

Thus spake the seraph, and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song:

"All glory be to God on high
And on the earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease."
Today, this hymn is most often sung to to Winchester Old, taken from a 1592 psalm book. Hymnal 1940 (13.1) includes all six verses, although 4 and 5 seem less often sung.

Handel’s Messiah (1741)

In 1712, the Lutheran Kapellmeister Georg Friedrich Händel to London. Thirty years later, in Dublin he premiered his most famous work, a sacred oratorio with a text taken straight from the Authorized Version.

Thanks to many years of singing and listening to the Messiah, I have memorized most of Luke 2:8-14 — skipping only verse 12 which Handle omits from his libretto:
14a. Recitative (Soprano): There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

14b. Accompagnato (Soprano): And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

15. Recitative (Soprano): And the angel said unto them: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

16. Accompagnato (Soprano): And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying:

17. Chorus: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men."
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

This Emmy-winning animated special — based on the characters of the Peanuts comic strip — was a favorite of my childhood, and even more of for younger sister as it played in reruns every December. (I also am reminded of it every year when I listen to the Vince Guraldi Trio jazz score as part of my Christmas music playlist.)

Charlie Brown is struggling with the meaning of Christmas, while his younger friend — philosopher Linus van Pelt — tries to help him understand. In climatic scene at the school Christmas concert, a frustrated Charlie Brown asks “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

In response, Linus takes the stage and reads Luke 2:8-14 from the Authorized Version.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (2015)

Fast forward 50 years. The special is for many an iconic symbol of the Christmas season, both to watch on TV and to re-enact in children’s Christmas pageants. At the same time, America has become far less Christian than it was in the 1950s and early 1960s.

In 2015, the superintendent of a rural Kentucky school district forbade the local elementary school from re-enacting Linus' most famous monologue. Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) protested this censorship, and the Alliance Defending freedom (a nonprofit law firm focusing on religious liberty) tried to convince the district to change their position — but to no avail. Instead, the audience on their own chose to read the deleted passage.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The right way to do Lessons & Carols

Today is the last day of Advent — and the last day to hear Lessons & Carols. Today is the 99th annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, hosted by King’s College Cambridge every Christmas Eve since 1918 — and broadcast this year (and 88 previous years) on the BBC radio.

My wife reminds me that I sang Lessons & Carols as a choirboy at the proto-cathedral. (She remembers it better because she went in years before and after when I was chorister). I’ve sung or read at several churches since. In 2016, I attended two services, as well as listening to the 90 minute Cambridge broadcast this morning (US time).

King’s College Cambridge 2016

The modern L&C service was inaugurated by KCC, and some of their traditions — always starting with a boy soprano solo for Once in Royal David’s City) have been widely emulated.

Until I compared the programs from the late 1990s to today, I had not realized that KCC had kept the same nine lessons for at least 20 years:
  1. Genesis 3:8-19*
  2. Genesis 22:15-18
  3. Isaiah 9:2-7 (dropping verses 3-5)
  4. Isaiah 11:1-9 (dropping verse 5 and parts of 3,4) 
  5. Luke 1:26-38 (dropping verses 36-37 about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth)
  6. Luke 2:1-7 (dropping verse 2, the reference to Quirinius)
  7. Luke 2:8-16
  8. Matthew 2:1-12
  9. John 1:1-14
* From 1997-2007, they skipped over Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire shall be for your husband”)

This year, the service had 15 choir carols and anthems, and five hymns (including the last 3 verses of Once in Royal David’s City) where the congregation can sing along. The other four hymns were:
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem, with Vaughan Williams’ tune Forest Green from The English Hymnal (21.1 in Hymnal 1940) and the Armstrong descant from New English Hymnal
  • While Shepherds Watched Their Flock, with everyone’s familiar 16th century tune Winchester Old
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful, the harmony familiar to Americans (from H40 and H82) that was taken from TEH, but with the David Willcocks arrangement and descant
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, the familiar Mendelssohn tune, descant by Philip Ledger
For both Once in Royal David’s City and While Shepherds, the descants are by Stephen Cleobury, the music director of KCC for the past 34 years. (In 1988, he also published a retrospective on the 70th anniversary of the annual service).

Lessons for Other Parishes

Earlier this month, I attended L&C services with my family at a small CoE-affiliated parish in Spain and at a Catholic college closer to home. The structure of the former was closer to KCC, with nine lessons (including Genesis 3, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 11 and John 1). The Catholics only had six lessons (skipping Genesis and John’s gospel) but production values more similar to KCC.

Below are some notes on how I would organize an Advent L&C service if I were music director at an American Anglican parish:
  1. Neither concert nor worship service. You should recognize that the form is not like anything else the church does during the year. It’s not a concert, with more scripture than the congregation will hear at any other service. At the same time, it does not follow set Anglican liturgy — the lessons, the hymns/anthems/carols, and perhaps an opening or closing prayer.
  2. Major outreach/evangelism opportunity. This is one of the biggest opportunities of the year to bring visitors to church. (At the CoE service we attended, it was the largest turnout the new rector had ever seen). If the goal of the Church is to spread the Gospel, then there’s no better time during the year to do so. This means not just addressing it not only to active members, but irregular members, other C&E Christians, lapsed Christians and non-Christians.
  3. Be friendly to visitors. If there are visitors, they won’t know your secret code or rituals — if you want them to feel welcome, things should be logical and understandable. The #1 rule is you need a program (which was not true at the CoE service) — to tell people where they are, what’s coming up, and also who’s singing what. (If money or the environment is the issue, a half sheet of paper is enough).
  4. Your choir is not King’s College Cambridge. I’m singing in the best choir that I’ve been in since I’m 12, perhaps one of the best (organ-based) adult choirs of a Continuing Anglican church in California. (Let’s face it, in the ECUSA divorce they got custody of the cathedrals, organs and best music programs). But our choir is not King Choir Cambridge, and that’s true of 99.5% of the Anglican choirs in north America. Choir members, directors, organists etc. should remember is pride is a cardinal sin and humility a cardinal virtue: in this era of iTunes, Spotify and BBC, almost everyone has heard better performances. So be realistic in what you can do and then do your best, and don’t forget the most important rule…
  5. People have come to sing carols. There is no time of the year when your congregation more wants to sing – unlike Easter, even non-Christians are going to know many of the carols. You need to give them a chance to sing — which for most churches means letting them sing at least a part of more than half the carols. The college did it well, but the CoE parish wouldn’t let us sing “O Little Town” while asking us to learn an unfamiliar carol.
  6. Fill them with the joy of Christmas. We are preparing for one of the two universal feasts of the Christian year, and the one where the countervailing cultural pressures are the strongest. The lessons appeal to their heads — Jesus is the reason for the season — but singing carols should put joy in their hearts.
  7. The goal is to bring them back. This is a major (and relatively straightforward) service to present and a chance to put your best foot forward. Regular members should look forward to it every year, while new (or prospective) members should want to come back again.
Merry Christmas everyone.


Cleobury, Stephen. (1988). “Nine Lessons and Carols at King's: 70 Years on.” The Musical Times 129 (1750): 687-689. URL:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cultural universals in liturgical worship

The last three Sundays, I've worshipped in Spain, at home in California and Australia. The juxtaposition has given me additional insights into liturgical variations (and similarities) between cultures, and thus the degree to which churches should (or at least have) adapt their worship to the local culture.

When comparing two services, there are several possible variables: language, the order of service, what is said, the role of music and how those leading the service (and those in the pews) actually worship.

Language matters, but within the Western liturgical churches there is still a common heritage to the medieval Latin service. For example, both my wife and I have found strong affinity to service in Germany’s Roman Catholic church — we have a similar childhood and adult experience with high church Episcopalian (and now Anglican) worship, but I speak some German and she doesn’t. When I first visited Cologne cathedral in 1980, the service felt very familiar as the service followed what I'd known as a kid. My wife — who attended a small town mass with friends two years ago while I was traveling on business — says that the service she attended what quite recognizable from our childhood services.

But language isn’t everything. I've heard some claim that a Christian from the early church would recognize our 21st century services. That seems a bit much, but I certainly think an Italian from the early Middle Ages would recognize an Anglo-Catholic service more than an Englishman from Elizabethan England would recognize a nondenom praise band service.

This morning in Spain, despite not speaking the language, I recognized the order of lessons (Isaiah, Romans, Matthew) that would have been used at a US Catholic church or by Protestants under the Revised Common Lectionary year A. I also recognized the Lord’s Prayer and prayers of the people, and the Alleluia was the same one I’ve sung for decades (albeit with the syllables broken differently).

What was most different was that instead of hymns, the singing consisted of a series of chants by the cantor, with the congregation singing an antiphon after each phrase. The cantor tried to teach the congregation the antiphons, and I found (despite the language) I was able to sing along when the words matched the handout.

However, in a (IMHO foolish) attempt to save money or the planet, the handout only covered what was different for the season of Advent. There were several antiphons that were not handed out — perhaps they were familiar to regular worshippers — but the net effect was to exclude visitors from participation in the worship.

I had hoped from the handout we would sing (in Catalan) perhaps the most universal Advent hymn
Veniu, veniu, oh Emmanuel,
sou l'esperança d'Israel
que en trist exili ací tothora
redempció de vós implora.
Exulta! Exulta! Israel,
a tu vindrà l'Emmnanuel.

Veniu, esclat del nostre hivern,
Oh Saviesa de l'Etern!
De vostra llum el món fretura
per retrobar-vos dalt l'altura.
Exulta! Exulta! Israel,
a tu vindrà l'Emmnanuel.

Veniu, oh Rei Omnipotent,
d'antics oracles compliment.
Veniu, refeu nostra flaquesa,
Déu eternal, font de bonesa.
Exulta! Exulta! Israel,
a tu vindrà l'Emmanuel.
but apparently that was for an earlier Sunday.

In Australia, I attended two communion services: one fro the 1995 Australian prayer book at an Anglo-Catholic parish, and the other using the 1662 BCP at an evangelical one. Not surprisingly, the former used the ICEL translation of the Sanctus (“…God of power and might”) and other parts of the ordinary; the latter had the Elizabethan words, even if in an unfamiliar order. So the latter was nominally more similar to Anglo-Catholic worship from Rite I or the 1928 BCP.

But if you ignored the words and watched what people did, the liturgical practice was just the opposite. At the Anglo-Catholic (modern language) church, nearly everyone made the sign of the cross and most kneeled at the familiar parts of the service. At the evangelical (traditional language) church, there were no kneelers and no sign of the cross; it also had a sermon more than 30 minutes long (versus 12 minutes at my home parish).

Still, it seems as though there is a distinct subset of the Western church today that retains the liturgy and practices of the pre-Reformation church. For these Christians, worshipping in another denomination with similar liturgical style (e.g. at a baptism, wedding or in a mixed marriage) will be comfortable, as will a chaplain’s service at a college, in a hospital or the military.

The issue of East and West seems more insurmountable. My Orthodox (ex-Episcopalian) friend claims there are many similarities, but in my one visit to his (Greek) church they were hard to find. Many of the non-ethnic Orthodox parishes in the U.S. use familiar words (where applicable) and so at such churches there might be more recognizable similarities.

Still, there seem fewer opportunities for common ground. In the 13th century, the emperor Michael Paeologus — founder of the last dynasty of the Byzantine Empire — tried to reunify the Eastern church with Rome barely 200 years after the Great Schism. However, the laity (and some clergy) of the Greek church sabotaged his efforts because they didn’t want to give up their distinct worship style in the name of unity with Rome — even though it ultimately meant surrendering the empire to the Ottoman invaders.

Thus we must constantly pray for healing the divisions in Christ’s church, even if such healing (like the second coming) may not happen in our lifetimes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Streaming ethereal Advent music

We are ending the first week of Advent. In the larger society, Advent (i.e. the pre-Christmas season) is marked by Christmas trees, decorations, slogans and music.

As liturgical Christians, we get to celebrate Advent on four Sunday mornings in December. At some churches — or metropolitan areas — we can also attend a service of lessons and carols. (However, in some cases these services are late-Advent tellings of the Christmas story. rather than a focus on Advent, per se.)

And then there are the great English church choirs, particularly at cathedral schools and universities. For Anglican Music, these are the ne plus ultra of music for the liturgical seasons.

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge is one of the oldest performing organizations for English choral music. As their website says (links added)::
Voted the fifth best choir in the world in Gramophone magazine's "20 Greatest Choirs", The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge comprises around thirty Choral Scholars and two Organ Scholars, all of whom are ordinarily undergraduates of the College.

The College’s choral tradition dates back to the all-male choir of the fourteenth century, when former Chapel Royal choristers studied in King’s Hall, which later became part of Trinity College. Directors of Music have included Charles Villiers Stanford, Alan Gray, Raymond Leppard and Richard Marlow. Female voices were introduced in the 1980s by Richard Marlow, in a new departure for Cambridge choral music.
On Sunday, these undergraduates performed an Advent Carol Service on the first Sunday of Advent. The service (including hymns, anthems and readings) is available for web streaming. The musical components of the service were:
  • Responses by Richard Marlow
  • Anthem: Creator of the stars of night (text: 7th century; tune: Conditor alme siderum)
  • Hymn: Of the Father’s heart begotten (text: Prudentius; ttune: Piae Cantiones)
  • Hymn: Come, thou redeemer of the earth (text: Ambrose; tune: Praetorius)
  • Anthem: There is no rose (text: 15th century; tune: anon.)
  • Anthem: A great and mighty wonder (text: Germanus; tune: Praetorius)
  • Hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel (text: 15th? century; tune: Thomas Helmore)
  • Anthem: There is a flower (text: 15th century; tune: John Rutter)
  • Anthem: Ave, maria stella (text: 8th century; tune: Owain Park)
  • Hymn: On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (text; Charles Coffin; tune: Winchester New)
  • Anthem: Wachet auf! (text, tune: Phillip Nicolai; arranged by J.S. Bach)
  • Anthem: E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come (text: Ruth Manz; tune: Paul Manz)
  • Hymn: Come, thou long expected Jesus (text; Charles Wesley; tune: John Stainer)
  • Anthem: Benedicamus Domino (text: 15th century; tune: Peter Warlock)
  • Hymn: Lo! he comes with clouds descending (text: Charles Wesley; tune: Olivers)
  • Anthem: Puer natus est
The hymns are not included in the program, because the arrangements by David Wilcocks (1919-2015) and various descants are not in the public domain.

When school is in session, they broadcast live (and recorded) on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Their next live broadcast will be January 22, 2017.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Favorite German Pilgrim hymn

“Now thank we all our God” is the opening hymn recommended for Thanksgiving Day by Hymnal 1940. The hymn dates from the mid-17th century Germany, or a few decades after the first† American Thanksgiving celebration by the Plymouth colonists in 1621.

The lyrics should be familiar to almost any American Protestant:
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
It has been sung by Anglicans for almost 160 years and by American Anglicans for 140. The Hymnal 1940 Companion writes
This famous hymn of Martin Rinckart was written sometimes during the experiences of the Thirty Years’ War, when his village was sacked on three separate occasions. It is based on the Apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus 50:22-24. … The hymn was probably published in his lost Jesu, Hertz-Buchlein, 1636, since it is found in the extant edition of 1663. It next appeared, with the present tune, in the 1647 edition of Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Medica (1656 ed.)

The translation was made by Catherine Winkworth for her Lyra Germanica, (second series, 1858), and reprinted in her Chorale Book for England, 1863. It has been in the Hymnal since 1874.
Although some list it as being written in 1636, Hymnal 1940 assumes it was written sometime earlier and saved for the 1636 compilation.

Beyond its origins during Europe’s terrible religious civil war, the hymn was paired almost from the beginning with a tune — named Nun Danket after the first two words of the German text — by the great German composer Johann Crüger that was published in what is described as  “the most successful and widely-known Lutheran hymnal of the 17th century”. We today use a translation by the greatest English translator of German hymns, Catherine Winkworth. The harmonization is by Felix Mendelssohn, from his 1840 “Lobgesang” (posthumously published as Symphony No. 2).

Even beyond what we sing, the story of Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) is a compelling one. LCMS Pastor Will Weedon had a very interesting podcast on Issues Etc. last year on Rinkart, his travails, and his indomitable spirit. He spent the bulk of his career in Eilenburg, where he buried the two other town clergy and his wife during the town’s great plague of 1637. As early as the 18th century, it became a song of national thanksgiving for the German people on major occasions (probably today supplanted by the EU anthem).

The hymn has been in all Episcopalian hymnals since 1874 (1874, 1892, 1916, 1940, 1982) – as well as Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and of course the American Lutheran ones. So it seems an appropriate hymn for all Americans to sing today.

† Yes other states claim the first Thanksgiving, but clearly American culture credits the Massachusetts-dwelling Pilgrims with having the one that we today emulate.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Year-end hymn specials

Today is ”stir up Sunday” or Christ the King Sunday, depending on your lectionary. Either way it’s the last Sunday before Advent, and thus the last day of the liturgical year as well as the last day of the long season after (depending on your prayer book) Trinity or Pentecost. It is also the end of “ordinary time” (which for some includes only these Sundays and for others also includes the time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday).

In the US, it’s also the Sunday before Thanksgiving — and thus at my church this morning the hymn choices reflected that secular reality. (But that’s another season and another story).

Traditional Prayer Bookes: “Stir Up” Sunday

In the 1928 BCP, the appointed collect for the last Sunday before Advent gives this date the nickname “Stir Up” Sunday:
STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This was derived from the same collect written for the 25th Sunday after Trinity In 1549 (and the 1662) BCP:
STIERE up we beseche thee, O Lord, the wylles of thy faythfull people, that they, plenteously bringing furth the fruite of good workes; may of thee, be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christe our Lorde.
The collect was abandoned in the 1979 prayer book, but in the ACNA trial use liturgy, a heavily modified version is scheduled for the penultimate Sunday of ordinary time (i.e. a week ago):
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they may plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, as they await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to restore all things to their original perfection; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen
Whenever it is scheduled, there is an obvious hymn to go with it: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” (H40: 562; H82: 561); in fact, this is the recessional hymn recommended by H40 for this Sunday with the “Stir up” colleect. The tune is by George Webb, combined with a text by George Duffield Jr. This is the last remaining text in common use by the 19th century U.S. Presbyterian pastor and abolitionist.

Of the original text, H40 keeps verses 1,3,4 and 6. H82 keeps the same verses, but (as expected) censors the M-word (“men”).

Contemporary Lectionaries: Christ the King Sunday

This weekend I saw questions on a church music group from a Catholic organist about an appropriate hymn for today, which is Christ the King Sunday. As the Episcopal Dictionary of the Church on the ECUSA website helpfully explains:
Christ the King Sunday

Feast celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It celebrates Christ's messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The feast is unofficially celebrated in some Episcopal parishes, but it is not mentioned in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. Marion Hatchett notes that the Prayer Book collect for Proper 29, the last Sunday of the church year, is a "somewhat free" translation of the collect of the Feast of Christ the King in the Roman Missal. This collect prays that God, "whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords," will "Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule" (BCP, p. 236). The feast was originally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and celebrated on the last Sunday in Oct. It has been observed on the last Sunday before Advent since 1970.
However, today many Episcopalian (and formerly Episcopalian) parishes are using the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Vanderbilt site lists this Sunday as the “Reign of Christ”. This seems to be the term used by progressive mainline Protestants, although some use both terms.

For Christ the King Sunday, there are several obvious hymn choices, including
  • Alleluia Sing to Jesus (H40: 347.2; H82: 460)
  • At the Name of Jesus (H40: 356; H82: 435)
  • Crown Him with Many Crowns (H40: 352; H82: 494)
  • Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (H40: 545; H82: 616)
  • Praise my Soul the King of Heaven (H40: 282; H82: 410)
While all touch on the CTK theme, I think the support (and thus congregational reinforcement) of this theme is greatest for 347 (“Alleluia Sing to Jesus”), 352 (“Crown Him with Many Crowns”) and 545 (“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”). In fact, it’s impossible to beat #352, which makes the point in every verse in this hybrid of 19th century Catholic and Anglican hymnwriters:
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.
For the CoE, The English Hymnal (#381) uses different verses and a different tune, while the New English Hymnal (#352) keeps the same 1906 choice of text but adopts the stirring tune of the American hymnals, Diademata by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893).

I am hard-pressed to think of a more majestic recessional for any portion of ordinary time. The descant (in H82) and the retard on the final verse really drive home the reality of His kingship and our obedience and worship of our heavenly King.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The idolatry of the Holy Screen

Last month I attended a blended service that uses the ACNA liturgy, Hymnal 1982 hymns and praise songs. As blended services go, it was probably the most tastefully done that I’ve seen — either because of the sensibilities of the music director, or because he (and the rector) don’t think hymns should be second class citizens.

So with blended worship done well, what was jarring was the projection screen. I’ve seen plenty of them (alas even in churches), but I’ve never been a member of a church that uses them every week.

One of the limitations is the one that I remarked previously: hymnal-free is harmony free. I knew one of the hymns well enough from memory to (more or less) sing the harmony without music, but otherwise I felt cheated of a chance to sing praise to God utilizing the gifts He has given me (and also staying within my vocal range).

The other limitation is one that I’d only briefly noticed before. As the Gospel reading was processed to the center of the church, it is customary for the congregation to turn and face the Gospel and the deacon (or in this case, the priest). However, as at home, everyone’s attention was firmly fixed on the screen for the duration of the gradual. (As it turns out, they were also fixed on the screen for the text of the Gospel reading — I didn’t notice because I tend to focus on the reader and not on reading the text).

So to our 21st century sanctuaries we have brought the key cultural artifact of  online culture. Instead of the Word or the Cross, we now turn our attention and adoration to the Holy Screen. This might seem harsh — but just watch how the H.S. changes the worship experience.

The screen was supplemented with a four page (two sides of one piece of paper) handout that included the text and music for the Gloria (H82: S280), the gradual hymn, and the four-part offertory. People could have used the handout to face the Gospel book, but only some of the congregation picked it up beforehand.

I talked to the music director afterwards, and have a little more empathy for his difficult choices — both on distributing the text and (someday) the music. The handout doesn’t include everything to save money, and those who don’t read music probably won’t pick up the handout (so he needs to provide lyrics some other way).

Long term, they use too many praise hymns to get by with just a hymnal. He would like to put together a booklet of hymns and praise songs, but the musical canon of this young church is still (at least somewhat) evolving.

I am used to the hymnal + prayer book fumbling and find it strangely comforting. However, it really only works if you’ve memorized the service music as fumbling for three (or four hymns) is different from going back and forth between the prayer and the sanctus etc.

As Anglican churches continue to attract both non-Christians and non-liturgical Christians, I understand the need to make the service more approachable to visitors. I would argue that having a regular member help the confused visitor next to them is a better solution than any paper or technology.

That said, I do think my church (and other similar churches) have come up with the most reasonable compromise:
  • Fixed service booklets (perhaps different ones for Ordinary Time, penitential and festal seasons) that include both the prayers and the service music (words and notes)
  • A weekly insert of 4-8 pp. that includes the collect, Scripture readings and the hymn numbers — and a copy of any hymns not in the hymnal
  • A hymnal for most (or all) of the hymns
If a church had a booklet instead of a hymnal, it could substitute for the latter. Personally, I hope to continue at a hymnal church for another 30-40 years, but we will see.

Longer term, some have suggested we should have e-books instead of paper books, booklets or inserts. It might work with a 6-10" screen, but the 4" screen of the typical cellphone is not very practical for this purpose. There is also the question of whether we want to further privilege the Holy Screen in our worship, or to say to newcomers without phones that they are not welcome.

So today’s use of screens for music and liturgy seems to be a short-term expedient, particularly for churches who can’t buy a set of books, don’t want to drag them each week to a temporary rented space, or are unwilling to commit to singing the same music two years in a row.

We will have a more elegant technical solution by the end of this century, but for now I think this compromise is a reasonable one.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cathedral vs. family Anglican worship

At most U.S. Anglican churches, today was the observance of All Saints Day. Upon reflection, it seems as though the two obvious hymns — “For all the saints” and “I sing a song of the saints of God” — represent conflicting worship goals.

I didn’t realize it when I woke up this morning, but this was also the conclusion of a 1994 article on “Episcopalians Celebrate All Saints” by Ruth Myers:
Distinct in style and content, these hymns express different theological aspects of the feast of All Saints. “For all the saints” celebrates the great communion of saints by acknowledging their earthly struggles and rejoicing in their eschatological triumph. In contrast, “I sing a song of the saints of God” was written for children “to impress the fact that sainthood is a living possibility today.”
However, I was focusing on a slightly different dichotomy: between high-church (cathedral-style) worship and reaching out to children.

Cathedral Hymnody

Although part of the American Hymnal 1892, what we know today as “For all the saints” is the version from The English Hymnal (1906), with a new tune by (TEH music editor) Ralph Vaughan Williams and eight of the 11 verses by Bishop How.

It has a bit of an ecumenical flavor. The (Missouri Synod) Lutheran talk show Issues Etc. last week ran a 54-minute interview with a Lutheran seminary professor, talking about the history of the hymn. It’s featured in the Presbyterian and Baptist hymnals, and last week my daughter sang it during the official freshman chapel at her Baptist university. In my (recently acquired) 1975 U.S. Catholic Hymnal, Worship II, it’s listed as Hymn #80 (although alas without four-part harmony on the middle verses).

As the clergy processed in this morning, I could tell who the cradle Anglicans (or Episcopalians) and long-time parishioners were, as they belted it out with great enthusiasm. Apparently I’m not the only one who looks forward to this day every year — for the words, for the music, and for the memories it evokes of my days as a choirboy at San Diego’s proto-cathedral. This is a hymn that cries out for the majesty of dozens (if not hundreds) of voices, a strong choir and a blaring organ.

Still, it’s not for everyone. After church, I went up to one of our newer parishioners, who (as it turns out) has a Pentecostal background but has been seeking a deeper liturgical experience. I asked him how he liked the hymn, and he said it was unfamiliar.

At the same time, except for the syncopated entry, it seems like a pretty straightforward hymn to sing. Yes, I’m not the most objective judge, having sung it in church 25+ times in my life. But objectively, it’s certainly a lot easier than Vaughan Williams’ second most famous hymn, the Easter/Ascension/Pentecost favorite “Hall thee, festival day?”

Children’s Hymnody

The other All Saints’ hymn seems at the other extreme: “I sing a song of the saints of God”. The text was published as a children’s hymn in the 1920s, while the version we sing was introduced to the world by Hymnal 1940 (#243) with a new tune written expressly for this purpose. It appears in Hymnal 1982 and some Presbyterian and Methodist hymnals. However — despite the British text (“at tea”) — the combined hymn has not crossed the pond to any Church of England hymnal. According to, appears in only 22 hymnals (vs. 473 for the more famous Vaughan Williams cathedral hymn.)

Both my wife and I remember it vividly from our childhood in the proto-cathedral. Our sermon today called it out today as well, as the clergyman had similar memories. Afterwards, we told him it was one of three we scheduled for our daughter’s baptism. (In fact, she heard it today by the children’s choir at her parish, but at our church the children’s choir was on hiatus and so it wasn’t scheduled). Similar recollections were voiced at a Virginia Theological Seminary blog.

Children’s vs. Cathedral Music

While these two styles are very divergent, I see them as more orthogonal than contradictory. Many of us learned “For all the saints” as children, and have loved it ever since (as my teenager daughter does). At the same time, there are many of us in the second half of life who eagerly await hearing the Lesbia Scott every November.

So the former hymn provides an opportunity to model enthusiastic festal worship for parishioners young and old, while the latter reminds us the importance of teaching the faithful the meaning of these feast days.


Meyers, Ruth A. (1994). "Episcopalians Celebrate All Saints." In Journal of the Liturgical Conference, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 9-13.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Favorite recording of the all-time favorite All Saints hymn

Of course, it wouldn’t be All Saints’ Day without Ralph Vaughan Williams' greatest hit, “For All the Saints.”

Unlike my daughter, my work schedule did not allow me to attend services and hear this hymn live this week. So on the way to work I decided to look for what recordings I had on my laptop among the 426 hymns.

I found four distinct performances. All were from English choirs using (as far as I could tell) boys for the trebles. Here the the performances, ordered from most basic to most ornate:
  1. Worcester Cathedral Choir, from the “Vaughan Williams: Hymns and Choral Music” (3 verses, 2:12). Other than only three verses, a model of what I would want a small church choir or medium-sized congregation to do
  2. Trinity College Choir, Cambridge, from “A Vaughan Williams Hymnal” (8 verses, 5:32) has several variations, including men only and an a capella verse. This is the straight-up version that I would hold as the aspirational goal for all but the most experienced church choir.
  3. Wells Cathedral Choir, from “Christ Triumphant: The English Hymn 1” (6 verses, 4:23) is similar, but a more pronounced retard at the end.
  4. Wells Cathedral Choir, from “Favourite Hymns from Wells Cathedral” (6 verses, 5:03) is all out, with trumpet flourishes before the beginning, between the 5th and 6th verses, and with trumpets and organ blasting over the choir in the final verse.
The first three have an almost identical tempo of 0:40 per verse, while the last one is noticeably slower (10% by my copy of iTunes).

Overall, I think I like #2 the best, in between #1 and #3. While #4 would probably be the one I’d prefer to experience live in a cathedral — or perhaps blaring on my high-end stereo in the music room — it’s just not the same with headphones on my laptop or iPod, and the drama actually gets a little tedious after a while.

Update: If you listen closely to these English choirs, you’ll notice a difference from The English Hymnal (#641) original and American practice. The choirs match this text in verse 1 of TEH:
For all the Saints who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world the confest,
Thy name, O Jesu, be forever blest,
Allieluya, Alleiluya!
So while there are obvious spelling differences, when listening it is noticeable that the English sing “O Jesu” rather than the “O Jesus” used with this text and RVW’s Sine Nomine in Hymnal 1940 (#126.1) or Hymnal 1982 (#287).

It turns out Hymnal 1916 was first American hymnal to use “O Jesus,” but still used the older 1868 tune (Sarum) which was retained in H40 (#126.2). When I went back to Hymnal 1892, not surprisingly it has Sarum — it couldn’t know about the tune that Vaughan Williams composed in 1906 for TEH — but it used the British “Jesu” (while keeping the other American spellings).

Monday, October 31, 2016

Saints and heroes of the Reformation

For Lutherans, this is a particularly poignant day in the church calendar. Today is Reformation Day — the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther posting (or at least circulating) his 95 Theses.

At the same time, tomorrow is the feast of All Saints — a celebration we inherited from the undivided Western (i.e. Roman Catholic) church. Non-liturgical Christians — often referred to as those who worship in the “Evangelical”† style — generally have a strong suspicion of anything Catholic.

I have argued that traditional Lutherans and Anglicans are the most moderate of the Protestant denominations, because we harken back to the undivided Church, and didn’t re-acquire the sin of iconoclasm. Unlike extreme Calvinists and other Radical Reformers, we did not throw out the baby with the bathwater over our differences with Rome.

Thus our daughter Katy (a cradle Anglo-Catholic) and my niece Erin (a cradle Roman Catholic) have had mixed feelings attending Christian universities with an decidedly Evangelical† bent. From a social-cultural standpoint, they enjoy being surrounded by (at least nominal) Christians. But when it comes to the required chapel service, what they attend only vaguely resembles the historic liturgy that they grew up with.

Thus my daughter was ecstatic this morning when her mandatory college chapel acknowledged these two key dates on the liturgical calendar:
I was so excited when I heard the organ playing when I walked in and then we sang 2 hymns …For all the Saints and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing  …And then there was a postlude without singing - A Mighty Fortress is Our God. … It was just great. It was even slightly liturgical. §
If the Evangelical† worship can teach us to be sensitive to new members and non-believers, perhaps we liturgical Christians can bear witness to the historic liturgy, liturgical calendar and liturgical music.

† Note: here I use “Evangelical” in a cultural/liturgical sense, rather than to refer to those (Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant) Christians who seek to spread the Good News of our Risen Lord.

§ While unexpected, these three hymns are officially sanctioned at her Baptist university, as all are included in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lord God Almighty

Our small group is reading A Lifetime Road to God (1977) by Donald J. Parsons (1922-2016). The Anglo-Catholic credentials of Abp. Parson are impeccable: president and dean of Nashotah House (1963-1973), and then bishop of Quincy (1973-1987) when it was one of the four doctrinally orthodox Episcopal Synod of America dioceses in ECUSA.

In Chapter 5 (“Prayer and Christian Growth”), he lists five types of personal prayer. The final item provides the best explanation I’ve ever seen for prayers of adoration:
[A]doration is praising God for being what He is, worshipping Him not because of what He has done or may yet do, but just because He is God. Adoration is the highest and most unselfish type of prayer. Excellent examples are the Sanctus in the Communion Service, the first part of the Te Deum, and several of the prayers. To adore God is to become more truly and completely what we are intended to be, since the creature finds fulfillment in singing the praise of the Creator.
With that definition, I looked for matching hymns in my Hymnal 1940. From Abp. Parsons’ taxonomy, we would start with the Sanctus, in the original (or Sanctus+Benedictus) versions:
  • #704 (#796) the original 1550 Sanctus by John Merbecke from his Booke of Common Praier Noted, which provided service music for the Cranmer original but was forgotten until the 19th century Oxford Movement.
  • #711 (#797) from the Healey Willan Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena
  • #721 (#798) the 14th century plainsong, adapted by Winfred Douglas in the 1915 Missa Marialis
These three are in the original, more accurate Cranmer text (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”) as opposed to the 20th century bowdlerization (“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might”).

Under the topical index, “The Praise of God” (#278-315) seems to come closest to this topic, although the “Majesty of God” seems even better. Some possible favorites:
  • #53 Songs of thankfulness and praise
  • #266 Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty — the ultimate Trinity Sunday hymn
  • #279 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
  • #282 Praise my soul, the King of heaven
  • #285 The God of Abraham praise
  • #289 O God our help in ages past
  • #325 O for a thousand tongues to sing
  • #523 God the Omnipotent!
  • #551 A mighty fortress
Of course, if I were a CCM friendly liturgist, I’d add “How great is our God.” But I’m not, so I won’t.

Friday, August 26, 2016

10 "best" hymns

In “I'm fed up with bad church music” — a Facebook group that I belong to — someone posted this morning a link to a blog posting provocatively entitled “The 10 Greatest Hymns of All-Time.” The author is a Toronto non-denominational pastor, so the list was surprisingly traditional:

  1. And Can It Be? by Charles Wesley
  2. A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther
  3. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name by Edward Perronet.
  4. Oh, For a Thousand Tongues by Charles Wesley.
  5. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts.
  6. How Firm a Foundation by an unknown author.
  7. Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber.
  8. It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford.
  9. Abide With Me by Henry Francis Lyte.
  10. Amazing Grace by John Newton.
It’s actually a pretty good list, with many non-controversial choices. But if we are judging the entirety of a hymn (as he states he is) and not just the lyrics, then IMHO Wesley’s “Love Divine” (to the stately tune Hyfrodol) would displace his first-choice of Wesley hymns (to the forgettable tune Sagina).

It was actually his list of runners-up that was a little more controversial:
There are so many more that could easily have been on this list: “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “For All the Saints,” “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Rock of Ages,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “Take My Life and Let It Be,” “In Christ Alone,” and on and on.
It seems to me that any such list has to exclude Christmas and Easter, because it would be easy to make a list of 10 greatest Christmas or Easter hymns. “Crown Him with many crowns” seems like it belongs in this list.

But “In Christ Alone”? Is this a hymn that has survived (let alone will survive) the test of time? Even if I were going to pick a 21st century praise hymn, this doesn't belong on a list of hymns that are “universal and timeless”. Every performance I’ve heard (including one at a consecration) it came across as a sappy pop song rather than a hymn of praise. From the CCLI list — and excluding hybrid remakes (like “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”) — I would similarly exclude “How Great is Our God” (which is the exemplar of a 7-11 song). Perhaps “10,000 Reasons” or “Blessed Be Your Name,” but I would leave the final choice to the CCM fan on the top 10 committee.

So in the end, any list like this is a subjective one. The only objective way to measure “best” would be to look at a large population of selection over time — such as those hymns that were published in the broadest range of hymnals, either over many decades or among recent compilations.

I have been building a database of Anglican hymns (in Anglican hymnals); certainly Oremus has this list for the lyrics, but confirming which tunes are published where takes a little more work.

Friday, July 22, 2016

11 Reasons to Keep Screens out of the Sanctuary

Blogger Jonathan Aigner at the Ponder Anew blog this week posted a list of 11 reasons why churches should not use projection screens in their sanctuaries.

Several of these points tie back to earlier points in this blog:

  • 5. Screens have hastened the decline in musicianship in the church. …  those of us who can read music are limited by not having access to it.” Even if people know the melody, as I noted almost seven years ago, the lack of a hymnal means the lack of musical harmony for all but the privileged members of the choir.
  • 7. Screens open the door to theological disunity.  Denominational hymnals contain songs that are considered, examined, and vetted for adherence to their theological tradition. ” Or as I said in 2010:
  • “This is also another reason why hymnals are important: a hymnal codifies a church’s doctrine and minimizes deviations from doctrine. It doesn’t matter whether the hymnal is photocopied, oversewn or a PDF: what matters is that it has been vetted the same as any other part of the liturgy. As Anglicans, we don’t allow just anything to be read as scripture or prayer, so of course the hymn selection should be put to the same test.”
  • 8. Screens have cost us an awareness of our common hymnody. Printing songs in a hymnal gives them legitimacy and permanence, especially when they’ve been included in volumes for decades or even centuries. Even when we don’t sing them, they remain there, and we encounter them in the pages. … Before long, we may lose the best of our musical heritage completely, simply because nobody’s ever seen them, let alone thought of recording them.” This is exactly the point I’ve been making since the beginning of this blog, emphasizing the importance of timeless hymns that provide “continuity across generations and the centuries.”
Aigner (and others) have predicted the imminent decline of praise music, but I doubt that the persistent rants of a few of us traditionalist bloggers will be enough to turn back decades of CCM. Still, the same principles that cause baby boomers to reject music largely from the 15th through 20th centuries would presumably mean that each generation would reject the previous — thus rendering obsolete the music that the boomers fought so hard to bring into the church.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Praise Songs with “Old Words”

There was a great post earlier this month on how praise bands update traditional hymns on Ponder Anew. The blog is by Jonathan Aigner, a Texas PCUSA choir director who regularly turns a skeptical eye towards the excesses of CCM.

Entitled “Modernized Hymns: Hymns, or Contemporary Songs with Old Words?” the post starts with a late 20th century example of such modernization at his Baptist youth summer camp by a praise song leader named Chris Tomlin (yes that Chris Tomlin). Even as a teenager it was clear that Aigner smelled something fishy about claiming that the new song — with bridges modulation and additional lyrics — was just a different way of signing the old hymn.

Are Modernized Hymns Actually Hymns?

Here is the crux of his argument:
But were we actually singing hymns?

I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

Of course, Chris Tomlin and other commercial worship songwriters have led a trend in the industry in which hymns are turned into commercial recordings, and then find a place in churches that practice contemporary worship. We see this even more in December, when everyone wants to hear their favorite carols and Christmas songs. So, all the biggest recording artists cook up their own versions of these songs, and church cover worship bands offer up their best imitations.

I hear from a number of contemporary worship apologists who proudly tell me they sing lots of hymns in their services, but that they are “refreshed” or “reimagined” in a modern style.

I think there’s a problem here. Though singing good theology is important, the way we sing it is also vitally important. Of course, that’s in contrast to the prevailing message of contemporary worship that says it’s all about taste, and that musical style doesn’t matter.

But it does matter. It’s about meaning, not preference. And music always carries meaning.
He continues with additional details of how to tell a hymn from a contemporary song with old words.”

When Was a Hymn Written?

This posting resonated with two other observations on a similar topic.

One was my own posting from last year asking “When was a hymn ‘written’?” Again, in other contexts people have claimed old words with modern music and performance styles qualify as an ancient hymn. It’s one thing to say that acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment does not change the character of an ancient or medieval chant. It’s another thing to claim that it’s a traditional hymn when you have the full-on rhythm guitar, electric bass and drummer accompanying your lead singer.

I think Jonathan and I have similar reservations about the efforts of praise band leaders to modernize traditional hymns while claiming the mantle of the long-accepted form of Christian praise and worship.

The Need for Reverence

The other thing that resonated with this theme was listening the same week to a May 24 podcast of Issues Etc. The topic was “Reverence in Worship,” an interview with Lutheran Pastor David Petersen. (The same topic had been covered seven months earlier in an interview with regular guest Rev. Will Weedon, director of worship for the LCMS.)

The interview drew on his article on the same topic published in (“The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy”). Alas, the journal hasn’t made it to the 21st century with articles (or at least a table of contents) from recent issues.

The arguments made by Rev. Petersen appealed to the authority of Lutheran and seminal Lutheran doctrine, notably the Book of Concord and the Augsburg Confession. In particular, he noted the admonition to worship “with greatest reverence.” But the actual conclusions were ones that should be shared by any liturgical Protestant.

One is that reverence is not (as some might claim) merely in the mind of the worshipper. Instead, it has an objective reality. As Rev. Petersen cited C.S. Lewis:
CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man tells a story about an English textbook, of a story of the artist Coleridge who overhears two tourists looking at a waterfall, and one says it's “sublime.” Coleridge says that is correct, while the textbook says that's not correct, that different people could have different opinions.

There is something objectively real in the waterfall that requires a response from us.
Rev. Petersen’s definition of reverence is
  • virtue — a habit of the heart, developed through practice
  • an attitude and feeling love towards God, tempered by respect, honor, fear, awe and shame
According to his conception, different attributes of this reverence wax and wane depending on where we are in the service.

However, to this conception, Petersen added a final element — joy — or a feeling of exuberance. This ties to the emotive element of music throughout the generations (including the sublime sacred music of composers such as Tallis, Bach and Mozart) without the excesses of CCM.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day

From the propers for July 4 as prescribed by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
The Collect.

O ETERNAL God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Excerpted from the second lesson for Morning Prayer (John 8:31-36) from the daily lectionary:
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32, RSV)
From the Prayers and Thanksgivings:
For Our Country.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hymns for the Great Banquet

At our (28 BCP) parish today, the gospel lesson was Luke 14:16-24, the Parable of the Great Banquet. This passage is for Trinity 2 in the 28 BCP, and also called out for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost in the 1962 Catholic lectionary (“in the Octave of Corpus Christi”).

We heard the KJV, but here is the ESV (the RSV is almost the same):
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go oJesus, Breut quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
This seems such a powerful passage regarding the nature of faith: all are invited but few (today ever fewer) will come. It also anticipates Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

In his commentary Luke for Everyone, NT Wright notes that beyond the two obvious levels of the parable is a third less obvious implication for the faith:
The party to which the original guests were invited was Jesus’ kingdom-movement, his remarkable welcome to all and sundry. If people wanted to be included in Jesus’ movement, this is the sort of thing they were joining.
Strangely, it is nowhere to be found in the Revised Common Lectionary (according to the Vanderbilt RCL site). Looking through tables of the 1979 prayer book, the passage is also skipped in the Sunday readings for Year C and only found in the daily lectionary. The ACNA trial use lectionary also omits this passage, as does the 1998/2002 Roman Catholic lectionary for the US. (I thought the point of the 3-year lectionary was to cover more Scripture, not less.)

Hymnal 1940, 1982

I was expecting to have a hymn today touch on this theme. Our communion hymn came the closest: “Deck thyself, my soul with gladness” (H40: 210; H82: 339), a 1649 German Lutheran hymn with a tune (Schmuecke Dich) by Johann Cruger and a text by Johann Franck.  Verse 3 of the translation by the great Catherine Winkworth says
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
Let me gladly here obey thee;
Never to my hurt invited,
Be thy love with love requited;
From this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give me,
As thy guest in heav’n receive me.
In fact, when I pulled out A Scriptural Index to the Hymnal 1982, this was the only entry in the book for this gospel passage (which confirms that the 1979 prayer book schedules the text only for the Daily Office).

But I also heard echoes of verse 1 from  familiar hymn that turned out to be an Easter season favorite (H40: 89, H82: 174), with the Jakob Hintze melody harmonized by J.S. Bach:
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his piercèd side;
Praise we Him, whose love divine
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.
Hymns Ancient & Modern

In my folder of PDFs of old hymnals, I used a PDF search to look for mention of “banquet” (which appears only 5 times in the NT — 4 times here and once for Herod’s banquet that brought the execution of John the Baptist). This offered a third hymn from Hymns Ancient & Modern, described in the 1914 companion to Hymns A&M as follows:
128. P.
The Lamb's high banquet (Neale), 1851.
Orig. ascribed (?) to S. Ambrose. It was used as the proper Vesper hy. from Low Sunday to Ascension, but without a doxology, which was taken from hy. 141 for all hys. in that metre. It was the custom of the early Ch. that Baptism should be solemnly administered to many catechumens on Easter Eve. These persons were now for the first time about to receive the H. Com munion, and therefore waiting to share that high banquet In garments white and fair, in reference to the chrisom-robes given at Baptism, and worn till Low Sunday, called  "Dominica in Albis." The tr. is slightly altered. Dr. Neale wrote "We await" for "called to share," and in st. 2,1. 3, he gave "roseate," afterwards altered to "crimson," and then to "precious." In a preface he specially drew attention to these alterations as spoiling the idea of the orig. "Though one drop of Christ s Blood was sufficient to redeem the world, yet out of the greatness of His love to us He would shed all. As every one knows, the last drainings of lifeblood are not crimson, but of a paler hue : strictly speaking, roseate. Change the word and you eliminate the whole idea. Besides which, Christ is the True Rose, is a second reason for this word."
As in the companion, my copy lists this as #128 but Oremus lists it (perhaps from an earlier edition) as #111. (Hymns Ancient & Modern had notable inconsistencies across the various editions). The first verse is:
The Lamb's high banquet called to share,
arrayed in garments white and fair,
the Red Sea past, we now would sing
to Jesus our triumphant King.
The rest of the hymn has more of a Revelation 19 than Luke 14 feel to it.

In conclusion, I’m surprised that this major passage of Luke has so little scriptural support. However, right now — beyond US Continuing Anglicans and the global Anglicans who use the 1662 BCP — this passage is not often being heard.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Christian funerals in a secular society

As someone interested in Christian hymnody and liturgy, I have been taking notes as I go to weddings and (more often) funerals. Members of my parents’ generation have been dying through natural causes, while at the same time there are occasional (and tragic) funerals for family members who have died well before their time.

This Week’s Experience

Sunday I attended the funeral for my aunt (married to my mom’s brother for 60+ years). It was held at the TEC church where she was married more than 70 years ago, in the 1960s-era sanctuary where she worshipped for nearly 40 years. Unlike with my father, at age 95 my aunt has outlived her contemporaries (and her husband and sister) and so the service was about 20 family and friends from having lived in the same community for 90+ years (including some of her husband's former high school students).

The service was Rite II burial from the 1979 prayer book, with four readings (Isaiah 61:1-3; 1 John 3:1-2; John 5:24-27,6:37-40) from the RSV. There was no homily, but remembrances from the family and the rector who knew her for the last few years. The 68-year-old rector vowed his openness and inclusiveness but had the judgement to know that this was not the occasion to promote his modernized theology.

Compared to other funerals, two things stuck out. First, when we had communion only about a dozen people came up, including only five from the family. This was despite the priest’s pronouncement that anyone (not just any Christian) was welcome.

Secondly, almost no one sang the only hymn, at the recessional, despite being an Anglican favorite. In retrospect this should not have been surprising. I was the only practicing Anglican (CoE, TEC, ACNA, Continuing or otherwise) among the family that includes Catholic, nondenominational and a plurality (perhaps majority) of lapsed Christians. There were probably a few of my aunt’s parish friends singing behind us, but he organ drowned out the few of us that knew the hymn: “All things bright and beautiful" (H82: 405). I know why she would have loved it, just as my wife has listed it as a possibility for her own funeral.

However, if the funeral is for the living — not the dead — then picking something that is Anglican (but not ecumenical) for the recessional won’t (IMHO) provide the final closure for those present. That doesn’t mean that such a hymn can’t be used: as with Sunday morning, I like a three (or four) hymn service, so one of these could be placed somewhere earlier in the service (or supported by a choir).

Anglican Hymns for an Ecumenical Funeral

In the last few years, I have attended funerals at (another) cousin’s Lutheran church for her husband and later her son. The latter had two hymns from the Lutheran Book of Worship: “Amazing grace” (in H82 but not H40) and “How great thou art” (not in either one). The former hymn went well, but the latter proved difficult.

My father loved church music all his life and became increasingly devout at the end of his life. At his 1995 funeral, we had three pieces of music:
  • “Jerusalem, my happy home” (H40: 535, Tune: Land of Rest)
  • Psalm 23 (tune by Malotte) sung by a soloist
  • “Eternal father, strong to save” aka the Navy hymn (H40: 513, Tune: Melita)
As a WW II Army veteran, we used the multi-service version (H40: 513) rather than the Navy original (H40: 512)l As a civilian, my service would drop the Navy hymn. I would prefer the Rutter Psalm 23 but (as in my father’s case) few churches have a soloist or choir who could perform it on short notice. That still leaves one or two hymns to be added.

My dad’s service — at his then-ECUSA (now ACNA) parish — brought family, some Christian friends, and many of his church friends. (He was 81, but his friends were a decade younger). Most of the congregation knew the hymns.

After my dad died, I talked with my wife and her parents. We came up with these hymns:
  • “Eternal father” (H40:513) for my father-in-law, who was a Korean War Army vet
  • “Faith of our Fathers” (H40: 393; H82: 558)
  • “Mine eyes have seen the glory” (tune: John Brown’s Body, aka Battle Hymn of the Republic) — something all three of them wanted
  • “O God our help in ages past” (H40: 289)
  • “Onward Christian soliders” (H40: 557; H82: 562)
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law wants “On eagle’s wings” which clearly requires a soloist.

To this list, my wife added three Anglican favorites
  • “For all the saints” (H40: 126.1; H82: 287)
  • “All things bright and beautiful” (H40: 311; H82: 405)
  • “I sing a song of the saints of God” (H40: 243; H82: 293)
The former is our favorite hymn for November 1, while the latter two were sung at our daughter’s baptism (along with “All hail the power of Jesus’ name”, H40: 355). Now I can see these hymns would be a problem unless there’s a large Anglican turnout.

To this I would add
  • “Amazing Grace” (H82: 671), although this is a nonstandard 4-part harmonization
  • “Rock of ages” (H40: 471.2; H82: 685)
  • “How lovely is thy dwelling place” — an English version of the tune from Brahms’ German Requiem, that was used at the Ford and Thatcher funerals (although it clearly would require a soloist)
Finally, there is the question of where they go in the service. For the processional, I’d love to keep “Jerusalem, my happy home” but this 19th century American spiritual is not all that familiar. “For all the saints” is a great choice but (thanks to Vaughn Williams) even more Anglican. “O God our help in ages past" might be more ecumenical.

There is also the question of the recessional and dismissal. My dad’s funeral used “Faith of our fathers” which might work for my father in law. However, I would say that the two martial hymns (“Onward Christian soldiers”, “Mine eyes have seen the glory”) would work well, as would “I sing a song of the saints of God” with a very Anglican audience.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What's not to like about praise music?`

At a recent ACNA workshop, one of the hosts thought it would be a good idea to bring in a guitarist and play some praise songs. This helped crystalize some of my thoughts about what’s not to like about praise music.

I’ll admit an Anglo-Catholic critique of Evangelical music might be a bit biased, but at least it’s a starting point for a conversation about the bad (and perhaps good) of contemporary worship.  I will also try (as best I can) to distinguish between objective defects rather than mere differences of taste.

1. Lyrics

Anglo-Catholic worship has an emphasis (as with the RCC and Orthodoxy) in continuity of doctrine over the centuries. This morning for Easter 2 we sang “That Easter Day with joy was bright.” (H40: 98). The Hymnal 1940 Companion says that it is taken from a a Latin hymn entitled “Aurora lucis rutilat,” via J.M. Neale’s Hymnal Noted and Hymn’s Ancient and Modern. The hymn “may be by St. Ambrose,” and dates to at least the 8th century if not the 5th.

Bad: Many praise songs are “Jesus love songs,” where the lyrics seem to express a (non-Trinatarian) secular affection for the great JC. The lyrics also tend to repeat the same idea over and over again.

This is not to say that all pre-rock band hymns are good. Even though Anglicans are (to some degree) the Via Media, there are major doctrinal differences between the Catholic and Reformed extremes of Western Christianity, such that the hymns of one might not be acceptable to the other. And the emotive (doctrinally suspect) praise songs of the past few decades have their antecedents in 19th century American hymnody.

Good: The first song of the worship “set” was the Trisagion — as Catholic and doctrinally safe as they get — albeit with an unrecognizable modern setting. The 1960s praise hymn “Bread of Life” (by Sister Suzanne Toolan) made the tail end of the hymnal era — musically like a 60s folk song with problematic voice leading and phrasing — but the text is an undeniably Biblical adaptation of John 6.

2. Reverence

Admittedly, this is the most akin to taste. We Anglo-Catholics have a visceral reaction against rock bands on Sunday morning, even though the majority of American Protestants (and more than a few Catholics) have embraced contemporary worship. On weekends, I’ve been known to sing 2- or 3- part Beetles (or Eagles) harmonies, but IMHO they have no place on Sunday.

Still, I think we can agree that there are differences in the degree of reverence to God. Are we in our lyrics, music and style reflecting the omnipotence of our great God?

Bad: There is a common concern that the CCM is worldly and doesn’t belong in church — whether because it’s schmalzy, trendy or faddish . My sense is that the churches that use this music don’t have this concern, so it seems about as productive as asking Democrats to debate Republicans over the role of the free market.

Good: A contemporary favorite is the 2004 Chris Tomlin No. 1 CCM hit “How great is our God” (#6 on today’s CCLI CCM list) The lyrics clearly emphasizes such majesty, althtough the performance style is often more 60s (or 80s or 90s)

3. Performance vs. Congregational Singing

When I go to hear a praise band, usually I have no idea what’s going on. They repeat themselves, they change keys, there’s a different tune for the bridge, they improvise, change tempo etc. For example, at my ACNA meeting the praise guitarist decided to dot the rhythm of a familiar tune.

This problem seems particularly bad when there are more than 200 people in the room: the band is performing for the audience rather than leading the congregation in singing. (TV services are also bad in this regard). There is no music on the screen and the words don’t completely show the meter or what is going on. The net effect is that the congregation — unless they know how this particular band likes to perform this particular song — doesn’t know what to expect and is partially or entirely left behind.

To be fair, organ-based choirs do this too. In either case, the effect is to discourage congregational singing — particularly by new members who are trying to figure out if they belong here.

4. Continuity with Early Generations

The emphasis on praise music seems to conclude that nothing worth playing was written before 1980 (or even 2000). For Anglican contemporary worship, that means we claim continuity of doctrine and belief with the historic undivided church — but not for key elements of the liturgy.

This seems unprecedented for the past 150 years — ever since churches began printing Hymnals. In the US, Hymnal 1940 has content from 1916, 1892 and 1872 US hymnals, as well as The English Hymnal (1906) and Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861-1889). Despite an intentional effort to make major changes in theology, style and inclusive language, Hymnal 1982 still has considerable overlap with Hymnal 1940. In its favor, Hymnal 1982 add some new hymns (“Amazing Grace”, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee”) that were written well before 1940, and well known to Protestants outside ECUSA.

Good: A few have tried to make compromises with updates to familiar tunes. . Chris Tomlin has an updated “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” where us old fogies can sing the familiar part even if we get lost at the 21st century bridge that makes it “fresh” (and newly copyright-able).

5. Continuity Between Parishes

With a published hymnal, people are using the same songs, selected and authorized by a central authority. The lack of a hymnal (whatever style) eliminates that likelihood that going from one parish to another will have familiar music. Different churches have different expectations about what is current and relevant; for example, attending contemporary worship in Texas exposed me to music that was very very different.

Good: at our workshop, the final praise song was the 2012 Matt Redman song “Bless the Lord, oh my soul” (aka “10,000 reasons”), #2 on the recent CCM chart. Everyone in the room knew it (I didn’t know it well, but had heard it before). Now these were all people in the same diocese who had worshiped together, met regularly and probably had music directors who shared ideas. Still, I was surprised at the degree of commonality.

Unknown: Will there be a praise song from the beginning of this century that will still be sung at the end of this century? It would be interesting to track how many of the top 20 songs were more than 10 years old. If there are many, then this is like oldies radio, jazz, classical, and consistent with building up a new canon of this different style of writing and performing worship music. If not, it would suggest that contemporary worship music is inherently transitory and temporary — a feature, not a bug.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Favorite Lenten hymns

After starting this blog nine years ago — with 262 posts so far — only a few mention hymns for the first five weeks of Lent. (I did previously comment on appropriate hymns for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday).

So as I did for Advent, Christmas (in 2009, 20102014 and 2015) and Easter, it seemed like a good time to provide an overview of the hymns available for Lent (including Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Good Friday).

I cross-referenced hymns from these periods from The English Hymnal (COE 1906), Hymnal 1940 (ECUSA) and Hymnal 1982 (ECUSA). I also matched the hymns from these lists to two Missouri Synod (LCMS) hymnals: The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and Lutheran Service Book (2006).

Eleven hymn texts (twelve combinations) stood out. Because there’s such a small number, I found that I previously wrote about five of these texts.

Title Tune TEH H40 H82 TLH LSB Remarks
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended Herzleibster Jesu 70 71.1* 158 143 439 Holy Week
All glory, laud, and honor St. Theodulph 622 62 154 160 442 Palm Sunday
Forty days and forty nights Aus der Tiefe 73 55 150 Early Lent
Lord Jesus, think on me Southwell 77 417 641 320 610
Lord, who throughout these forty days St. Flavian 59 * Early Lent
O sacred head, sore wounded Passion Chorale 102 75 168 172 449* Holy Week
Ride on, ride on in majesty The King's Majesty 64.1 156 Palm Sunday
Ride on, ride on in majesty Winchester New 620 64.2 162 441 Palm Sunday
The glory of these forty days Erhalt uns, Herr 68.2 61 143 Early Lent
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were You There 80 172 456 Holy Week
When I survey the wondrous Cross Rockingham 107 337 474 175.2* 426* Holy Week
* Another tune available

Three of the hymns (all with “forty days” in the title) are both written and commonly used for Ash Wednesday or the first Sunday in Lent. Two (“All glory, laud, and honor” and “Ride on, ride on in majesty”) are clearly written for Palm Sunday. Four are about the passion of Christ, which could be celebrated on Lent 5 (“Passiontide” in the 28 BCP) or any time in Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday or (when hymns are used) Good Friday. And in fact, these dates are when the these hymns are assigned by Hymnal 1940: Ash Wednesday, Lent 1, Lent 5, or Palm Sunday.

“…Ride on in majesty” has two tunes: Winchester New is preferred by the CoE hymnals (dating back to the 19th century Hymns Ancient & Modern), and (the considerably more difficult) King’s Majesty which was introduced in H40 and the only one kept by H82.

This is really a list of the top hymns: there are other hymns worth mentioning that weren’t quite as popular. I hope to publish a more complete list at some point in the future.