Sunday, February 21, 2016

Funeral for a Catholic traditionalist

Like many American Christians, I was surprised and shocked by the Feb. 13 announcement of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. We were traveling during the funeral, and so caught the rebroadcast on C-SPAN after we got home.

Some 3,000 attended the service at America’s largest Catholic church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In the funeral homily, the celebrant — his son Rev. Paul Scalia — described his father’s faith:
God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith: The conviction that Christ's presence and power continue in the world today through His body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church's teachings. He treasured the church's ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.
The homily included a mixture of theology and eulogy, consistent with a letter by Justice Scalia, as quoted by his son:
Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed, especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for, and giving thanks for, God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.
According to Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the services were in keeping with the wishes of his widow and his family.  The program was posted at several locations, including the Corpus Christi Watershed blog. The readings were Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 23, Romans 5:5-11, and Matthew 11: 25-30 with the texts (not surprisingly) taken from the New American Standard.

Not all the music was listed in the program. According to one of the Catholic musicians at the Church Music Association of America, the musical pieces were:
  • Hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past"
  • Collect is sung by Father Scalia
  • Psalm 23:1-6: sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Verse: sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Offertory motet: Beati quorum via (Stanford)
  • Preface dialogue: chanted
  • Sanctus: XVIII (chanted, with organ)
  • Memorial Acclamation: When... (chanted, with organ)
  • Amen (chanted, with organ)
  • Our Father (chanted sonorously by all present)
  • Peace Dialogue (chanted)
  • Agnus Dei - Victoria, Missa Quarti Toni National Shrine choir
  • A treble schola chants the Communion verse "Lux Aeterna" according to the Graduale Romanum
  • Communion Hymn: Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All (Faber)
  • Communion motets: Franck's Panis Angelicus, Mozart's Ave Verum
  • Post-communion dialogue: chanted
  • In Paradisum: English, sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Recessional: O God Beyond All Praising (Holst)
I must say that I only recognized the processional hymn, the first communion motet and the Holst tune for the recessional (but not its 1982 text). However, the chant for the Lord’s Prayer seemed to share a common origin with the “very ancient” Anglican chant for this prayer (H40: 722).

Communion was administered in one kind. The bulletin quoted a 1996 USCCB policy that discouraged non-Catholics from coming to communion — except for a few specific denominations (including Orthodox Christians) who were allowed but “urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches.”

Scalia was (not surprisingly) a liturgical traditionalist, with a preference for the Latin mass. However, the plainchant in the first part of the service (what we Anglicans call the liturgy of the word) seem to be taken from the modernized 21st century American Catholic liturgy — with the introit and other chants typical of a modern American RCC parish.

I was not the only one struck with the modernity of the service. Catholic organist and blogger Jeff Ostrowski wrote:
It’s difficult to understand why the Mass was Ordinary Form since Justice Scalia was known to attend the Extraordinary Form exclusively. Moreover, while the musical selections were (generally speaking) fine, they were nothing compared to Requiem settings by Victoria, Guerrero, Morales, and so forth. Perhaps the problem is me. I just find the traditional Requiem so powerful & consoling, anything else can’t help but fall short.
While many of us liturgists and church musicians have our preferences for our personal church services, it’s important to put it in perspective: there’s nothing in the choice of the form that would make one iota of difference in the disposition of our eternal soul. If the service was consistent with the family’s wishes — perhaps to make it more approachable to the nation’s 70 million Catholics — then their liturgical choices must be respected and honored.

Antonin Gregory Scalia (1936-2016): Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Near-perfect harmony

Today on Lent 1 we sang the #1 Lenten hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights.” #1 in that it is the first Lenten hymn in both The English Hymnal (#73) and first in Hymnal 1940 (#55) — as well as the second “Ash Wednesday and Lent” hymn in Hymnal 1916 (#123). Hymnal 1940 Companion says it’s been used in the CoE since Hymns Ancient & Modern and in PECUSA hymnals since 1874. It managed to survive the modernization urges in Hymnal 1982 (#150) and the New English Hymnal (#67). All use the same tune.

Hymn Text

All are derived from the same 1856 text by Rev. George Hunt Smyttan (1822-1870), as altered by Francis Pott. Although the US and UK version differ in the middle, they share the same first and last verses (5 in PECUSA, 6 in CoE).

From a catechetical standpoint, it’s hard to match this hymn for explaining to the new Christian (or newly-liturgical Christian) why we observe (celebrate seems the wrong word) the season of Lent:
Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled.

Today, however I was struck by the music. The tune Heinlein (aka Aus der Tiefe) is taken from the Nürnbergisches Gesangbuch; Google suggests this is the only hymn from this songbook still being used. According to a German-language book on 17th-century Lutheran hymns (Lorbeer, 2012: 133):
Das Nürnbergisches Gesangbuch, das mir in einer Ausgabe von 1677 vorlag, war 1676 bei Christoph Gerhard und Sebastian Göbel erschienen. Trotz des offiziell klingenden Titels handelt es sich nicht um ein amtliches Gesangbuch, sonder verdankt such einer Initiative des Verlegers Sebastian Göbel, der schon vorher Gesang- und Gebetbücher herausgebracht hatte.

The Nürnberg hymnal, for which I have an 1677 edition, was published in 1676 by Christoph Gerhard and Sebastian Göbel. Despite the official sounding title, it does not constitute an official hymnal, but instead reflects an initiative of the publisher Sebastian Goebel, who had previously released song and prayer books.
Several sources say the tune is marked “M.H.,” which musicologists assume refers to Lutheran pastor Martin Herbst (1654-1681).

Oddly, although this clearly is a German Lutheran tune (written by the country vicar of a tiny English village), it doesn’t appear in any of the Missouri Synod (i.e. German-American) Lutheran hymnals from 1940-2006. I remember singing it for our Wednesday Lenten services during the year I was in the local LCMS choir, but I guess this was the one hymn I requested and won special (doctrinal) permission from the pastor for the choir to use it despite it not being on the approved LCMS list.


While the tune is very familiar from decades of singing it, what struck me today was the harmony. Neither Hymnal 1940 nor Hymnal 1940 Companion credits the harmonization, but Hymnal 1982 and The Cyberhymnal attribute it to English composer William Henry Monk (1823-1889).

From my two years of music composition as a music minor decades ago, the D-minor harmony feels more 17th century than 19th century: not as complex as Bach, but definitely consistent with Baroque harmonies. Ignoring the passing tones, the bass line is a very straightforward I-V-I-V-II-V; I-IV-VII-III-VII-I-V-I. According to my copy of Piston (1987: 23), it follows the standard rules for root progressions dating back centuries.

I understand that 19th and 20th century music paved new ground by breaking these classic rules of harmony and counterpoint. However, as a layman singing in the pews — usually not knowing the week’s hymns until five minutes before the service starts — I really, really appreciate predictable harmonies and voice leading that lend themselves to sight-singing. Singing harmony for two or three hymns on Sunday morning is often the highlight of my day and one of the highlights of my week. I like to think that (in my own small way) is part of our broader congregation’s singing to the glory of God.

Lost Harmony

The trend for hymnal harmony has not been a good one. While Hymnal 1982 added a number of descants, it also deleted the harmony for numerous hymns (a tally I plan to make someday). Worse yet, the 21st century video projector churches (when for some reason they sing hymns) project only the words, not the music — privileging the choir (with their hymnals) over congregational singers who don’t have the inside scoop.

I realize that congregation singing dates (at best) 500 years to Luther, and in its modern incarnation 150 years to Hymns A&M and the post-Civil War US hymnals. Still, it’s not something that I think the church — or its musically minded members — should give up without a fight.


Lorbeer, Lukas. Die Sterbe-und Ewigkeitslieder in deutschen lutherischen Gesangbüchern des 17. Jahrhunderts. Vol. 104. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.

Piston, Walter with Mark Devoto. Harmony. 5th ed. Norton, 1987.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Halfway through a year of Daily Office

On Sexagesima, the Gospel (1 year lectionary) and sermon at our church were drawn from the parable of the sower (Luke 8: 4-16):
WHEN much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way-side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.

And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way-side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Since returning to the church 25 years ago, thorns have been my biggest spiritual challenge. I no longer chase after money, but still retain a competitive ambition for worldly success that means following through on what I know is right often plays second fiddle to career goals (sometimes third after my family). So this is a work in progress.

At our new church, I am making progress on this attitude a few minutes every day, in part through adoption of the Daily Office.

Starting the Daily Office

After six months of searching, last summer we switched churches to a large, established Continuing Anglican church. (Up until the last minute we expected to switch to my father's church, but because they don’t have their own building, the schedule of services didn't work for our family.)

The choice paid almost immediate dividends. On our second visit to what would become our new church, we went to the adult ed class, led by one of the senior couples in the parish. The topic was marriage, but the wife (Karen) talked aobut how she advised couples with difficulties to pray the Daily Office. I'd heard clergy talk about the Daily Office, but hearing it from a lay person made it seem more real (and approachable).

I started saying morning prayer the next day, and have managed to consistently say it 6-7 days a week for the past 7 months. The days I miss, usually I have an appointment or call first thing in the morning, and then get dragged into the cares of the world. Sticking to the discipline does help push back on such cares (as discussed below). It also has helped me to more fully understand morning pryaer (see next posting).

(It was only later in an adult ed class did I realize that Daily Office also includes Evening Prayer. So I'm only halfway there, and addressing that gradually is my 2016 resolution.)

Pastoral Imperative of Spiritual Balance

Since November, I've been in an advanced pastoral ministry class with our rector. The book for our first four sessions was Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation (1958) by Martin Thornton, an English priest who lived from 1915-1986. I cannot praise this book enough, as it (along with the class) has changed my life.

A major theme throughout the book is the need for spiritual balance: as we found out in the final chapters of the book, especially chapters 17-20. Imbalance towards our triune God is an inherent trend of human nature:
In dealing with the three Persons of the Trinity separately and in seeming isolating, we are only accepting the fact of human frailty, which pastoral theology is bound to do. … Because of finity … we are inclined to lay emphasis on one single Person of the Holy Trinity and divorce him form the other Persons; this we gladly agree should not be, but it is so, and pastoral theology must face facts. [193]
Everyone is tempted by his or her personality type toward imbalance:
The basic religious tendency associated with the idea of the first person of the Trinity is one of transcendence, majesty, or awe. If in a particular soul, the single word “God” immediately suggests the notion of the Father as omnipotent Creator and supreme Being, then that’s soul’s … approach to God will be generally objective, its religion may well contain a considerable intellectual element, it might achieve adoration or it might sink to a legalistic moralism.

If God is immediately apprehended as the Incarnate Son, a sense of communion, rapport, and finally love will be to the forefront of the soul’s experience. Such a soul is likely to be widely sacramental, probably imaginative and meditative rather than intellectual, and possess of instinctive understanding of sin and redemption. …

The Holy Ghost is immanent in the world and within the soul and he is spontaneously known as the Paraclete: he is the Comforter spiritually experienced, he is God indwelling, and gives feeling to religious experience. [194]

By this simplest possible summary, the first Person of the Trinity inspires the objective approach, the second Person inspires the mediatorial and redemptive, and the third Person the subjective element in the religious experience. And by the necessary balancing of the traditional expressions — Office, Mass, and private prayer — we have an ascetical framework of greater practical value than simplicity might suggest. [196]
The way to achieve spiritual balance is to practice a balanced rule of life. Thorton associates each of the Persons of the Trinity with a particular personality trait and element of a spiritual discipline:
The Rule of the Anglican Church can be summarized as consisting of (1) the Office, which is the corporate worship of the Body of Christ to the Father … This is a twofold Office “daily throughout the year”. (2) The Mass is the living embrace of Christ in joy, attained by the synthesis of his complete succor offered and his absolute demand accepted. And it is stipulated on some seventy-five days of the year (The Red Letter days) when a special collect, epistle, and gospel are supplied (3) Private prayer concerns the sanctification of the individual soul by the indwelling spirit, to the glory of God. [205-206]
In other words, an Anglo-Catholic is not someone who just goes to mass, but follows the (Benedictine-inspired) Cranmer roadmap of mass and daily office, combined with personal prayer.

Praying the Daily Office

I struggled at first to master the Daily Office. In the 28 prayer book, finding the daily collect and lesson is trivial because it's printed there. In the 1982 (or ACNA) with the three year lectionary, it requires considerable juggling unless (as is now the case) they put the lessons in the bulletin. But that complexity is magnified sixfold or tenfold when trying to do the readings every morning (and evening).

Fortunately, the Intenret makes it easy and gives almost no excuse. For morning prayer, I tried various websites:
  • The widest range of liturgies is at The Trinity Mission -- which supports Rite I, Rite II, 1928, 1662 and several others. However, they use their own lectionary, which makes it difficult to fall back to paper in an emergency, or follow the same readings as your fellow parishioners.
  • My Rite II ACNA mentor swears by The Mission of St. Clare (which even has an app), but it’s a Rite II site with partial Rite I support (i.e. if you pray Rite I at times you end up with Rite II prayers)
  • I stumbled across, which is a straight up 1928 BCP site, and then found when taking my class that almost everyone in my class uses it (including the rector). It is what I have used daily for more than six months now.
  • One of my classmates (the same Karen) mentioned Cradle of Prayer, which allows us Californians to recite our Daily Office while cruising down the freeway at 65 mph.
Some weeks it’s a challenge to do all seven days. I prefer to do it at home — either kneeling the entire time, kneeling as marked or (on mornings I’m not feeling so hot) not kneeling at all. I also do it in a hotel or (occasionally) at work. About once a week, I do it on the train to work (or even on a plane when traveling), either using my phone or pre-loading the CommonPrayer readings into my laptop. Finally, when there’s no practical alternative, I take the Cradle of Prayer loophole — which counts in a legalistic sense but lacks the same spiritual connection as reciting all the prayers myself (more later).

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The church shaping the world - or vice versa?

Regular readers know that a major theme of this blog is defending historic Christian liturgy against efforts to conform (or chase) the church to modern cultural norms and mores. The second segment on Tuesday’s Issues Etc. podcast was “Responding to evangelical clichés: The church must transform the culture.” Host Todd Wilken interviewed Bryan Wolfmueller, a fellow LCMS pastor, a regular Issues Etc. guest and host of the Table Talk Radio podcast.

Wilken stated the premise, the belief among evangelicals that “The church's job — or one of its jobs … is the transformation of the culture.” He argued that while the church seeks to change the culture, “very often in evangelicalism, it’s the culture that’s transformed the church.”

Referring both to the historic Catholic and modern evangelical process†, Wolfmueller argued that “when you try to avoid the culture, something opposite happens: you end up absorbing the culture.”

He continued:
“With contemporary worship, the idea is to be accommodating and accessible to the culture, so the culture is setting the agenda for how the evangelical church is worshiping. And now, more and more, it’s also setting the theological agenda. ...  The more you try to avoid the culture, in some profoundly ironic and related way, the culture has a strong influence on your doctrine and practice.”
Both men argue that the solution is the Lutheran doctrine of “Two Kingdoms,” which keeps separate the sacred and the secular in opposition to Roman Catholic Church and its historic assertion of temporal and spiritual authority. (Anglicans wouldn’t use this phrase, but clearly there is a distinction  in Anglican thought between areas where the Christian Church has a position and others where it does not.)

Finally, Wolfmueller argued that the work of Jesus is not to save (or destroy) the culture, but to save sinners. My recent work studying church planting has reminded me (again and again) that Sunday worship is only one of the responsibilities of the church, and so we can’t forget as (the b-school crowd would call it) this ultimate bottom line.

† This passage suggests a particularly ironic juxtaposition with his previous week’s discussion of evangelical clichés entitled “That’s Too Roman Catholic,” a criticism of Lutheran and other liturgical Protestants.