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.