Saturday, June 24, 2017

Luke, John and Zechariah

June 24 is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in the Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic calendars of saints’ days. Because the Annunciation takes place when Elizabeth’s pregnancy is six months along, the Western church traditionally dates John’s birth six months before Jesus.

This week, Issues Etc. reran an hour-long show on this feast day — a 2016 interview with Pastor David Peterson, an LCMS pastor from Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Although the Anglican and Lutheran liturgies are different, most of the points are applicable to Anglican liturgy as well.

There are many elements of the life of John — and Jesus — that are only told in the first two chapters of Luke. This includes three key canticles of the traditional liturgy: the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Benedictus (1:68-79) and Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32) — respectively the songs of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon.

The Benedictus, of course, is what Zechariah says at the ceremony that names (and circumcises) John. While the 1549 BCP is derived from the Coverdale (and Tyndale) translations, the same similarities can be seen in more modern spelling in the 1662 and KJV
Benedictus (BCP 1662) Luke 1:68-79 (KJV)
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for he hath visited and redeemed his people;
And he hath raised up a mighty salvation for us: in the house of his servant David;
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy Prophets: which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies: and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fore-fathers: and to remember his holy covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham: that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies: might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him: all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people: for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God: whereby the Day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now: and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
As the the New Advent encyclopedia states
The whole canticle naturally falls into two parts. The first (verses 68-75) is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation; but to such realization is given a characteristically Christian tone. As of old, in the family of David, there was power to defend the nation against their enemies, now again that of which they had been so long deprived, and for which they had been yearning, was to be restored to them, but in a higher and spiritual sense. …

The second part of the canticle is an address by Zachary to his own son, who was to take so important a part in the scheme of the Redemption; for he was to be a prophet, and to preach the remission of sins before the coming or the Orient, or Dawn, from on high.
According to the New Advent encyclopedia, it was Benedict who added this canticle to the morning office (lauds) in the 6th century. In Cranmer’s original 1549 BCP, the Benedictus was the only canticle available after the second lesson of Matins. The 1552 BCP — Cranmer’s final prayer book before his execution— gives a choice of the Benedictus or the Jubilate Deo (from Psalm 100); this pattern continues into the 1559 and 1662 BCP, as well as the US prayer books from 1789 to 1928. (The 1979 prayer book, as is its wont, gives a choice of 21 canticles after either reading).

As a choirboy (prior to H82 and the 1979 prayer book), we sang morning prayer every other Sunday, and the words of the Jubilate Deo are etched in my brain; for the Jubilate Tune 645, the F-major chant by William Russell (1777-1813) seems the most familiar. It’s rare nowadays that I see a sung morning prayer, but if I were to pick a sung Benedictus, it would be #634, the G major chant by James Turle (1802-1882)

The podcast made one additional point. Zechariah (like his wife) is from the priestly line of Aaron. When Zechariah meets Gabriel in the temple, he lost his ability to speak for doubting the angel. According to Pastor Peterson, this means that he cannot finish the service, which would have concluded with the Benediction of Aaron (which is also called the Priestly Blessing) from Numbers 6:24-27:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.
As Pr. Peterson reminded me — from my Missouri Synod days — this benediction is the closing prayer of the LCMS Holy Communion service. A quick check of my bookcase shows this benediction closes the Divine Service both in the 1941 and 2006 LCMS hymnals, as well as the 1978 LCA hymnal. In American Anglican liturgy, this benediction can be found in the Rite I Evening Prayer in the 1979 prayer book — but it is dropped in the ACNA draft liturgy (which most often follows Rite II in form and wording).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Farewell, Oremus

At a sacred music class last month, we compared notes about favorite websites for Anglican church music. I think Oremus was at the top of the list.

Alas, that was past tense. For a term paper (for this class), I went to Oremus to look up hymns from my favorite hymnal, and found this sad notice:
Started in 1997, the Oremus Hymnal is no more as May 30, 2017 due to copyright concerns. As I do not have the time or interest to update hundreds of webpages, I have taken the long overdue step of closing down this site. I am sorry that the material here will no longer be available here, but in the over two decades since starting this project, many other, excellent sites have become available. Google Books also has hundreds of historical hymnals available to browse for free.

If you need further help finding hymns, I suggest you go to Hymnary.org, which contains many more texts and audio files than I could ever hope to produce on my own.

Due to many requests, I have put the hymn suggestions for the lectionary back up. None of the links work, but they do list the first lines.
Lectionary Year A
Lectionary Year B
Lectionary Year C
This site was created by Steve Benner and was last modified on May 30, 2017.
On the one hand, I can sympathize with Steve, having created a much simpler website (on a different topic) the same year. Rather than a single guy, Hymnary.org has behind it the resources of Calvin College and its Calvin Instiute of Christian Worship.

From a legal standpoint, it should have been possible to include U.S. hymnals prior to 1923. British copyright law seems to provide 50 years after the death of the author (which means The English Hymnal and other Vaughan Williams has been available almost a decade). But again, I still understand why it wasn’t worth separating the wheat from the chaff.

There is one other reason I go to Oremus: the Liturgical Psalter, a little-known (but beautiful) translation whose licensing rights reverted to the authors in 2001. It's almost as poetic as the Coverdale psalter (found in most prayer books of the past 400 years), and a lot easier to understand.

Still, the index of dozens of Anglican hymnals at Oremus will be missed. I’m not sure if Hymnary can fully replace it, but that's a question for another time.



Monday, May 29, 2017

Another progressive theological innovation

Mainline Protestantism Declared A Safe Space For Those Offended By The Gospel
The Babylon Bee
May 25, 2016

LOUISVILLE, KY — … Speaking on behalf of [mainline] Protestant denominations… a spokesperson issued the following statement: “We are in agreement that there is a great need for churches to rise up and create spaces that are safe for questioning and accepting our identities, doubts, fears, failures, and blatant sins. Effective immediately, we are declaring all mainline Protestant churches safe spaces, where there are no judgments, conviction, repentance, or gospel presentations whatsoever.”''

The statement listed elements that safe space churches should remove from their premises, including “crosses, Bibles, pulpits, organs, hymnals, systematic theologies, and sermons exhibiting any form of triggering micro-aggression. Be considerate.” Words like “sin,” “hell,” “death,” “wrath,” “propitiation,” and “substitutionary atonement” are also on the ban list.

On behalf of all of mainline Protestantism, the spokesperson expressed heartfelt joy that they were able to make such a major step toward accepting—and not judging—anyone who may be on a path toward God’s judgment. …

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ecumenical funeral music

Over the weekend, I went to the funeral of an old friend of my father’s. He was both younger than my dad (by 13 years) and died at an older age (81 vs. 90), so I went to represent my father’s gratitude to someone who’d been very good to him.

The title of the church didn’t make it obvious, but in the pews the hymnals were embossed “First Assembly of God” which made this the first time I’d ever attended an Assembly of God service. (The local AoG church had rented its space in the past to the ACNA, and I’ve seen AoG televangelists on TV, but never actually attended a worship service). The preaching and use of the Bible matched my expectations (and I mean that in positive way).

The hymnal (Sing His Praise,  Gospel Publishing House, 1991), was little used by those attendees (two of us pulled it out), as the church had long since converted to praise band and projection screens. The drums were at the center of the stage, behind a plexiglass shield, for the next day’s performance worship music.

There was no choir, only a pianist. Other than her prelude and postlude, the music consisted of

  • “That Will be Glory,” solo by one of the pastors
  • “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” instrumental trio
  • “It is Well with my Soul” (#112, verses 1,3,4), sung by the congregation. It had the familiar harmony so in the refrain, I was able to do the men’s part in response to the upper (and unison) voices.
  • “How Great Thou Art” (#9, verses 1,3,4), sung by the congregation but interrupted by the pastor to make a point prior to the final verse
The pianist knew what she was doing. The pastor seemed to think changes in tempo made his singing more dramatic, which worked for the solo but not when he was leading 150 voices in singing. This approach to singing the music is undoubtably a local practice that would have been familiar to the many parishioners in attendance; I found it unfamiliar if not slightly confusing. 

It made me think that if you have a service with a large number of visitors — given how rarely non-Christians attend baptisms nowadays, that would mean a wedding or funeral — it's not just the choice of hymns (including tunes and words) that will make a difference on congregational participation. It’s also the style of performance.

Finally, it reinforced my prior prejudices: if you are going to have Christians in the room who are used to singing hymns, three hymns is the minimum and four is better. Those in attendance sang with gusto, and I think would have welcomed more verses if not more hymns.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Singing ancient Easter testimonies

Theologically, Easter is the greatest Christian feast, the culmination of the Christian year. It is also a great opportunity for mission, since it's one of the two Sundays where C&E Anglicans (or Catholics or Lutherans) will darken the church doors.

Thus it's not surprising that most churches schedule good hymns for Easter, as our Anglo-Catholic church did this morning, and at the blended service at daughter's college parish. And of course -- next to Christmas — there is the embarrassment of riches: 18 hymns (some with multiple tunes) in The English Hymnal, 17 hymns (three with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1940, and 33 hymns (7 with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1982.

Still, today I was struck that all four of the hymns sung at our Anglo-Catholic church were derived from Latin and Greek texts that trace back to  the pre-Reformation undivided church. I was also struck — not surprisingly given the original sources — the debt we owe to John Mason Neale for being able to sing them today.

Procession: Hail thee festival day! (H40: 86; H82: 175)

We sang all nine verses, alternating (as written) between women and men. It is based on the 6th century Latin text, “Salve festa dies,” by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (b. 530-600/609), making it one of the oldest hymns in Anglican hymnody.

The texts have been translated multiple times since the 16th century. This version begins with Hymn 624 of The English Hymnal (1906) with the now-familiar tune Salva festa dies by music editor Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Hymnal 1940 Companion credits the H40 version to Hymn 389 of Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (1931). While SOPEE alternates between the two tunes, the idea of alternating verses between women and men seems to have originated with H40.

Gradual: The Day of Resurrection (H40: 96.1; H82: 210)

We sang three verses to the first tune, the middle verse in harmony; Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant. The 8th century Greek text is by St. John of Damascus.. Our hymnals use the translation by John Mason Neale from his Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862), a text that entered the ECUSA hymnary with its Hymnal 1874. The tune Ellacombe is from an 18th century German Catholic hymnal.

Communion: At the Lamb's high feast we sing (H40: 89; H82: 174)

Although I've sung this before, somehow I never really appreciated it. The Latin text is from the Roman Breviary created for Urban VIII (pope 1623-1644), but can be traced back to the 6th century text “Ad cenam Agni providi.” The 1850 translation is by Robert Campbell.

It is uniquely suited as the Easter communion hymn, and as the first of the four verses explain:
At the Lamb's high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced 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.
Even better, is the 17th century tune Salzburg (best known for “Songs of thankfulness and praise” H40: 53). I enjoyed singing the middle two verses of the four-part harmony by J. S. Bach, a harmonization that in my book is hard to beat.

Recessional: Jesus Christ is Risen today (H40: 85; H82: 207)

As I texted our daughter this morning, the 1st commandment of Anglican hymn selection is to end on an upbeat tune. At Easter time, this seems eminently well suited.

For the recessional, we sang all four verses: 2nd and 3rd in harmony, 4th unison with descant. Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant from the 1950 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern.

The 14th century text, Surrexit Christus hodie, has been translated multiple times since 1708. The H40 hymnal companion attributes the current version of the tune to a compilation by John Wesley and the final addition to the text to Charles Wesley.