Saturday, May 28, 2016

Let Us Break Bread Together: The Music and Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Part 1

By Robin G. Jordan

Introduction. In 1999 I prepared a resource paper for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana’s Commission on Liturgy and Music on the music of the Eucharist. The purpose of this resource paper was to provide guidance for clergy and church musicians on what music might be used at the various points in the Eucharist where music could be used. The Reverend Ormonde Plater who was Archdeacon of the diocese and Secretary of the Liturgy for the diocese had invited me to prepare the resource paper after reading an article that I had written for The Living Church. The title of the resource paper was Let All the People Praise: The Music of the Holy Eucharist. It was one of two projects that I undertook at that time. The other project was a resource paper on child-inclusive worship. It explained in more detail the principles for including children in worship, which I had introduced in Let All the People Praise: The Music of the Holy Eucharist and provided a list of additional resources.

Both projects were undertaken not only with the large church with ample musical resources in mind but also the small church with more limited resources. I drew upon my experiences in music ministry at Christ Episcopal Church, Covington, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Mandeville, as well as extensive research. While written for the Holy Eucharist, Rites One and Two, of the 1979 Prayer Book, the principles discussed in the two resource papers are applicable to the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper in the 1928 Prayer Book.

Both projects included surveys of the musical resources available to churches in the closing decade of the twentieth century. Most of the music that I examined and described almost twenty years ago would now be categorized as the “New Traditional.” It is also eminently congregational.

I have reviewed the hymn indices of a number of hymnals produced since that time—Worship & Rejoice (2000), Lutheran Service Book (2004), The Worship Hymnal (2008), Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics—Fourth Edition (2011), and Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013). The music I surveyed in 1999 forms a substantial part of the core hymnody of these more recent collections.

Based on what I ascertained from my survey of the Master Index of the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP this music also forms a large part of the core hymnody in eight of the thirteen hymnals listed in its Manual. These eight hymnals included the predecessors of Worship & Rejoice (2000), Lutheran Service Book (2004), The Worship Hymnal (2008), Worship: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics—Fourth Edition (2011), and Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013).

Since 1999 I have worked on a third project. I surveyed the metrical versions of the canticles and psalms, which were available to small church congregations during the opening decade of the twenty-first century. I also looked at metrical settings of the Kyrie, the Apostles’ Creed, the Sanctus, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Agnus Dei as well as easy-to-sing non-metrical settings of these liturgical texts. Among the challenges small church congregations, in particular new church plants, face is that they frequently worship in settings in which the acoustical environment is not favorable to chanting. New congregations have substantial numbers of adults and children who are unable to sing chant. They also do not have the kind of musical leadership for effective chanting.

The project was based upon a number of premises. Among these premises is that Sunday morning is at the center of the life and ministry of a small church. Sunday morning is when most of the teaching, fellowship, worship, and pastoral care goes on in the small church. What happens on Sunday morning will impact the small church congregation throughout the following week. Consequently, thoughtful attention should be given to every aspect of Sunday morning.

What might be adequate in a weekday service of Morning Prayer or Holy Communion such as saying the canticles, psalms, and service music—Gloria, Kyrie, Trisagion, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen, Fraction Anthem, etc., however, is less than satisfactory in a Sunday service of the same type. A new church plant, if it is to attract new families, needs to offer as high a quality worship experience as it can achieve within the limitations of its resources and circumstances. Offering such a worship experience is no less critical for small churches that have served a community for several generations.

A new congregation, or any small church congregation as far as that goes, should not have to settle for saying liturgical texts when musically appealing, easy-to-sing metrical and non-metrical settings of the same texts are readily available. It also makes no sense for a new congregation to say these texts when the new congregation can easily sing them to familiar hymn tunes and in the case of non-metrical settings to simple melodies. It is unnecessarily restrictive to insist that if a congregation cannot sing these texts in a particular way, i.e., to plainsong or Anglican chant, the congregation should not sing them at all. The purpose of music in a service on Sundays and other occasions is not to promote a particular style or type of music but to help the people to worship God.

A theme that runs through the Scriptures, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is the importance of worshiping God in song. Our Lord took part in the worship of the synagogue and the Temple. This worship involved the singing of psalms. After the Last Supper our Lord and his disciples sung a psalm in praise of God before they went into the night. Genuine New Testament worship involves not only the reading of Scripture, the preaching of sermons, the offering of prayers, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, it also entails the singing of “hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs.”

Most people are able to sing. They may not be musical, that is, have specific interest in music or show a particular talent for music. They may have been asked to sing music that is not for their voice type or within their vocal range. They may live in a culture that does not value group or communal singing as it once did. They may not be a part of a singing group or community. They may have received little or no encouragement. They may be inhibited by social expectations of musicianship. They may suffer from misperceptions about their singing ability. But they can sing! Given singable, musically-appealing hymns, worship songs, and service music, encouragement, instruction in basic singing techniques—posture, breathing, facial flexibility, warming-up, etc., and sufficient opportunity to learn and master what they are being called upon to sing, they will sing with confidence, enthusiasm, and delight.

By the same token the members of a worshiping assembly are its chief music makers. The role of the music leaders in the church—the precentor, the choirmaster, the choir, and the organist, or the worship leader and the band, is to facilitate the congregation’s singing. The music of the worshiping assembly is paramount. The provision of special music is secondary.

Congregational singing serves a number of liturgical functions—catechetical, devotional, exhortative, and inspirational. Research shows that congregational singing also serves a number of psychological and social functions. For individuals group singing enhances psychological wellbeing, elevates mood, reduces stress, fosters social relationships, and has other benefits. For groups singing together strengthens group cohesion and reinforces group identity. This research points to music and singing as a part of God’s divine design for human beings. Archeological findings also support this conclusion as does the Bible.

God meant the Church of Jesus Christ to be a singing church. If a canticle, psalm, or other liturgical text that is normally sung can be sung in metrical verse form, it should be sung. A metrical version of a liturgical text is not inferior to a chant setting of the same text. It is simply different. If the text is taken from the Bible, both versions are translations—even paraphrases—of the original Hebrew or Greek. A small church congregation that sings accessible metrical versions of the canticles and psalms and easy-to-sing metrical or non-metrical settings of the service music is no less genuine in its worship of God than is the large church congregation whose choir sings plainsong or Anglican settings of the canticles and psalms and more elaborate settings of the service music. It actually may be more faithful to God’s revealed plan for Christian worship than the large church congregation that depends upon its choir to bear the weight of the singing in worship.

Whenever a movement of the Holy Spirit has brought spiritual awakening and renewal in the Church, it has inspired a revival of congregational singing. It has also stimulated the composition of new hymn tunes, the writing of new hymns, and the creation of new forms of congregational song. If any one conclusion may be drawn from this outpouring of new music is that God sets a high value on congregational singing.

What deserves mention is that upon close examination the new forms of song frequently turn out to be old forms given fresh expression. The medieval Church sung passages of Scripture in the form of canticles and psalms set to chant settings. After the English Reformation the Church of England sung passages of Scripture in the form of metrical paraphrases and anthems. In the last three decades of the twentieth century Anglican and Episcopal churches sung passages of Scripture in the form of what were called Scripture songs. These songs were set to easy-to-sing, musically-appealing irregular tunes.

At St. Michael’s the choir which did not have a large budget for anthems used them as anthem material. The choir also sung hymn anthems. The choir of North Cross United Methodist Church did the same thing until a music professor from Loyal University and her husband joined the congregation. She would become the church’s music director and replaced the Scripture songs from the UMC hymnal supplement with classical anthems from the university’s music library.

 What keeps small church congregations from using metrical versions of the canticles and the psalms other than the mistaken notion that these songs must be chanted to plainsong or Anglican chant is a lack of familiarity with what canticles and psalms are available in metrical verse form. No one has to my knowledge undertaken the task of indexing metrical versions of the canticles and psalms as organ voluntaries and choir anthems have been indexed. They are typically included in indices of hymns rather than being indexed as a separate category.

Almost all hymnals contain metrical versions of the canticles and psalms. Some hymnals place them in a section of their own. Other hymnals like The Hymnal, 1940 and The Hymnal 1982 place them in one of the various sections in which the hymnal is divided.

The Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP’s Master Index contains a fairly large number of tunes to which metrical versions of the canticles and psalms may be sung. I explore the use of metrical versions of the canticles and psalms in Early in the Morning Our Songs Shall Rise to Thee: The Music and Conduct of Morning Prayer as well as in this article series.

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