Saturday, March 31, 2012

A terrible confession. . .

There is a mighty debate going on in Rome about hymns.  The "new" old Mass is re-exerting the primacy of liturgical texts and the propers, without the possibility of substitution of hymns.  What this means is that the Mass before 1970, replete with introit, gradual, verse, offertory, etc., has been reborn -- at least in its approach to the music of the service.  Where once you might find Roman parishes substituting "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" for just about any liturgical text, now that freedom is being constrained.  Liturgical texts and the propers shall not be displaced by hymns.  For the Roman Mass, hymns are both non-essential and essentially non-liturgical.  Not a few Roman Catholics are troubled by this return to the older approach to the Mass.  They are fairly accustomed to singing Lutheran hymns, Methodist hymns, and hymns of other traditions.  They have grown up with the cottage industry of Haugen, Haas, and Joncas (among others) who have provided book upon book of "Gather Us In" style songs for the modern man.

Not a few Lutherans insist that we should feel the same way.  Some of those who comment here lament the loss of the introit as the standard "entrance hymn" as well as the loss of the pericopes appointed for gradual, verse, offertory, etc.  Most Lutheran parishes probably do not use them or do not use them regularly.  Even the Psalm of the Day is often replaced by other texts or hymns or music.  Some credit this to the adoption of the three year lectionary system learned from Rome after Vatican II.  Some insist that we tend to follow Rome no matter how much we protest otherwise.  Some believe that it is the Protestant ideal to have hymns replace these texts usually sung by cantor, choir or celebrant.

I have not gotten into this debate much because I am torn.  The great Lutheran chorales and the sturdy hymns of old have become central to my piety.  I shudder at the thought of a Divine Service sans music.  I hear the complaints of folks who say we sing too much and I think to myself "why don't we sing more hymns."  I confess that the great Lutheran chorales and the marvelous legacy of hymns that we have borrowed from others are two big reasons why it would be swimming against the current for me to head to either Rome or Constantinople (along with some other things).  I do not advocate the regular substitution of hymnic paraphrases of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei but neither do I insist upon the appointed introit instead of an entrance hymn.  I like and see advantages to both.  I guess in this way I am a child of my age.  Though a definite conservative when it comes to such liturgical matters, I am not a radical conservative.

It is in this area that adiaphora seems most applicable -- not whether you use the form of the Divine Service (in any one of its derivations in the hymnal) but how you apply the details in the options inherent in the liturgy and in the use of chorales and hymns judiciously to replace some of the appointed texts (after all, the Deutsche Messe is the father of hymnic substitutions which are hardly close paraphrases, i. e. Sanctus).  I am happy to allow freedom and diversity here (most of it falls well within the rubrics) even though I am highly agitated about Lutheran parishes which have abandoned the Divine Service and Lutheran people who know not one or more services from our official hymnal(s).

If I were Roman Catholic, I would bristle at the loss of the ecumenical and catholic treasure of hymns and as a Lutheran I resist the impulse of some to insist upon only the liturgical texts appointed.  I guess in this I am a fence straddler.  Oh, my, that is a terrible confession, indeed.


Chris said...

Fr. Peters:

You write, "If I were Roman Catholic, I would bristle at the loss of the ecumenical and catholic treasure of hymns and as a Lutheran I resist the impulse of some to insist upon only the liturgical texts appointed."

This ecuemenical outlook is exactly what Lutheranism DOES NOT need. You would substitute liturgically and theologically pure hymns for those of the Methodists and Presbyterians just for some faulty ecumenism? I hope that's not what you're saying. Lutherans should be Lutheran. Methodists, Methodits, etc.

The ecumenical outlook is exactly what inspired the Catholic hierarchy at Vatican II to invite six Protestants from the University of Tuebingen to craft a new liturgy in the "ecumenical" spirit. What has happened as a result? A loss of 10,000 Catholics every year from the fold because the liturgy was no longer Catholic, it was now ecumenical.

Ecumenism is dangerous for this precise reason.

As far as liturgical texts as appointed, why not just use those? You are making the same kind of argument that the heretics of contemporary worship use, namely one of taste. I prefer chorales, so we shall use chorales. Then you disguise the heresy under the buzzword of adiaphora, which really means "whatever the heck I want." The liturgy is not yours; it is the Church's. Rejoice in what the church has delivered to you and don't mess with it.

Yet another reason I'm happy to have left the Lutheran fold.

Pastor Peters said...

"Ecumenical" here is descriptive and not proscriptive. In other words, it is a description of catholic hymnody which comes from various sources but is catholic in doctrine and faith expressed. You missed the whole point of my post. Do we forget the history of hymnody which long predates the Reformation and dismiss it all as some kind of window dressing on the liturgy? Or do we acknowledge that the catholic hymnody of the church is integral to the liturgy? Once Rome said they were integral and then they said not and then, following Vatican II, hymnody was once again embraced. Now is it peripheral and the liturgical texts predominate.

Lutheranism has never possessed the expansive number of liturgical texts defined for each Sunday (example is the post-communion collect) and Lutheranism has always accorded the hymn of the day a status similar to the pericopes appointed.

All I said is that I can see both points of view. But for Rome to stop singing "O Sacred Head" because it is "ecumenical" in origin and hymns are no longer essential to the liturgy, I consider to be a real loss.

Terry Maher said...

Pastor, hymns have NEVER been essential to the Roman liturgy. Liturgical texts always predominate; the whole history of church music starts with their musical setting, and Rome has at several points trimmed back the number of liturgical add-ons like sequentiae, which the Trent rite reduced to four.

That is why the Confessions state hymns were ADDED. It is also why the replacement of liturgical texts musically set by something else is nowhere called for in the Documents of Vatican II. It is also why the new old Mass is not new and not old either; it remains the novus ordo, much better translated and with loopholes closed that were not meant to be there, or more exactly, not meant to be used as they often were in recent decades.

Uncharacteristically, I agree with Chris, or at least what I think Chris is saying, which is, this argument seems essentially the same as the CoWo crowd, just applied to things to which the CoWo crowd does not apply it but rather traditional things.

Musical Historian said...

Hymns of the East and the West flourished from the Constantinian era on. We have many of those hymns in modern day hymnals. Hymns then and hymns now may not have exactly the same definition. Hymns of the vernacular sung by the congregation are more a product of the Reformation. But hymns have always been a part of the liturgical history of Christians. From the daily office and the appointed hymns included there to the sequence of the mass, even the great theologians of the church (Aquinas) were hymnwriters and contributed to the musical history of Christianity. Mass texts were on a movement toward absolute uniformity up to and solidified in the Council of Trent. This uniformity specified liturgical texts to be used and in some respects stifled what had been a flourishing hymnic tradition (especially in England,for example). So, yes, Mr. Maher is correct but so is Pr. Peters (in practical sense of the place of hymns in the devotional life of the church if not specified for the mass).

Terry Maher said...

Every step of that development has been contested if not banned along the way. Other voices above the tenor (polyphony above the voice holding the original chant with the liturgical text) obscuring the text etc. The "stifling" was to stifle what was held to detract from, not add to. Hell, let's just stand on the prohibition of duple time from sacred music because it is imperfect, not reflecting the Trinity as triple time does. About every hymn in our book fails that test, once employed to serve the same goal as the impassioned pleas for hymnody do now. I agree with Chris -- same argument as the CoWo bunch just applied where they don't apply it.

Pastor Peters said...

No, Terry, it is not the same argument as the CoWo crowd. This is not a matter of musical taste or style but of content. The great evangelical and catholic tradition of hymnody is not a nod to something we like to hear but the faith confessed in poetry and meter and sung by individual voices or many voices as one.

The whole point of CoWo is taste -- what people want to hear, what we think is easier on their sound palate and the content is pretty uniformly shallow and vacuous.

Contrast that with O Sacred Head Now Wounded or Ah, Dearest Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended and you see that this core of catholic hymnody (whether Roman or not) expresses the faith fully even though devotionally, confessing as well as expressing.

Okay, Terry. So you insist that for Rome hymns and liturgy do not go together. Funny, though, that the great theologians of the church have also been hymnwriters -- through every age except perhaps modernity. These hymns ancient and modern have given voice to the faith and have been used devotionally and, generally, in the mass (if not essential to it).

The Gloria in Excelsis IS one of those hymns as with the Te Deum and many other texts so universally used and ancient that they have been set apart as mass texts.

The Phos Hilarion and canticles of the church are both Bibilical and creations of the church (textually as original creations or paraphrases) and musically.

It is hardly a matter of taste or style that is the impetus of CoWo. If you would lump the great hymns of the ages as just another preference equal to the modern phenomenon of worship music that sounds like the radio, then I believe you are selling these hymns short and missing the forest for the trees.

Okay, you know better than me. Rubrics dictate that mass texts are essential and hymns not even necessarily optional to Rome. That is not the same as Lutheranism which has nurtured and give both to flourish together.

This is one case where I believe that the Roman rubrics have missed the point and become a law unto themselves, depriving the people of great texts that confess and sing the faith.

I do lament the loss of chant (especially Gregorian) but not to replace what exists both in through composed musical forms and hymnoday with its rhyme and rhythm. Rather what we lost should never have come through the replacement of one with the other. Rome is trying to restore chant at the expense of hymnody which has had a couple of generations to instill itself into the life of the people. I believe it is a theologically and liturgically weak position to make that a choice.

It is not because I like hymns, though I do but I do not like all of them - even some of the great Lutheran chorales. It is because they are not outside but within the center of the faith both in the particular settings of the Mass and the daily offices as well as in the life of the people.

I am not being a musical snob choosing one style over another. I am speaking to the character of the great core of evangelical and catholic hymnody which has existed from the beginning -- contested by you but proven faithful and enduring still.

Terry Maher said...

In Rome, theologians are not the church. That a number of them were theologians is irrelevant. What survives in Rome of their output is what was allowed to survive. And the allowed remnant all sounds just wonderful as hell to us now, but in the ears of their own times (plural, since they did not all come to be in the same time) that would not be so throughout the body of work in use now.

The case, as you point out, is different with us. Hymns were added -- added -- and for a reason, and the reason is a good one.

I'm not against hymns at all. But it is simply fact that our use of them, of which I entirely approve, is an innovation, not consistent with the tradition of "hymnody that has existed from the beginning", that dates only from our Reformation.

We live amid all the current output but only amid the relatively small amount of the output of past centuries, most of which transpired before out Reformation.

It just doesn't work to stand for the traditional corpus of Lutheran hymnody on the basis of consistency with the tradition of hymnody overall.

By which I am not at all saying that Lutheran hymnody should not be stood for. The fact that despite liking chant and "O Sacred Head" et hoc genus omne I like some sin chasin, devil stompin, heaven sent, blood bought Gospel hymn singin better than anything.

Which I expect to hear from your "traditional service" choir and your "contemporary service" praise team about as soon as I hear you are now hooping your sermons.

Anonymous said...


So there were no hymns before Luther? No "songs" of the liturgy prior to the Reformation? I do not understand?

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Unknown said...

Pastor, you seem to have "the patience of a Saint". Terry seems to argue every point, no matter what. I am new to your blog having only recently found it and enjoy it and your perspectives very much. It is interesting that the above is the one characteristic that stands out the most to a new comer.