Friday, December 13, 2019
Hymnody optional or essential. . .
Not long ago John Henry Newman was raised to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church. One of the many English voices for anglo-catholicism who later gave up on the idea that Anglicanism was legitimate, Newman was noteworthy for his continued affection for the hymn even after his conversion. At the masses said in England on the occasion of his canonization hymns were prominent, especially the hymns he himself wrote. Such hymns – especially the great Victorian hymns – constitute a distinctive feature of English Roman Catholicism. The English choral tradition extends to polyphony and great choral anthems but it is also essentially the fruit of a life of rich hymnody. At the mass of thanksgiving for Newman's canonization, Cardinal Vincent Nichols repeated such a comment by the archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome marveling at the hymn singing and admitting he had never heard such singing in the basilica!
Having said all of this, certainly the hymn is even more essential to the Lutherans. From the tradition of the Deutsche Messe and its substitution of hymn paraphrases to the traditional texts of the mass (something I am not necessarily keen on) to the Lutheran chorales that literally sang in the Great Reformation in Germany, we know hymns, we love hymns, and we cannot conceive of worship without them. I wonder if the greatest impact for those who swim the Tiber (or the Bosporus for that matter) is the loss of the hymn. I have a Lutheran friend who after converting to Orthodoxy admits that Advent hymns were the hardest to live without, followed by the chorales of the greats (like Paul Gerhardt). Certainly for me it would be very difficult to give up the choral tradition with its great Lutheran composers and the great hymns of the faith that are written upon my heart after years of singing them.
When I admit this to my Roman Catholic friends, they look at me in disbelief. They feel the hymn was thrust upon them against their wills and tell me that nobody sings them at Novus Ordo masses because nobody wants to sing. Having been at more than a few, I know exactly what they are talking about. Oh, sure, there are exceptions but these are as uncommon as Lutherans worshiping without music! Now midway through Advent, we are singing some of my favorites. There are wonderful Scandinavian Advent hynms, ancient ones, German texts, and even modern additions and I hate that Advent is too short to sing them all in one season!
Here is the list from Lutheran Service Book. How many have you sung so far?
The Advent of Our King Savior of the Nations, Come Once He Came in Blessing O Lord, How Shall I Meet You O Bride of Christ, Rejoice Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending The Night Will Soon Be Ending Come,Thou Long-Expected Jesus Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates What Hope! An Eden Prophesied Prepare the Royal Highway On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding When All the World Was Cursed Comfort, Comfort Ye My People The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns Hark the Glad Sound Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come Creator of the Stars of Night Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring Arise, O Christian People O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Tell me that losing out on these and so many others would not be hard!