I’m in the final stages of edits for my next book, the one on prayer book spirituality. It finally has a title: Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life.
As I went through the section on the Calendar yesterday morning, I realized that while I’d talked about the hymns in some seasons, I’d left others out. So–I spent some time with the hymnal, and put together some thoughts on those.
In going through that exercise, I was reminded just how much the early hymns of the West, those by Ambrose, Gregory, Venantius Fortunatus, Caelius Sedulius, and the the early anonymous compositions connect Scripture, liturgy, and doctrinal themes into a seamless sonic package.
When I think and write about the ways that liturgy provides interpretive lenses for both Scripture and Christian experience, I think these hymns play a particularly important role in not just making some foundational connections but handing them down and keeping them alive.
Meditation on these early Office hymns, what they teach us, and how they teach it is just as much a part of our patristic heritage as doctrinal treatises…
…and, bluntly, probably more deeply formative.
I agree. I don’t think you can overestimate the formative effect of hymns on anyone raised in a church where singing is valued. The potent combination of music and text penetrates to the core of our being and remains there as a spiritual resource that we carry with us through life. Hymns not only teach: they also give a voice to the deepest longings of our hearts.
Well, how did the church seem able to muck along for over 1800 years without singing hymns at Eucharist? And why did our first Presiding Bishop William White strongly oppose the printing of hymns in the first Book of Common Prayer?
In fact, hymn-singing at Eucharist in modern time is usually far overdone. I attended a parish church were there were SEVEN hymns sung during the Mass—and the actions of the Mass had to be put on hold to finish the singing of a hymn—and none of the Ordinary if the Mass was sung! Eucharistic hymn singing is highly overrated—except as a “feel good” ingredient.