Not for Liturgy, though Edifying

And we’re back, to talk about gradations of sacredness. At the outset I want to acknowledge that all things in heaven and on earth belong to YHWH, so even things called ‘secular’ must be conducted in obedience to his holy Word. Even so, there are realms within this cosmos where decorum differs, where different things are right and fitting – I’m sure my post on clerical dress already implies this. It’s not true, therefore, that we should take stuff from just anywhere and put it into the liturgy under the presumption that all things are equal: the nature of liturgical worship and the nature of the Eucharist have their own demands.

Not everything goes

Here’s a passage of music from a mass setting that, despite the text it sets to music, is non-liturgical in its pomp:

It may be used well to raise the hearer’s affections toward God, but this function is not liturgical. G. W. O. Addleshaw says of baroque and rococo architecture (The High Church Tradition, Chapter 1):

[They encouraged] individualization of the liturgy in another way. Its typical features, movement, pronounced light and shade, tricks of perspective, plaster and gilt decoration, were all employed to translate the glory of the Church into terms which would catch the eye of the contemporary protestant and pagan world. But it was an architecture of the theatre; and some of its greatest achievements were in the realm of theatre architecture. […]

A Mozart or Schubert composes settings whose true home is the opera house or concert hall. When the Mass becomes a spectacle, the congregation come to look on as at a spectacle. They are onlookers, an audience. The act done at the altar is the act of an individual priest with which they have no living connection. It is perhaps significant that Christendom since its division at the Reformation has lost the idea of liturgy as the voice of Christ in His Church, the prayer of redeemed humanity.

Of course, there’s music that by its form doesn’t lend itself to congregational singing, but not all liturgical music has to be sung by the whole congregation, and not all songs about God that are easy to sing are suitable for liturgy. Since liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church in Christ, it has first of all to be prayerful in its expression and second to be the corporate voice of the Church, not the voices of a set of individuals.

Stuff that isn’t for corporate worship qua worship

There’s plenty of religious music that, though edifying, is unsuited for the celebration of the holy Eucharist because of the disconnect between what the music does and what the Eucharist does. I think most of us have the sense to see that having a Brandenburg Concerto in the middle of a church service is just not right, but here’s for some less obvious cases:

Having been edified by what Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor has to say, and indeed considering it great music – and great music is more lacking in the Church, certainly, than it ought to be – yet because of its theatricality I wouldn’t use it as a musical setting for a real liturgical act any more than I would have a Shakespeare play, good and sound and beautiful though its theology be, performed in any church service. The dramatic, stormy Kyrie in Mozart’s requiem mass is not, even virtually, the voice of the people’s prayer, the voice ‘of Christ in His Church’.

Likewise, there are contemporary songs unsuited to liturgy. One that’s been in vogue and indeed edifying, Chris Tomlin’s ‘God of this City’, is a relevant example: for personal devotion it expresses sentiments I have no quarrel with, and the music can be moving, but I don’t believe it belongs in a liturgical celebration. The same goes for Rush of Fools’ ‘Can’t Get Away’ with lyrics like these:

I am an arrow; I am a rocket;
I am a river and nothing can stop it –
’Cause You are the target and You are the atmosphere.

Edifying to the individual? Maybe. Proper? No, because it unequivocally doesn’t belong to the Church of the ages, even if ‘rocket’ rhymes with ‘stop it’. I say crankily, keep it out of corporate worship, even if everyone likes it.

Grades of distance from the Holy of Holies?

We seem to have a gradation of liturgical, sacred and religious.

Sacred music, that is to say music which was composed for the Liturgy, but which for various reasons can no longer be performed during a liturgical celebration, and religious music, that is to say music inspired by the text of sacred scripture or the Liturgy […] may both find a place in the church building, but outside liturgical celebration. The playing of the organ or other musical performance, whether vocal or instrumental, may ‘serve to promote piety or religion’. (Source)

Outward, from the heavenly Holy of Holies, comes the texts and the voices of the society formed in heaven.


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