I have been re-reading “Anglicans and Catholics in Communion”, a collection of articles and essays published by the Catholic League in August 2010. Looking back even over four years at the hopes and fears for the Ordinariates is fascinating, instructive, hopeful – and even at times a bit sad. Towards the end of the book there is an article by Fr Mark Woodruff entitled “Hymns: the Sound of Communion”. His balanced remarks about hymns and worship songs, and a quotation from Archbishop Rowan Williams are well worth thinking about.
‘ While there are those (worship songs) that evoke deep reverence and high praise (some Taize and Iona chants stand out; as do some characteristic pieces from the Mission Praise and the Pentecostal corners of the Church, like Dave Evans’ Be still for the Spirit of the Lord and several songs by Graham Kendrick), others have proved truly inadequate, uneqal either in quality or execution to the dance and light music they emulate. Yet a good hymn, as Archbishop Rowan Williams remarked to the International Hymn Conference at York in 1997 … “sustains an imaginitive process”, “taking time to allow images to unfold”. He distinguished this “measured movement” in exposition from a worship song or chorus, which is meant to be “rhapsodic, to create a mood, rather than a set of perceptions”. On the other hand, a chorus “need not develop anything”;
it really doesn’t matter how often you sing a chorus, whereas a congregation singing O Sacred Head sore wounded three times in succession would be a bizarre phenomenon. Because you are taken through a process (in singing a hymn) you can’t intelligently or intelligibly start it again immediately. The chorus does not work to the same obligations. This is why I don’t want to enter into the fashionable game of being rude about choruses in order to make greater claims for classical hymnody. You’re not comparing like with like. I would only say that there is a problem when the chorus has almost completely displaced the hymn; and I think this is an increasingly grave problem in British Evangelical piety and is fast becoming a problem for popular Roman Catholic devotion. If there is nothing that systematically sets out to extend your imagination and to allow you to perceive, to think and to feel yourself in new ways in relation to the central narrative of faith, then your Christian self understanding is massively undermined. Mood cannot be everything.