What shall we sing at Mass?

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.


About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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