Season after Pentecost, 2023
Is it possible to come up with a description of Episcopal or Anglican music? Is it really distinct from the music of other churches? other religious traditions? other music?
Before answering this specific question, perhaps its scope ought to be widened: is it possible to come up with a definition for music itself? So many definitions of music, including that of the Oxford English Dictionary include words like beauty or words to that effect. Southern Harmony calls music a "succession of pleasing sounds".
And we must be careful defining music as noise, for as John Cage proved in a work that turned the umbrella inside out (paraparapluie), 4'33", a piece of music need not have any sound at all.
The list of Anglican church choirs who perform this Cageian masterwork is surely a short one, but the contemporary Anglican liturgy is no stranger to silence. But how modern is the advent of silence in the liturgy?
Aside from the verse about the Lord being in his holy temple from Habakkuk 2:20, the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer contains no mention of this absence of noise. Rubrics in the 1979 book, however, allow for it in several places, including after each lesson.
Now if rubrics generally reflect changing practices between publication, there must have been an increase in mainstream Episcopal liturgical silence between 1928 and 1979. And if this is an example of the church naturally filling its role as a counter-cultural institution, it could have been responding to an increasing level of noise in our culture.
So if music is not a "succession of pleasing sounds" or even a succession of sounds, then perhaps music, at it's essence, is simply a succession.
In the Anglican tradition an integral succession is the Apostolic one. And the Apostolic succession contains the resonance of that hymn the disciples sang in the upper room.
In this way the Episcopal Church itself is music.
And its liturgy, and that of our lives, the succession of each journey, gathering, procession, reading, singing, preaching, believing, praying, greeting, eating and departing -- and especially the succession of silences within them -- is music.
He Who is infinite light is so tremendous in His evidence that our minds only see Him as darkness. Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt. (The Light shines in darkness and the darkness has not understood it.)
If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent Him to us as He is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness. Since nothing that can be heard is God, to find Him we must enter into silence.
Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions, 1972) p. 131.
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