Season after Pentecost, 2023
Today I'm going to say something that no one seems to have the courage to say: there is nothing wrong with "The Doxology" in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church. Let me be clear on this point. I'm talking about the words "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" by Thomas Ken sung to the tune of OLD 100TH at the Presentation.
The much-maligned Thomas Ken
(1637-1711), born in the same
year as Buxtehude
Here's the problem: the anger that many objectors feel is actually misplaced frustration at an element of Anglican liturgy that Americans have hopelessly corrupted.
Here's the story.
Once upon a time there was the Western Liturgy what with its Mass and its Divine Office and its Liber Usualis and all that. At the time of the Offertory of the Mass, a chant was sung: the Offertorium. During this time the bread and the wine were presented to the celebrant by the people and prepared for the eucharistic celebration. At the conclusion of this chant, the Eucharistic Prayer was begun.
Zacchaeus stood forth, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have done any wrong to any man, I restore four-fold.
St. Luke 19.
Offertory sentence from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
Eventually Anglicans got a hold of this liturgy and adapted it for their own devices. The traditional Offertory chants were not subsumed into Anglican worship, but rather new sentences, largely from the New Testament, were prescribed to be read aloud (note, not sung) by the celebrant. The 1662 rubric for the celebrant reads
Then shall the Priest return to the Lord's Table, and begin the Offertory, saying one or more of these Sentences following, as he thinketh most convenient in his discretion.
The rubrics direct that the alms are taken up while these Offertory Sentences are read aloud and then be brought to the celebrant.
Meanwhile, Anglicans adapted the offices of Vespers and Compline into Evensong with its famous Church-Musick rubric after the third collect, "In Quires and Places where they sing here followeth the Anthem."
What's an Anthem? Well, it's an elaboration of the Antiphon, like we have in that old Offertory chant. Some of these historic antiphons were developed by composers into polyphonic settings (much to the benefit of humankind) and they served to embellish the Roman Catholic liturgy.
The antiphon and therefore their polyphonic treatments were not translated into the Anglican liturgy wholesale (though the torch for them burned rather brightly at the Chapel Royal). And yet many Anglicans had already developed a choral tradition. So what to do? The "Anthem" at Evensong was a solution. Note, however, that this mention of an Anthem does not appear in the Eucharist.
But at the instigation of ever-ambitious musicians, Anglicans soon looked for ways to infest the new Prayer Book liturgy with music. Furthermore, there was serious uneasiness with church music in Latin, so in most places new English language music was desired. These two forces combined to see the writing of "Anthems" based on the Offertory Sentences and other comparable pieces of scripture. With this music, the drab spoken part of the celebrant could be handled rather deftly by the choir.
So, to review, here's how things stood around the time of the 1662 Prayer Book.
But if we jump ahead quite a bit to, say, this coming Sunday and check in on two branches of the Anglican Church, the one in England and the one in the United States, we see that practices have generally diverged.
In the United States
Rubrical Clarification: I'm reading the rubric on p. 361 at face value: "During the Offertory, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung."
The key points being that during the Offertory:
• One piece of music is permitted, be it a hymn, psalm or anthem. So to sing an Anthem and a hymn or a fragment thereof would be a violation of this rubric.
• Music may be sung, but there may also be no music.
• Incidentally, I don't see permission here for exclusively instrumental (organ) music.
What becomes clear is that English churches have largely retained the historic shape of the Western liturgy, the Offertory Hymn taking the place of the Offertory Chant and serving the same function. American churches, meanwhile, have conflated the anthem of Evensong with the Eucharistic liturgy at the expense of its integral parts, seriously confusing the liturgical shape of the Offertory. (In both places there is ample room for music at Communion, but this is beyond the scope of this article).
To see how confused the present situation is, one need only look at the most ignored rubric in the 1979 American Prayer Book.
Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant. The people stand while the offerings are presented and placed on the Altar.
1979 BCP, p. 361, emphasis mine
In how many places do the People stand while the bread and wine are presented? Note that the rubric seems to assume that the gifts are presented together. I'll address this below.
The presentation of the bread and wine is on behalf of the entire gathered assembly. These gifts, which are offered from the People to God, are then given by God back to his People. It is interesting then that this initial stage of the journey of the Eucharist elements is so ignored.
I would posit that in the vast majority of Episcopal churches the congregation sits while the elements are presented and the choir sings an anthem. Am I wrong?
This poses multiple problems
Note that in either case, the money is separated from the bread and the wine, making two presentations of the Offering. You could argue this is good, bad, or ugly, but if modern people are more attached to their own cash than the bread and wine that are provided on their behalf, I would wager that it helps the sensation of Offering if these things are Offered simultaneously as part of a single procession.
So here, at last, we arrive at the liturgical opening for the Doxology (point 3.2 above). As you can see, the merits of running the liturgy this way are questionable at best, but it is the practice in most Episcopal congregations (as best I can tell).
Whatever is sung or played here, it need be short.
And let me ask you, could there be a more genuine text of praise in English verse than this? (Well maybe "Awesome God" by Rich Mullins, but I digress...)
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
A penultimate point: the bifurcation of the elements of the bread and wine from the money may not be the central issue at all. For better or worse the Anthem at the Eucharist has become part of the Offertory theology of the Episcopal Church. We've made our bed, so let's lie in it, but first let's put on the silk sheets. Having the People join in a regular musical response after a more elaborate choral offering by the choir is highly appropriate (I believe the credit to the phrase "Musical Offering" must largely be given to J. S. Bach). It joins the assembly in worship in the same modality just offered by the choir. The effect of this can be clarified through careful planning of the Doxology—either by transposition or transition, or both. Gerre Hancock was a master of this. It's good Anglican musical theology.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with repetition in the liturgy. We repeat the words of the Gloria in Excelsis, the Sanctus, the Benedictus, whatever our parish sings at the Fraction.
I had the experience recently of the Rector of a parish asking me if the RSCM-affiliated Choristers could come into a meeting being held concurrently with our rehearsal to lead the people in the Doxology. Fantastic, I thought. "Yes," I replied. "We would love to do that."
I told the Choristers that we would be singing the Doxology. "The what?", they asked.
No problem. These Choristers were more than capable of singing a hymn. So we opened the hymnal to 380 and took a look at stanza 3.
“Are we really so elitist that we think that we're above the Doxology?”
It was fine. They could sing it. But it didn't resonate yet. It didn't roll off the tongue. Not as it did for me, and not as it did for the Rector. And not as it did for a large gathering in the Diocese who elected a bishop later that year. And not as it does for many gatherings in the Anglican Communion where a short, joyous outburst of praise is desired by all. ("Let's sing the Gloria in Excelsis!" said no one at a meeting, ever.)
I think we overlook the merits of the Doxology as a catechetical tool for young people at our peril. It is easily learned at a young age. It is the connective tissue between Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, the home, and liturgical worship.
More to the point, the Doxology is already known widely, not just by many Anglicans (admit it, you know it by heart), but by Christians around the world.
Are we really so elitist that we think that we're above the Doxology? Is it really "You must give me the Venite sung to my favourite single Anglican Chant and pass the sherry, and then give me Howells Magnificats and pass the single malt, but please, not Thomas Ken!"
No, I don't think so. And I'm rather fed up with people who think that they are above this.
Because the Doxology is not Welch's as so many fear. It is a fine Cabernet, rich and full.
It is one manifestation of the Christian unity that we so sorely need.
And it is available in equally attractive non-alcoholic options for our young people and our Baptist brothers and sisters.
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