Easter 2024

02 April 2016
Old 100th is really new again

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

Why am I saying this? Because there seems to be a rather uncritical, knee-jerk reaction against it. I witnessed an example of this a few weeks ago on the "Episcopal Church Musicians" Facebook Page. Anyone who dared suggest that Hymn 380, stanza 3 in the Hymnal 1982 (hereafter "the Doxology") was acceptable for Christian worship was hopelessly passé and out of touch. More specifically, they were Low Church (the Horror!).

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 England

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

  1. The rubric instructing the People to stand is ignored. If the presentation of the bread and the wine is a liturgical act, done on behalf of all the People, the assembly should be standing to enact this.
  2. The Anthem takes on more "concert hall" importance as people sit to hear it. It also probably grows in length.
  3. If the money offering is collected during the Anthem then it, too, must be presented to the Celebrant. This is either done
    1. during the singing of the Anthem, which poses a minor logistical challenge in terms of timing
    2. after the conclusion of the Anthem, which then leaves open the question of what musical activity, if any, will cover the action.

    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.

Some possibilities

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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You've read the rubric at the offertory wrong, which does mention a hymn at that point. Most parishes which use the doxology here have two processions, one with bread and wine during anthem, and a second with money during the doxology. There isn't time enough to get the table ready with bread and wine if the doxology alone covers the presentation of the bread and wine.

An anthem plus hymn, where the plate is passed during anthem, and all is brought up together during hymn, allows time to do all the setting during a longer hymn.

A post communion hymn is not extra rubrical, but is explicitly suggested. I'm not sure you're reading well enough for these kinds of posts...
Thomas, the rubric at the Offertory (BCP p. 361) reads "During the Offertory, a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung." Note that the conjunction used is "or". The rubric does not give permission for multiple pieces of music here the way it does at the ministration of Communion (see BCP p. 365). Furthermore, the "may" suggests that singing at this point in the liturgy is entirely optional.

I'm not alone in questioning the conventional wisdom of current Episcopal liturgical practice. Byron Stuhlman in 'Prayer Book Rubrics Expanded' writes "Although [the Offertory] has come to be a traditional place for an anthem, an anthem in this place tends to stop or delay the flow of action. What is required is 'cover' music, not a performance piece. Communion is a better time for a choir anthem. The custom of using both an anthem *and* a presentation hymn should be avoided." (p. 128)

When I refer to a Postcommunion hymn I am using the terminology found in many parishes for a hymn that follows the Postcommunion Prayer. Despite this being a widespread practice, there is no permission given for music after the Postcommunion Prayer; the liturgy proceeds to the blessing and the dismissal.

You have accused me of not "reading well enough" but it seems that your arguments are based largely on your experiences and not a close reading of the texts.

What you said was that some kind of Presentation Hymn was not allowed for in the book, and it manifestly is. If you wish to read the singular here as prohibiting more than one psalm, hymn, or anthem, I suppose you may do so, but at that point, one fairly short verse needs to cover the taking of the collection, the setting of the table, and (if used) the censing? I do not understand your advice that whatever is used there must be short.

Then, you have decided that the singular prohibits the use of an anthem followed by a hymn, in which case, it prohibits the use of an anthem followed by the Doxology just as well.

As for a final hymn, the rubric says "A hymn may be sung before or after the postcommunion prayer."

I agree, as I said, that the practice of two processions, one in ignominy with bread and wine covered by anthem, and then a grand procession-of-money with singing and standing, is weak, and assuming people are seated for the first, as the usually are in such places, the rubric is not being observed.

But I do not see how using a hymnlet changes this at all.

I see the source of the confusion, and I can clarify: I do read the rubric for music at the Offertory to allow for one piece of music only. Why? Because this is not the central action of the Eucharist. I think the intent is a practical one: not to unduly lengthen the initial stage of the Eucharist. The length of this music can and should be adjusted to cover the Offertory ceremonial, whatever it entails.

However, a modern American choral tradition of the "Offertory Anthem" seems to be ensconced in Episcopal worship. Under this reality, I see a Doxology as a reasonable rubrical violation–though how can one really stake out a convincing argument about how *much* to violate a rubric? I do think less is more in this case, and I find the shorter and fixed Doxology to be preferable to a variable hymn excerpt or full-blown Presentation Hymn.

I think a far better approach, however, would be to take the rubric literally. A Hymn would suffice. And how about a Psalm? When is the last time you heard a Psalm sung at the Offertory? I mean, why not?

And I need to revise what I said about the Postcommunion Hymn as well. You are right that the Prayer Book gives permission for this, but I would be hard-pressed to call it a rubric. It's a second-class rubric at best. The permission appears in the "Additional Directions" section on p. 410. Though worded as a rubric, I think it's omission from the text of the rite itself is intentional. This kind of rubrical dilution is confusing; it's along the lines of "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should." I wonder if permission was given grudgingly because the practice was widespread when the 1979 book was written.

My understanding of the intent behind the end of the 1979 Rite II Eucharist was for the end of the service to proceed from the Postcommunion Prayer to the Blessing to the Dismissal without interruption. This is how the text of the rite appears in the BCP (p. 366).

Marion Hatchett writes in 'A Commentary on the American Prayer Book': The blessing or dismissal is a sending out of the people, and the use of any text after the blessing or dismissal denigrates the text of those forms." (p. 394).
The final hymn would come after the postcommunion prayer, not after the blessing. You're reading things very strangely; there are no "second-class" rubrics, nor is it a grudging permission. The entire section of "Additional Directions" are real rubrics, not "grudging permissions".

The SSJE chapel uses a single hymn at the offertory on almost all occasions.

I have nothing against the Doxology, I just see no connection between the rubrical claims you make and your preference for it. (It came from *morning prayer* as part of the "presentation" of an offering, which was - indeed - collected during the singing of a choral anthem.)

I've seen all these patterns and more, and your essay seems to be assuming some implications which may be common enough (anthem = bringing bread and wine separately during anthem while seated), but which are hardly universal or an inherent part of that pattern.

And then, at the end of the day, you actually *like* the pattern you argue against, and you actually *like* the rubrical reading which I suggest, you simply want the second part to be an unchanging use of the Doxology. (Which is a perfectly reasonable preference.)
Permission for purely organ music is not generally necessary; the BCP leaves unsaid when instrumental music may occur. That said, the rubric reads: "On occasion, and as appropriate, instrumental music may be substituted for a hymn or anthem."

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