Anthony Esolen: Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame | Crisis Magazine (with comments)

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I have taken one small liberty, in substituting a more specifically Anglican image!

“Come on, priests, musicians, and singers. Learn some poetry. Open the old hymnals and read. You need not feed on slop all your life long when you might enjoy real meat and potatoes and vegetables. And sometimes—more often than you suspect—you might feast like kings.”

Source: Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame | Crisis Magazine

A typically excellent treatment of the subject, by the inimitable Professor Anthony Esolen.

“Not every carpenter in 1800 could make tables fit for Windsor Castle. But he made what would stand the test of time, because it required great skill and practice to make any kind of table at all. The sifting would already have occurred when the man was a boy, learning the feel of wood and tool.

“So, too, with the old hymns. A person would have needed certain skills not only to write a good poem in meter and rhyme, but to write any such poem, and he would have been accustomed to writing such poetry from his youth. Poetry was a big part of the ordinary person’s life. For some people it was only the poetry in folk songs and hymns, but for literate people—and I am not talking about college graduates—it was far more…

“Modernism is nearly synonymous with disruption from and dismissal of the past. The modernist says the clock’s hands have turned, that there’s no going back, and we must look to the future. Its results have been meager, and at worst a spree of destruction. I am not speaking merely of quality. Whole genres of poetry, to name one branch of art, have disappeared.

“This is not to say that modernist poets write poor dramatic monologues, poor epics, poor songs, and poor narratives; they do not write them at all. Poetry has shrunk to the confessional or political lyric, usually in free verse. Never in human history has poetry meant less to the ordinary man. It is a tree torn up by the roots.”

Click through and read on for more! It’s well worth it.

Of course, having identified and described the problem, the next issue is figuring out what to do about it. Professor Esolen’s recommendation – “Learn some poetry. Open the old hymnals and read” – is an excellent place to start! But how to get people to actually do that is a bit more of a conundrum.

As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” And you can lead a writer of “worship songs” to classic hymnody, but you can’t make him appreciate it, still less internalize its lessons, in such a way as to enable him to write in the same tradition… or at least, it doesn’t seem so.

It also helps to come from a faith tradition that actually is a faith tradition. Far too much of what passes for Christianity today is in point of fact what Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner refers to as “jesusy” worship “experiences.” (He also refers to a lot of it as “masturbatory worship,” calling it a “self-worshiping, self-referential, nearly auto-erotic pursuit.” I don’t think he’s far wrong, but I’m trying to be nice.)

For a church – or a would-be hymn-writer – to have an authentic faith tradition, they have to be part of an authentic faith tradition: and for that, you need something like the Anglican tradition. Or the Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or (God help us… after all, I am an Anglican!) Presbyterian / Reformed traditions: traditions that have developed over the centuries, even the millennia, of the Christian era.

You won’t find it in the “community church” model, which almost seems to take pride in not being part of any tradition, which seems to practically glory in being cut off from the past (which, of course, is what inevitably happens when you hitch your wagon to the “contemporary” star).

There are a few such churches that seem to be trying to graft themselves back onto the Great Tradition, and I wish them all the best! But they are still relatively few and far between, and they’ve got their work cut out for them.

And of course, far too many of those who are members of churches that have historically been part of the Great Tradition have, for the last four or five decades (or more), been doing their best to cast off those connections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these have nearly all seen a steep decline in membership.

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But I digress. The point – for the purposes of this post – is that to write hymns that have both theological and poetical depth, one must be steeped in both the poetical tradition and in an authentic, historical faith tradition.

It is said that the old Celtic Bards had to study for 21 years to become masters of their craft and trade. They had to learn not only the musical arts, but history, folklore, genealogy, myths and legends, and much more. Even law codes! Then and only then were they seen to be ready to ply the bardic arts.

Yet now, it seems, everyone who can string together a few lines of doggerel thinks they can write “worship songs” or “praise music.” Maybe we need a more Bardic approach to Christian hymnody! We had something like it once, though we may not have called it by that name: Tony Esolen explicates it, and the fertile soil in which it grew.

I pray we can get it back.

 

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Rogation Sunday and Rogationtide

 

Rogationtide – My Book of the Church's Year
From My Book of the Church’s Year, by Enid M. Chadwick. London: Mowbrays (no date).

So, what is Rogation Sunday, and Rogationtide (a.k.a., the Rogation Days), anyway…? The lovely Anglican blog, “Full Homely Divinity,” explains:

“The week of the Sixth Sunday of Easter [note: for those of us using the traditional calendar, the Fifth Sunday after Easter] is busy with processions and outdoor activities. The week begins with prayers and celebrations that focus on stewardship of creation and culminates in the great (but lately much-neglected) Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven on the fortieth day of the Paschal Feast.

“The Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day, originated in Vienne, France (not Vienna, Austria), in 470 after a series of natural disasters had caused much suffering among the people. Archbishop Mamertus proclaimed a fast and ordered that special litanies and prayers be said as the population processed around their fields, asking God’s protection and blessing on the crops that were just beginning to sprout.

“The Latin word rogare means ‘to ask,’ thus these were ‘rogation’ processions. In an agricultural society, closely connected with the soil and highly vulnerable to the uncertainties of nature, this was an idea that took root quickly, and the custom spread around Europe and over to Britain. The Sunday before the Rogation Days came to be considered a part of Rogationtide (or ‘Rogantide’) and was known as Rogation Sunday.”

Thus, the blessing of crops, and from that, a more general sense of exercising good, due, and proper stewardship of Creation, is an important part of this day, and this Tide.

Furthermore, there developed in England the concept of “the beating of the bounds,” in which the Rogation Procession made its way around the bounds of the parish, reaffirming a sense of place, and instructing the young in the geography of home, and significant locations, sites, and features within those bounds. Because those boundaries were sometimes transgressed, it also provided an opportunity to reconcile with one’s erring neighbors.

Another excellent blog, “The Homely Hours,” notes,

“George Herbert gave the following reasons to observe the Rogation Days, that are still practical for us today: 1) [asking] a blessing of God for the fruits of the field; 2) Justice in the preservation of the bounds; 3) Charitie, in living, walking and neighbourliy accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if they be any; 4) Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largess which at that time is or oght be made.

The author of that blog, Amanda, further recounts, “I remember the first time I participated in our church’s Rogation Day ‘Beating of the Bounds.’ I was deeply impressed by the way that the Rogation Days took seriously the life of the body in the world.”

So should we all!

Post-Pascha Reminder: Easter Is Not a Pagan Holiday | Patheos.com

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“No, Easter isn’t derived from the name of the Babylonian fertility goddess, Ishtar, nor any pagan festival. But even if it were, so what?”

Source: Post-Pascha Reminder: Easter Is Not a Pagan Holiday | Patheos.com

It is rare for Christians on the Puritan / fundamentalist side of the spectrum, Neopagans, and atheists to agree on anything, but one thing many (though not all) do agree on is that Easter, like Christmas, was originally a Pagan holiday that was wrongfully adopted / borrowed / swiped from the Pagans.

“You stole our holiday(s)!” complain the neo-Pagans. “You shouldn’t celebrate Easter / Christmas, it’s a Pagan holiday!” complain the neo-Puritans. “Ha, ha! Christians are so dumb they celebrate Pagan holidays and think they’re theirs,” chortle (some of the less-knowledgeable and less-charitable) atheists.

Well, they may be in rare agreement, but they’re all wrong… Continue reading “Post-Pascha Reminder: Easter Is Not a Pagan Holiday | Patheos.com”

QOTD (with reflections): “We are the religion of the Incarnation…”

“We are the religion of the Incarnation. God became man, the invisible God became visible, he sanctified the material world and elevated these visible, tangible signs to communicate invisible graces and to convey eternal truths.”

— Canon Michael Stein, ICRSS, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory (Roman Catholic) in Detroit

Amen!

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Photos of the traditional religious procession in Detroit were widely shared on social media

Source: Vintage-style photo of St Joseph’s Day procession goes viral | Catholic Herald

Canon Stein noted, in reference to the St. Joseph’s Procession (pictured above) in particular,

“It only takes a quick glance around the world to see a fatherless society, and to see either a slothful or workaholic society, or a lack of an appropriate understanding of manliness. It’s neither brute nor effeminate, it’s faithful, it’s steadfast, it’s courageous and gentle. And we find all those things in St. Joseph, so I think that’s another part of the power of that picture.”

All very true. But, he goes on to add,

“We are body and soul, all these spiritual truths are meant to be communicated through our senses. We get to see our faith, hear our faith, taste our faith, etc., and that just appeals to us so much,” he said.

“Truth needs to shine in beauty…we’re not angels, we’re not just pure intelligences, we need to see, touch, hear; and that’s something the traditional liturgy has always done. That’s something that a reverent Mass or procession can do, these visible signs that the Church has used throughout her history to excite devotion and promote devotion.”

Again, amen. Amen, and amen!

One of my reasons for concern when we as Anglicans veer too far to the Protestant / Reformed side of the Christian spectrum is the accompanying tendency to get uncomfortably close to a quasi-gnostic devaluation of the physical, the material, the sensory – Creation itself – in favor of the cerebral, the theoretical, the (narrowly-defined) spiritual. “Spirit good, matter bad” is a common view in Christian circles. But, it’s a heretical one! Continue reading “QOTD (with reflections): “We are the religion of the Incarnation…””

Ember Days | For All the Saints

The Ember Days are four groups each of three days in the Church year that have been observed as days of fasting in the Churches of the West.

Source: Ember Days | For All the Saints

Today is Ember Saturday in Lent: the last day of Lenten Embertide, which runs from Wednesday through today (although Thursday is not not considered an Ember Day. But it’s a question worth asking: what are Ember Days, exactly, and what’s their significance? For All the Saints has a typically good and interesting treatment of these days, but here is some additional information on the subject: Continue reading “Ember Days | For All the Saints”

Ash Wednesday | Anglican Pastor

Christians have been preparing for the celebration of Easter by walking through a “Holy Lent” since ancient times. This is patterned after Jesus temptation in the wilderness…

Source: Ash Wednesday – Anglican Pastor

If you happen to be wondering what this “Ash Wednesday” thing is all about, anyway, here’s a pretty good place to start. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and

Lent is a season of repentance, fasting, and self-reflection. Of course, all of this happens with the sure knowledge of God’s love and grace to us through Christ. Lent and Ash Wednesday are in no way about condemnation. They are a time in which human beings, given a pronouncement of forgiveness and absolution through Christ, can be honest with God, with ourselves, and with each other. With the terror of judgment removed, we can speak the truth.”

He goes on to explore the themes and customs of Ash Wednesday, in particular. Well worth a read if you’re new to this observance, or even if you are familiar with it – a fresh take, or perhaps a “refresher course,” is never a bad thing!

Propers (Lessons and Collect) for Ash Wednesday, with links to the Litany and Penitential Office

Propers for the First day of Lent, commonly called Ash-Wednesday.
The Book of Common Prayer 1928.

[With additional devotions.]

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we,worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness. may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

¶ This Collect is to be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, until Palm Sunday.

For the Epistle. Joel ii. 12.

TURN ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?

The Gospel. St. Matt. vi. 16.

WHEN ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

[Then Follows]

The Litany

or General Supplication

¶ To be used after the Third Collect at Morning or Evening Prayer; or before the Holy Communion; or separately.

[and / or]

A Penitential Office

For Ash Wednesday.

¶ On the First Day of Lent, the Office ensuing may be read immediately after the Prayer, We humbly beseech thee, O Father, in the Litany; or it may be used with Morning Prayer, or Evening Prayer, or as a separate Office.

¶ The same Office may be read at other times, at the discretion of the Minister.