Today Fr. Kevin blessed St. Augustine’s new hymnals. Below you may read an introduction to the hymnal by Dr. Timothy Dickey, composer and music lover – and member of St. Augustine’s.
The Ancient & Modern Hymnal: A Brief Introduction
Timothy J. DickeyWhat’s in a hymnal? We can compare a hymnal to a well-stocked bookstore or an art gallery, or to a tended garden, or even a classic cookbook. Each of these nourishes our minds, our senses, and our daily lives with a collection of carefully-selected touchstones deep into our particular human traditions, alongside new and fresh surprises. Devotional guides and the Prayer-book itself perhaps offer even better analogies: a hymnal organizes the expression of our common worship as we sing and pray each day, each season, and throughout the history of our lives. The first hymnal using the title Hymns Ancient & Modern was printed in 1861, and sought deliberately to offer a diverse collection of the devotional breadth available to Christians in the English-speaking world. The Oxford Movement in Britain was re-discovering and reclaiming a treasury of music and poetry from its Anglican, Latin Catholic, and Byzantine roots, including the earliest Christian chants and hymnody from Church Fathers such as St. Augustine and Ambrose. American Protestants were enjoying the translated heritage of hymnody from the Moravian, Lutheran, and Reformed churches (music of Bach and Luther, Psalm adaptations from Paris and Geneva), as well as more recent offerings from, for instance, Samuel and John Wesley. Standing alongside these spiritual lineages were the early fruits of the Second Great Awakening: hymns of revival and healing, of slavery’s Abolition and Christian social change, and of the burgeoning evangelical missionary movement, carrying the Gospel in fresh waves across the globe. Later editions of this hymnal would similarly and deliberately try to collect the spiritual highlights of worship with “all the saints” of our heritage, while incorporating samples of contemporary movements of the Spirit in music from African-American and wider global churches, from more recent Anglicans, Charismatic expressions, and Taizé Catholicism, to name but a few. The layout of each page of this hymnal offers a musical melody and hymn text separately in most cases, for several reasons. Practically speaking, this is a printing convention (employed in the Anglican Communion up to the 1940 Hymnal) for flexibility and to save space on the page. Prior to the advent of wide-spread public school music education, most congregations sang from printed books of texts, using familiar hymn tunes or following the “lining-out” of the melody by a worship leader. This kind of arrangement also allowed our brothers and sisters in worship the flexibility to sing the same devotional text – whether a metrical Psalm adaptation or a hymn text of human inspiration – with a different melody if one seemed more appropriate or more familiar. The printing also makes it possible to pray through the hymnal just as with any other devotional collection from the mind and writings of our spiritual forebears. None of these practices, however, are intended to divorce the music from the text. On the contrary, the intention is for us all with St. Paul to both “pray with the mind” in the richness of the poetic text, and “with the spirit” in the act of making music. May our worship indeed be blessed by this collection.