15 February 2015

Lenten Acclamations To Genevan Psalm Tunes

The following article was invited for "Views from the Choir Loft" on the CC Watershed liturgical music resource and publisher website (February 11, 2015)

DURING THE 1980s, a great friendship developed between the Catholic Diocese of Bruges (Brugge, in Belgium) and the Anglican Diocese of St Edmundsury & Ipswich, facing each other on opposite sides of the North Sea, four hours away by ferry. Not only were there friendly ecumenical visits and dialogue (it had been in Belgium in the 1920s that Cardinal Mercier had conducted the Malines Conversations to explore the possibility of reunion, through an “Anglican Church, united not absorbed), but also spiritual exchanges: Bruges houses the shrine of the Holy Blood, with its world famous Procession each Ascensiontide, and the Anglican Cathedral in Bury is adjacent to the site of the Shrine of St Edmund King & Martyr, England’s first patron saint. In 1989 I heard about a retreat for English priests (Catholic and Anglican) arranged every year at the Benedictine Abbey of St Andries at Zevenkerken, just outside Brugge. Famed for its school and history of theological scholarship it had been a medieval foundation, closed under the French Revolution that swept the old Austrian Netherlands and refounded in an independent Belgium as part of the Beuronese monastic renewal and mission movement. It was also a centre for the Liturgical Movement. A monk of Maria-Laach Abbey in the Rhineland was the architect, and the community formed the Benedictine Belgian Annunciation Congregation along with two other monasteries associated with the Liturgical Movement, Keizersberg (Mont-César at Leuven, to which Lambert Beauduin belonged) and Blessed Columba Marmion’s Maredsous. Those with old missals and chantbooks will recognise the Abbey of Zevenkerken more easily as the editorial seat for the liturgical works of the Desclée press: the Abbaye de St André les Sept-Églises, at Bruges (the nave, aisles and chapels of the remarkable Abbey Church correspond with the seven principal basilicas of the city of Rome).

Following the permission of vernacular language at worship in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, northern Belgium translated the liturgical books into Flemish, the local version of Dutch spoken by the majority. This coincided with the decline of French as the main language of public life, St André les Sept-Églises became Zevenkerken St Andries; and the Abbey’s relationship with the historical Liturgical Movement as part of a French-speaking world changed. Now it was part of Flemish-speaking Church with close relations to the Catholic Dutch to the north in the Netherlands. What was striking to an English visitor was the vigour of the psalmody, in a liturgical translation from the early 1970s, Het Boek der Psalmen, a collaboration of Dutch and Flemish Benedictines and Cistercians, set to newly composed simple tones in the eight modes, with antiphons. Anyone knowing the Coverdale psalter in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer could become familiar with the import and rhythmic structure of the Dutch text.

But Dutch, like French, is familiar with another and very historic way to sing the psalms: the metrical psalms of the Genevan Reform. It was Dom Lambert Beauduin who realised that the singing of psalms and the reading of the Scriptures in divine worship was the greatest bond between Catholics and Protestants; at the monastery he founded at Amay (now at Chevetogne) he not only provided for the celebration of the Slav-Byzantine rite but also increased the readings from Scripture at the offices to intensify desire for recovering unity with Christians of the post-Reformation traditions by a demonstrable and liturgical enrichment of Scriptural fare, especially from the Old Testament. While the psalms at the western offices at Amay were of course in Latin, by the time of the liturgical changes after Vatican II, across Belgium and the Netherlands there emerged a new possibility to make use of the 400 year old liturgical patrimony of the Protestants – not only reading the Scriptures in the vernacular but also singing psalms in famous metrical versions, integral to Dutch-speaking religious and musical culture, and even familiar to Catholics. Thus at Lauds, Vespers and Readings at Zevenkerken, one of the psalms is a metrical version sung to an exhilarating tune from Geneva or Strasbourg. It made me think that such singing as this must have been why the Reform in Geneva was at first so exciting—no organ, no choir, no harmony, but a strong and rhythmically engaging monody in which all participated as one Body and internalised the words of the Psalms, not in their translated Scriptural form but as memorable verses.

The melodies struck me as especially powerful because, despite being a Church musician (I was precentor of the Anglican St Edmundsbury Cathedral at the time), I hardly knew them. The English tradition of metrical psalms is different, employing different metres more suited to the way the language works in metred verse. Perhaps the most famous is “The Old Hundredth” Psalm, All people that on earth do dwell, which has outlasted its update. Another is The Lord’s my Shepherd, well known in Scotland but all but forgotten in England until Princess Anne chose it for its tune and descant at her wedding. So, despite the Dutch-French-Swiss psalms and their tunes being so appealing, it was not easy to imagine how to make us of them in English worship. Those that had not died out were associated with an old-fashioned way of singing hymns, already losing ground to new kinds of worship songs. Thanks to one of those retreats at Zevenkerken, within a few years I made my journey to the full communion of the Catholic Church and was ordained priest in 1995. I continued to take part in the retreats alongside my old Anglican friends in this Belgian Catholic Benedictine abbey and the metrical psalms of the Dutch Reform, gladly appropriated by the Dutch and Flemish Catholics, approached me in a new way.

Having grown up in a liturgical Church where there is a great deal of singing—the classic English hymns, the ordinary of the Eucharistic rite, and the canticles and psalms of the Office—it dismayed me that the reforms in the Catholic rite had hardly engendered the restoration of the Mass as normatively a solemn sung celebration as I had been used to in the Church of England or, for that matter, the Catholic places of worship I had visited on the Continent. In England, as in Ireland, Low Mass had given way to a spoken mass with hymns (and not the best of what the English religious culture had to offer by any means, let alone appropriately selected and deployed) and new worship songs: not even the proper chants either in Latin or English (I had been used to the propers in English translation arranged to Gregorian chants, but suggesting we used these, even provisionally or as ancillary to the songs, was dismissed as belonging to the past). I was most dismayed by the gradual/responsorial psalm almost invariably being said by a reader instead of sung with the leading of a cantor. And with nearly always the same tune for the Alleluia (the simple beauty of the chant from the office at the end of the Paschal Vigil now debased from overuse all but every day), Lent was no relief because the Gospel Acclamation was rarely sung by a cantor, let alone with the involvement of the people.
It struck me then that those wonderful Reform tunes beloved at Zevenkerken could at last be put to use in English Catholic worship. So I adapted the texts of the Lenten Acclamations in the Lectionary for each of the three years into metrical form and harmonised four of the tunes. I make no claims for the verses, but at least they have been used to make singing the Lenten Acclamations possible.

Here is the link to the resource, from which it can be downloaded:

* * Website • Lenten Gospel Acclamations to Four Genevan Psalm Tunes

Monastery of Chevetogne, Belgium

My good friends at the Monastery of Chevetogne, of which I am an oblate.

Interview for "Both Lungs" at Royal Doors

Brent Kostyniuk came over to London in early 2014, attended our Liturgy, and just interviewed me for his column, Both Lungs, which is about Christians of East and West needing each other and learning from each other. It is syndicated to the English-language Ukrainian resource page, Royal Doors. Here is part one.


Back in September, Both Lungs recalled a particularly uplifting Divine Liturgy I attended while on holidays in London. The celebrant was Father Mark Woodruff who had been ordained in the Latin Church, but who had bi-ritual faculties. This month, Both Lungs visits with Father Mark to get a different perspective on the Eastern Church and its relationship with the West.

Father Mark’s interest in the East began through ecumenical work. “For many years, I have been involved with Catholic ecumenical engagement. In England in the past we concentrated on unity among Western Christians, but in the last ten to fifteen years the presence of Eastern Christians new to the United Kingdom, Catholic and Orthodox alike, has altered the perspective of what and who we mean by Christian Unity. There are also increased numbers of English-speaking people becoming Orthodox.”

“At one point, I was asked to be a trustee of the Society of St John Chrysostom (SSJC), an historic Catholic association which promotes awareness of the Eastern Catholic churches and reconciliation between Catholic and Orthodox, East and West. Because of decades of Catholic focus on western ecumenism, it had declined but there was now renewed interest in the East – we started inviting Orthodox churches to celebrate Vespers in Westminster Cathedral, which provoked great interest.” He adds that with increased immigration, Roman Catholics, especially in major towns and cities, were becoming more aware of Eastern Catholics.

“Shortly after I became a trustee of SSJC, we started to hold our meetings at the Ukrainian [Catholic] Cathedral, were made extremely welcome, and invited more and more to participate at the Liturgy. It also helped the Ukrainian community to gain regular contact with other Catholics and, of course, with a little English occasionally in services, it was of interest to Ukrainian Catholics who were living and working in the UK, also raising children whose first language was now English, to hear that their religion was not only from abroad but could also relate to life and faith in England.”

With the arrival in England of a new Ukrainian Catholic bishop, Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, a new approach to the use of English in liturgies developed. Father Mark explains, “It was clear to Bishop Hlib that past generations of Ukrainian Catholics in Britain had grown up without those who had become Anglophone having their needs met, other than through a language that they were growing away from, even if strong cultural links and identity persisted. There was also the question of how the Ukrainian parishes collaborate with their local Roman Catholic churches and other national chaplaincies or communities of Eastern Churches – how do we play our part in the wider Church’s mission to society? How do we evangelize as all churches must, and can we present the Christian faith and the life of the Church in the Byzantine Church’s tradition to people who would not otherwise know about Christ? Bishop Hlib and I discussed this and he made a request to my own bishop, now Cardinal Vincent Nichols, for a petition to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches for a faculty to enable me to serve in the Byzantine rite for the sake of the pastoral need of the Ukrainian Catholic Church here in London.”

After a period of preparation and building on his existing familiarity with the Byzantine rite, Father Mark began his new role in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “In December 2013 we established a regular monthly Divine Liturgy in English at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, which is right in the heart of central London. This was to be experimental, to see if it met any demand, to see if it was feasible, to see whether we might do anything differently or instead. Our Liturgy is when London’s West End is heaving with shoppers, at 4:00 pm on the second Saturday of each month. We make it a Liturgy of Sunday by anticipation and this is gradually getting known about both inside the Ukrainian church community, the local Latin parishes, and through the networks of the Society of St John Chrysostom and the Centre for Eastern Christianity at Heythrop College, London’s Jesuit theology faculty. There is now a small regular community – mainly Ukrainian English speakers, some new to the Church and curious about the Eastern tradition as possibly their way forward into the Body of Christ, some visitors passing through, some keen Roman Catholic supporters and some who have just found that we offer a spiritual home that they couldn’t find elsewhere.”

Today, Father Mark feels very at home with the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “I now take part at the Liturgies on the major feasts, not just as a guest (which is a constant delight and honour) but also a bit more as an adopted part of the family, so it means there is more English heard on such occasions. Everyone speaks Ukrainian, of course, but clearly there are children who are at school and who are growing up speaking English too. Their children will firmly have English as their first language, and so even now it is good to make the message heard that their Church is an integral part of the Catholic Church in Britain.”

Finally, Father Mark reflects on his particular experience of West meeting East, Both Lungs working together. “For my part, I have learned to say the Lord’s words that the priests sing together in the anaphora in Ukrainian, as this underlines our communion, and the unity of East and West too. It’s a simple matter of respect too. But I think it’s important to stress the English language dimension too. People are very kind at my attempts at some Ukrainian, but my Christos rozhdayatsya – Christ is Born – when we were blessing and anointing the faithful at the end of the Nativity liturgy occasioned much mirth and good will.”

Next month, Father Mark Woodruff talks about what Both Lungs means to him.

Homily for the Encounter of the Lord and Meatfare Sunday, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London, 15 February 2015

The story of the Lord’s Encounter in the Temple (Luke 2.22-40) is familiar to us all, and much loved. There is the Holy Family; there is a lovely old gentleman, who is just like the wise old monks and priests we know. There, too, is the wonderful old lady whom we all recognise – always faithfully at Church, praying; never putting herself forward, she will do anything for anyone; and the rest of the Church relies on her, because, when other people come in and want to catch up on the stream of gossip that yet they instantly forget, here she is saying her prayers even though she has lived just as long and suffered much – we will never know and she will never say – her presence among the others is patient, her demeanour constant, her face ever so slightly illuminated, her intercessions concentrated, her humanity deep. It is a scene that could have happened a few moments ago, as an exhilarated and exhausted mother brings her first child to Church for the first time and people come up to see and bathe in the delight of a new baby and quietly congratulate the exultant new parents.

Except to say, it was not quite like that. In the West, one of the names for today’s feast is the Presentation of the Lord, and in the East it is known as the Encounter of Our Lord. But who is really being presented; who is encountering whom?

We have to remember that, when this was all taking place, in the Temple’s Holy of Holies it was dark. In the first Temple, before the exile in Babylon, the sanctuary had famously been a place of flashing brilliance: here was where the high priestly King had sat upon the Throne surrounded by the splendours of the court and the royal rites. It had seemed in those days that God Himself was present (Psalm 46.7); and the clouding incense, the gleaming light and the sonorous music told the people that their God was still with them (Matthew 1.23), just as he had gone before them in the wilderness as they made their forty-year pilgrimage to the Promised Land –a Pillar of Cloud by night and a Pillar of Fire by night. Then it all changed. The Holy of Holies was cleared of its sacred objects and ceremonies; the Throne and the Tablets of the Law were destroyed when the people were taken off to Exile and Babylon; and in the new Temple some of the old ones, who could remember what had gone before, observed that the Glory of the Lord never came back. But half a millennium later, a Child whom we know, but they did not, to be a Son of King David’s line, enters the Temple and is spotted by the last in a long line of prophets who had spent decades and then centuries waiting for usurper kings and false priests to fall and in their stead the departed Presence of God in glory to return. Thus to Herod’s Holy of Holies, where nothing happens but in hiding once a year, to the Temple where all the rites have to take place in the open air or subdued lighting, approaches the Light of the World, that long expected Glory of the People of God.

Now Mary and Joseph present their Child in fulfilment of His own Law. But then it is Simeon who presents himself in turn to the Messiah, the Anointed King and Divine Son. Likewise it is Anna (who bears the same name as the mother of the Mother of God) who presents herself to Him and announces Him as the longed for Redeemer. They encounter Him in the Temple, but more truly it is He who encounters them. Through them He encounters the whole of the People, their kings and priests who for age after age concealed the brightness of God’s worship and service. Through them, too, He encounters the entire world, and our preference for lurking in shadows and working in darkness, we who live and think as though the last thing we need is a Redeemer.

Yet look at the story again. The same Child will make the same journey again; and so we will understand what the Light is truly to reveal and the glory is clearly to show. In thirty years’ time it will not be the Mother of God who carries Him to the Temple to fulfil God’s will, but a donkey. Instead of a pair of turtledoves offered in loving pride and generosity, there will be money-changers whose entire profits will amount to no more than thirty pieces of silver. Instead of a holy man consumed by the Spirit with a heart brimming with love and hope at the keeping of God’s age-long promise, a High Priest convicts the Lord for breaking His own Law. Instead of an old lady with a beautiful soul praising God, the superstitious wife of the Roman governor is frightened of bad luck if any harm should come to Him.

So today it is a story leading up to the Passion that we are being told. The Lord is entering his Temple not to reign as a King like Herod, but to undermine the falsehood to self-serving government that darkens the people’s vision of God: “My Kingdom,” He will say, “is not of this world.” (John 18.36) The Lord is entering His Temple not to grab at authority (Philippians 2.6), but to turn it round into something more potent; “My house,” He will say, “shall be a House of Prayer for all.” (Matthew 21.13) The Lord is entering His Temple not to reclaim His old Throne but to mount a new one: “I, when I, am lifted up,” He will say, “shall draw all people to Me.” (John 12.32) The Lord is entering His Temple not to offer doves on the altar, but to offer Himself in sacrifice on the Cross.

Nor does the inner meaning of the Encounter end here. The Apostle tells us that according to the old Law of God, you are guaranteed to know a priest is a priest, with the power to offer sacrifice and take away the darkness in which we hides ourselves away from God, because we know his father was a priest before him and his father before him all the way back to Aaron the brother of Moses. But Jesus is not of this tribe and yet has become a priest. How can we know? The Apostle (Hebrews 7.11-17) says that this is not by a time-honoured legal stipulation, but by a new order – not descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. In other words, we know that the sacrifice in His own Blood that Jesus offered on the Cross was accepted, because He was vindicated when he was raised from the dead. In other words, the life that Jesus gave could not be destroyed, but destroyed its own destroyer. So what Simeon saw in the Child Who encountered him in the Temple was the Lord Whose glory would rise again. The Redeemer recognised by Anna was the Light of the World, Whose Resurrection casts all the darkness to behind the Cross.

So, what of us? The Apostle tells us to have the same mind in us as was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2.5). In other words, he wants us to be beings who come into the world from a different dimension, to be the people who do not now look for the Light, but who embody it and bring it to others. We are to be the Lord in His people; we, too, are to be the Light of the World (Matthew 5.14-16): not part of its dark story, but endlessly and indisputably the glory of humanity. Je ne suis pas Charlie: je suis Siméon. I am Simeon guided by the Spirit, bringing consolation, courage and strength in a world of woe where dark purposes need exposure to the Light; you too. Je ne suis pas Charlie: je suis Anna. I am Anna – you too - who never leaves the Temple of the heart, where there is always prayer and praise; where there is always looking to be as Christ; and always there is redemption to get back what is abandoned, hopeless, “unrealistic”, irrelevant, “past history”. Not so with God! “He became the first-born of the dead to save us from the Abyss”, (Troparion of the Resurrection, Tone 3)” the Liberator of our souls, who grants us resurrection.” (Troparion of the Encounter)

In a matter of days Great Lent begins. Our Church gradually prepares us for its coming – first we feast, then we forego meat, then dairy foods, and also the oil and wine of gladness. We are helped to concentrate on what matters, with nothing in our minds or bodies to stand between us and the Light. Subduing our bodies a little helps to strip away our darkness, not so that we can be diminished, but so we can be free; not so that we can be preoccupied with our appetites and scruples, but so we can live to God; not so that we can serve our selfish wishes, but instead meet the needs of others that have been consigned to darkness and, if only they could see, would be thrilled at seeing the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Troparion of the Encounter). So towards Easter, this Lent may you reflect the dawn of Christ in His Kingdom, and be His Light in the world.

08 February 2015

A Candlemas Hymn

I was recently told there were no hymns for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ (known in the East as the Feast of Encounter with the Lord, i.e. Simeon's and Hannah's in the Temple). This assertion is demonstrably mistaken, but it got me thinking. I looked up the text of the motet, Maria wallt zum Heiligtum, by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) in the well known translation by John Troutbeck (1832-1899), When to the Temple Mary went, finding it was not a good translation and also realising that its metre means it cannot be used as a conventional hymn.

Regardless of whether what follows is 'good', I set my hand to a fresh translation that would fit to a triple 10.10. tune, such as Unde et Memores or Song 24, Old 50th, or even Yorkshire (Stockport).

When Mary to the Temple brings her Child,
The Christ foretold to Simeon is revealed;
As arms that aged in waiting hold the Boy,
The Spirit thrills his voice with ageless joy:
Rejoicing now I go on Heaven’s way:
Saviour, Your people’s Glory, World’s true Day.

Lord Jesus Christ, now hold us through our days,
And show our greatest joy to be Your praise.
Help us, at life’s last hour, depart in peace
With Simeon raised in song by love’s increase:
Rejoicing now I go on Heaven’s way:
Saviour, Your people’s Glory, World’s true Day.

Maria wallt zum Heiligtum und bringt ihr Kindlein dar,
das schaut der greise Simeon, wie ihm verheißen war.
Da nimmt er Jesum in den Arm und singt im Geiste froh:

Nun fahr' ich hin mit Freud,
dich, Heiland, sah ich heut,
du Trost von Israel, das Licht der Welt.

Hilf nun, du liebster Jesu Christ, dass wir zu jeder Frist
an dir wie auch der Simeon all uns're Freude han
und kommt die Zeit, sanft schlafen ein und also singen froh:

Nun fahr' ich hin mit Freud,
dich, Heiland, sah ich heut,
du Trost von Israel, das Licht der Welt.

Johannes Eccard, 1553-1611
trans. Mark Woodruff, February 2015