Friday, 26 October 2012

Planning Inter-Church Liturgies with Music

Re-reading the Roman Catholic document Unitatis Redintegratio (which instructs all Catholics to hospitably welcome visitors from other Churches, attend other Churches to meet other Christians, and actively promote friendship and cooperation between all Churches by providing opportunities for joint worship and prayer, social events, and projects) set me thinking about how Churches cooperate in planning joint ecumenical liturgies with Church music.

In my experience, selecting inappropriate Church music with lyrics that are not common to all Churches, issuing liturgical insults by highlighting differences, and failing to provide sufficient public instruction, rehearsal and preparation for ecumenical service music in areas plagued by Church factions and disputes, may seriously obstruct local ecumenical cooperation. Some Church communities take the stance "we'll show them how we do it properly here" - and proceed to emphasize every past schism liturgically. Where textual differences are insurmountable, surely there is no harm in giving Church members "permission" to sing "their" hymn text to a common tune, with the whole assembly, by including the alternative texts in the liturgy booklet. This practice acknowledges difference, avoids disputes over pre-eminence, and promotes inter-Church unity and understanding.

Inter-Church hospitality takes many forms. Church unity is an officially stated goal of the Roman Catholic Church (see John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint) and the World Council of Churches, but members of other Church denominations could be forgiven for thinking otherwise when they are subjected to the behaviour of some Catholic communities. When a Church community welcomes other Christians, it's easy to ruin the occasion by indulging in liturgical paranoia, inconsiderately using denominational music texts, or allowing tactless comments on doctrinal or liturgical differences. Intelligent discussion of past issues in the right forum is necessary, but unfounded judgement, random condemnation, or uninformed prejudice in common worship is invariably destructive.

In ecumenical Church music, the goal should be sharing worship and prayer, centred around a common theme, with common Church texts and music, which are thankfully plentiful. Surely the holiness, or otherwise, of Churches, is God's domain, not ours: trumpeting about the splinter in our brother's eye may blind us to the log in our own eye. Events that may seem routine to the host Church, can be extremely offensive. I will never forget the explosive effect of a cleric rushing to remove the reserved eucharistic species from the Tabernacle in front of an eminent ecumenical assembly, on the scandalous supposition that their presence would contaminate it. Several clerics walked out, and others sat through the service stony-faced, and never returned.

In the absence of a formal covenant between local Churches, or where clergy from all local Churches fail to attend an ecumenical Ministers Fraternal Committee regularly, inter-Church issues and offences often remain unexpressed and undiscussed. Where insufficient ecumenical programs are in place, and no local ecumenical issues guidelines are circulated, Church members often retain "grey areas" of ignorance, indifference, apathy and outright error about Church music and liturgy practices outside their experience. Church musicians and clergy involved in planning ecumenical liturgies obviously have the power to correct many of these misconceptions.

The link below from the Diocese of Westminster provides useful and realistic guidelines for planning constructive ecumenical liturgies with music -

Equally useful Australian guidelines for ecumenical liturgies are found at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Constructive, brief comments are welcome. Please respect readers from other traditions. This blog promotes friendly dialogue and information exchange about Australian Church Music topics.