02 March 2017

Twiggling with Sursum Corda

Holy God,
Holy and Mighty,
Holy and Immortal,
Have mercy upon us.

Recently an acquaintance wrote to me appalled by the version of Sursum Corda that her denomination is now using or permitting.  This reminded me of a similar reaction to a bit of liturgical twiggling in another denomination that I found supremely offensive ...which led me back to some old posts on Tonus  Peregrinus.  I found several posts to this blog and have cobbled them together to elaborate upon this theme. [Note: Sursum corda means Lift up your hearts.]


Am I opposed to new compositions? No. I oppose "new" for the sake of it being "new". I oppose "change" for the sake of "change".

An example of what I cannot abide:

        God is with you.
            God's with you too.
        Open your hearts to God.
            Our hearts and minds are God's.
        Give thanks to the Most High God.
            Give praise to God all the Earth.

Honestly, there are two worthy kernels in the above, but clad in its ultra-feminist avoidance of the word 'Lord' (or the masculine pronoun) it sounds more like something one would see on a bumper-sticker or a t-shirt than a sacred dialogue spoken at Holy Mass. A 'tree liturgy' perhaps...

What could I accept? Something Biblical, sound theological reasoning, a measure of Anglican or Eastern Orthodox provenance, and a wise sense of limiting its application. My example below meets these criteria -- if not entirely successfully -- and was meant to be employed in place of Sursum Corda during Ascensiontide and upon the Festival of the Assumption:

                   The Lord is here.
                           Our God is with us.
                   Lift your hearts to Heaven
                           where Christ the Lord doth reign.
                   All flesh shall behold his Glory.
                           All who seek shall adore his Face.

What could you accept in variation in the liturgical order? Is there any legitimate way to provide variety and variation without resorting to "Or this", that dreadful rubric (or bluebric if we are speaking of the ASB 1980). Although we seem to prefer propositions phrased as Entweder/Oder, we often seem happiest when Both/And is the final result. 

I recall that the Joint Liturgical Group had proposed an embolism (no not a medical condition but rather an insertion into the text) as an alternative to 'Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.' which I think I recall correctly as:

                     Christ is Victor. 
                     Christ is King.
                     Christ is Lord of all.

I thought it was far superior to what ICEL came up with, but it never went anywhere in the liturgical revisions in the various churches, as far as I know. Sometimes a clever idea dies in committee. Sometimes it is used in trial form but forgotten. And then some liturgical archaeologist comes along, remembers it, dusts it off, and the time proves right for it.


               The Lord is here.
                        Our God is with us.
               Lift your hearts to Heaven
                        where Christ the Lord doth reign.
               All flesh shall behold his Glory.
                        All who seek shall adore his Face.

A kind email asked that I explain what was the merit in the above alternative to Sursum Corda (an alternative intended for Ascensiontide and Assumption). I can only offer what I see as the merit in the work. Often times I will read a commentary or statement by the writer that is very theologically unpalatable to me, yet sometimes even Balaam's ass does prophesy. So, out of ill intention something good may come. Joseph teaches us in the Torah "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." It is in this spirit that I look at liturgical composition -- divorced from its author, required to stand on its own Biblical and theological merit, is consistent with the patristic witness, and judged as to whether or not it is successful as oral communication.

Now what follows is purely my own interpretation:

The text asserts that the Lord is present where we are, and it reminds us also that the Lord is on His throne of glory in heaven. it is rare to have both in one dialogue or prayer. We tend to veer off either toward an immanent view or on the other hand a transcendent view of God and His location. Here both truths are declared and upheld together.

Secondly, the dialogue locates us "here" but calls us to a heavenly place. We rise up from the mundane to the divine.

The third is that the final versicle and response is prophetic drawing as it does from Isaiah (And all flesh shall see it together ... surely, you have sung this during performances of Händel's Messiah). The response actually touches upon several scriptures including the Apocalypse.

The worship of God's Face is older than the First Temple, and in that First Temple the shewbread which was shaped like a face (panim) came to be associated with and viewed as participating in that glorious Divine Presence. It is rare that we have a text that reaches into the past to First Temple worship, traverses the present Eucharistic Sacrifice, and looks forward to the heavenly consummation and bliss of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Nota Bene: The text can actually be pointed to the plainsong normally used in North America for Sursum Corda whether Canon Douglas' version or Healey Willan's.

Another Note: many of us have experienced in Anglican worship the English alternative Dominus vobiscum "The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us." But most of us cannot abide it as it sounds like the opening words at a seance or some Spiritualist meeting. "The Lord is here. Our God is with us." on the other hand is far more profound bringing as it does the Gospel Proclamation of the Incarnation into the Eucharistic Dialogue.

I hope this short reflexion will be helpful for any of you, dear Readers, who wondered what good I could find in this alternative. As for the execrable first modern example I used, it did contain the lifting up of "hearts and minds" which has good Syriac background to it. But the negatives so far outweigh any positives, that I don't think I need to discuss that further.

+Dominus vobiscum