Hear the Angel Voices
Thomas Howard on the Versified Dogma of Christian Worship
For Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, the singing of hymns—at least in the sense in which hymnody is understood and practiced in the Anglican and Protestant churches—does not occupy exactly the place that it does in those latter two sectors of Christendom. The move away from the liturgy at the Reformation fostered an enormous efflorescence of hymnody. Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and others brought to their congregations a treasury of hymns for which tens of thousands of Christian believers have been grateful.
There is, however, a treasury of hymnody almost unknown now, except, as it happens, in the traditional Anglican Church. For it is the Anglicans who, many years ago, found, and opened up, and started singing, the hymns from the early and medieval churches both in the East and in the West. Catholics, of course, have kept in a central place the hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo Sacramentum; and the Orthodox liturgy seems, at least to a Roman Catholic like myself, to be borne along on an almost ceaseless outpouring of glorious chant. But the phenomenon of vigorous congregational singing seems to be a particular specialty of the Anglican and the Protestant churches.
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Thomas Howard taught for many years at St. John's Seminary College, the Roman Catholic seminary of the archdiocese of Boston. Among his many works are the books Christ the Tiger, Evangelical Is Not Enough, Lead Kindly Light, On Being Catholic, and The Secret of New York Revealed, and a videotape series of 13 lectures on "The Treasures of Catholicism" (all from Ignatius Press).
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