Music speaks to our souls. Song is a part of virtually every tradition of Christian worship, and therefore music is the most ecumenical aspect of the Christian faith. Hymns and songs are borrowed between denominations and churches. Anglican music is therefore as eclectic as any other tradition, but with specific hymnody and songs which fit into particular themes and events in the Church year. Most Anglican services include at least two hymns, an opening or processional hymn and a closing or recessional hymn. The Gloria, an ancient song of praise, is often sung, especially at Easter and the Easter season. Songs of praise are often blended into the service, with great variety as to the placement and duration. Service music is the music that is based on the liturgical texts of the Prayer Books, which may be either sung or said by clergy and people. These include the Gloria, the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), the Lord’s Prayer, and the Fraction Anthem.
There is great variety across North America in terms of how music is used in worship, and music is very important to our worship. It is just a simple and obvious fact that human beings sing. Not every one of us sings with the same quality, but we sing. There is no culture in which forms of music are absent. Music is part of being human. And many church traditions use music in worship. In fact, some even call the singing portion of their service “worship.”
But the core reality of Anglican worship is that music supports and fits into liturgy and not the other way around. That is, the liturgy is primary, it is the order that guides our worship and music is secondary in that it must fit the tone and themes given by the Prayer Book order. Thus the music of the church may joyfully remain in the service of worship and not become an end in itself. With this in mind, musicians offer their gifts to God and to his people in producing beautiful music.
Music is also seen as just as much the work of the people as is the whole liturgy. The musicians and leaders are not performing, they are supporting. You will notice that in most Anglican services the musicians are off to the side or even hidden almost completely. This is to emphasize their role as supportive to what the rest of the people and clergy are doing. At times energetic contemporary music or overzealous choirs give the impression of a movement toward performance oriented music. But this is probably more reflective of the enjoyment of music and over time these forms seem to find their way into more appropriately supportive roles.
But a supportive role does not diminish the importance of music. Anglicanism has long celebrated excellence in sacred music. Sacred music does not have to be performance oriented to be important and powerful, and is integrated deeply into the order of our worship.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.