I am unabashedly a fan of The Hymnal 1982, still occasionally called the “new’ hymnal by some folks. It represents so much good thinking on music in the church, finding a balance between traditional and unusual, comforting and challenging, and it includes a fair number of hymns intended for use by choirs in small churches and for other particular circumstances. It also represents some compromises that I can only imagine caused hours of heated discussion in committee! And it demonstrates the wide range, if not the complete range, of our worship styles and practices in the Anglican Communion, creating a common bond among us as much as The Book of Common Prayer. It will be a sad day for our church if and when we lose our common book of song in the quest for “diversity” as we further separate ourselves into groups and begin to lose one of those things that has historically held the Anglican Communion together. You might not be aware that there are currently hymnals in the Episcopal Church for African-Americans, Latinos, women, and praise-song-inclined Evangelicals. There has been talk of a new hymnal being created in the next decade or so, and I fervently hope it will be one book (how old-fashioned) that people can hold in their hands and flip through to know just how diversely wonderful our church is.
But I didn’t set out to write about the hymnal. Rather I wanted to write something that connects with next week, a Holy Week that begins with the Annunciation. Neither at St. Alban’s, nor at many Episcopal churches, do we observe the Annunciation, set on March 25 of the liturgical calendar as the day to celebrate Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear God’s son. But there are Anglo-Catholic parishes that do commemorate this day, and our hymnal contains eight hymns for the occasion, found at numbers 263-270. (In fact, these are some of my favorite hymns, and I manage to work them in during Advent and Christmas when we’re more inclined to think about Mary singing her song of praise, the Magnificat.). We go to church in part to learn how to live with hard truths, and being reminded of Mary’s joy as we prepare for Holy Week is one of those hard truths – as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer puts it, that “in the midst of life we are in death”.
Below is a setting of a Basque Annunciation carol, #265 in The Hymnal 1982. It expresses Mary’s awe-filled acceptance of this joyful news tinged with the fear and sadness any mother feels bringing her child into a world where in the midst of life we are in death.