SongSelect’s New Liturgy Page: Foundation and Fresh Wind

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“What’s this new Liturgy section all about?”

As someone who helps plan worship services, maybe the new “Liturgy” link on the SongSelect home page has piqued your interest. Whatever your tradition and background, there is much to be revered in the legacy we have from centuries of Christian worship.

Justin Martyr was a 2nd-Century Christian apologist in Rome. In one of his writings, he describes the fourfold manner of Christian worship in the “First Apology” which was written around the year 155:

    1. All gather in one place
    2. The memoirs of the apostles and writings of the apostles are read and then the bishops instructs
    3. Bread and wine are brought forward to be blessed and given to all who have gathered
    4. They are sent to bring comfort to the afflicted

This fourfold structure of worship still provides the framework for worship today and the need for songs. First, there is a song that serves to gather everyone into one voice. Second, as the bread and wine come forward, these gifts and the altar itself are prepared for this Eucharistic offering.  This time of preparation of the gifts and altar is another opportunity for all to join in song together as we unite our lives to the offering of bread and wine. The purpose of the Eucharist is to unite us as one body in Christ and to fill us with the Holy Spirit. Third, we dine upon and drink the Eucharist while we sing as one voice as the liturgy itself says. The singing of a common song gives expression to both our unity and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Finally, another song sends us out with the mission to reconcile all things to the Father through Jesus the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are other moments for song throughout the liturgy, but these four areas provide the options where modern worship songs may be included.

There are many elements to the liturgy that influence the song suggestions. The broadest context within which we consider songs is the liturgical calendar. Each season within the liturgical calendar has its unique characteristics just as the seasons in the solar calendar have their unique characteristics. During Advent, we are reminded that Christ is coming again and on that day all will be healed, reconciled, and restored in him. Lasting more than a single day, the Christmas season allows us to enter into the fact of the Incarnation and that God has made himself like us in all things, except sin. Therefore, we are redeemed. As St. Athanasius said, “Jesus could only redeem what he took on.” Similarly, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time each have their own character.

Next, each liturgy is assigned four Biblical readings:

    1. One from the Old Testament
    2. A Psalm is sung in response to this Old Testament reading
    3. One from one of the epistles
    4. One from the Gospels

These readings, especially from the Gospels, influence the song choices because we want to be in harmony with the rest of the liturgy. The liturgical moment is a key factor as well. During the preparation of the gifts and altar, a song that speaks about sacrifice is particularly appropriate.

Finally, there is an under-appreciated element to the liturgy: the antiphons. An antiphon functions in a similar way to a refrain to a song. It is a verse that can be chanted, as in Gregorian chant, and the verses come from one of the Psalms. These antiphons are placed at the gathering and during the distribution of communion. Not every moment in the liturgy has such antiphons. They are found, however, in these two spots, the gathering and the communion rite. One is not required to use them, but I like for them to influence the song suggestions because the Church has them there for a particular reason and for this particular moment. It is not required that one use the antiphons, still in all they reveal what the Universal Church will be singing about. Therefore, the songs keep us united, not only within the building, but with all Christians scattered throughout the world. With all of that in mind, we try to select songs that are:

    1. In harmony with the season
    2. Flowing from the readings
    3. In harmony with antiphons
    4. Point to the mystery of the liturgical action

There is beauty in blending the foundation of liturgy with the fresh wind of modern worship songs, and SongSelect’s new liturgy page is here to help you weave it all into deep, powerful, transcendent worship.