The new Cardiphonia compilation is out today! Bruce Benedict (Worship Director at Christ the King in Raleigh, NC) has done the church a service by assembling all of these tunes and musicians from across the country. Links to download the album for free can be found here. Or head directly to the Cardiphonia Bandcamp page. You can also download all of the music charts, as well as an introductory article that I was asked to write for the album. I am VERY excited about what this compilation represents for those of us church musicians who most often run around within the Reformed tradition. I have included the text from my article below…
The Shape of the Story
Many accuse modern worship music of being either too shallow or too complex. It is no secret that our present age has cultivated a host of false dichotomies that have played out egregiously within the context of Protestant Christian worship. Somewhere along the way the head and the heart came to reign supreme, then they decided to turn against each other and have been at war ever since. But the basic structure of Christian worship, cultivated across the ages, has remained surprisingly consistent and rooted in universal confessions of Christian faith. The mysterious truths of Trinity, Incarnation, and fallen humanity have always been ground zero for Christians. They are essential because they are deep and simple, even slipping outside the confines of head and heart. The writer Heather King has said that the simple confession of such profound mysteries, “…defeat us. Scholars and theologians throw up their hands. Such is the sublime nature of dogma, however, that both the keenest intellect and the heart of the simplest workman are invited to grapple with its depths. A fisherman can understand that love is the organizing principle of the universe. A carpenter can grasp the miracle that the Son of God—I AM WHO I AM–entered human history at a particular time and place. A mother—especially a mother—can understand that reality is undergirded by relationship, community.”
This album is evidence that many Protestant church musicians have been reawakening to the deep and simple truths of the gospel that have been a part of Christian worship (in the East and the West) for centuries. It may sound odd for some of us to admit, but the shape of the gospel is tied up in the form of the historic Mass. Even more puzzling is that many of us steeped in the charisms of the Reformed tradition are “re” discovering that the historic mass was shaped by Scripture. The truth is, the Reformed tradition has never really rejected the shape of historic Christian worship. It has just been neglected. Consider these tunes a basic primer for those of us interested in going back to the sources from which faithful worship is apt to spring. The earlier rediscovery of hymnary, by these same musicians, has naturally lead to an uncovering of church music with even deeper roots in Holy Scripture and historic catholic faith.
The open secret is that the historic form of the Mass has always, and will always, provide the most relevant synopsis of the whole Gospel. The resounding “Amens” of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the rolling lament of Faure’s Kyrie witness the staying power of these texts. Their brevity and beauty are drenched in the glory of God, the human condition, and the mystery of “God with Us.”
Just in case you are unfamiliar, the traditional form of the Mass usually proceeds in this order: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei. You will find forms of almost all of these among the recordings on this album. They are responsorial in nature, meant to be sung by the congregation as the “work of the people.”
As these texts unfold, a Christian interpretation of the Biblical story becomes crystal clear. This is part of the reason they have directed and inspired Trinitarian worship throughout the ages. If we learn these texts, we learn (almost subversively) who God is, who we are, and what God has done to redeem who we are. In other words, God is Holy (Sanctus), we are not (Kyrie), but Christ has acted as a mediator on our behalf (Agnus Dei). This drama is played out in the context of eternity, through the creatively communal life of the Trinity (Gloria Patri). Situated through this orientation we are reminded of our dependance and creatureliness. Worship springs forth as we bow with a doxology on our lips, then are lifted with God’s blessing to pass on and imitate the life that has created and sustained us (Benediction).
This is the form in which the Christian life is shaped. The other scripture songs, or Canticles, that you will find on this album fill in the details that reinforce (perhaps more poetically) the themes found in the basic Mass responses. The doxologies and songs from the book of Revelations affirm the glory of the Trinity, and confess what Karl Barth might have called the resounding “Yes!” of the gospel as the story is fulfilled, even unto the end of the age…the beatific vision of the life to come. Hope for this future is possible through the glory of the Son (Hebrews 1:3-4), who both redeems and equips his children even now (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Setting these scripture songs within the shape of historic church worship gives even more definition to Scripture. Sung scripture texts should rarely be isolated (like a form of a musical ‘proof-text’), but set within the interpretive grid of revelation. Singing these pieces in the right order helps us digest the story.
In the age of information gluttony our souls are (ironically) becoming poor and illiterate. Like the illiterate saints of the Middle Ages, we must again learn the simple and deep truths of our faith through oral transmission of the whole gospel story in snippets that we can hold onto for dear life. These musicians are helping us learn to sing our prayers, and in so doing, echo the sentiment of St. Augustine when he said, “Those who sing, pray twice.”
Given time, they will form us. As John Whitvliet has been apt to remind us over the years, these sung texts encourage “vertical habits” that make sustainable Christian life possible. These musicians provide a great service by sharpening the tools that the church has always possessed, and reminding us again that we posses them. These songs are true. They are fenceposts that keep us grazing in the right pastures. The themes of these tunes open up Christian life and worship to faithful and life-giving variations. The eclectic musical approaches on this project only amplify this idea. The freshness of these musical arrangements reinforces that it is a living tradition. These songwriters are bold enough to suggest to us that the most formative songs live in conversation with the past, all the while remembering where we are in the present. They are attempting to reinforce what Jaroslav Pelikan has called, “…the living faith of the dead.” And they are not just talking about it, they are already singing it in the context of their local congregations. These congregations are witness to the fact that the church is always “reforming” around the gospel, but we must never become so skeptical of our past that we reject the use of these words in our worship. We will fill them up with new meaning and musical contexts, but we must never lose them. These songs are indisputably rooted in the Bible and the history of the church. This Cardiphonia project is evidence that we are still “reforming” around the entire story of the gospel.
This is sung theology at its best, rooted in revelation, and tried in the trenches of the church’s worship across the ages. In this sense, these tunes are perhaps even more tied to scripture than hymn traditions stemming from the 18th-19th century. These texts are big enough to hold all the conflicted lives and souls of those who come to worship every week. They remind us that we do not commune with a God who has been thought up, but with a life that is greater than anything that we can think up for ourselves.
It’s back to the basics, and none too soon. With so many narratives clamoring for our attention, we need pointed and trustworthy reminders of what Robert Jenson has called, “The world’s true story”. These songs are razor sharp and cut to the marrow. Every one of these elicits prostration and serves as a reminder that indeed, we are beloved dust. Thanks be to God.
Philip Majorins – Co-Director of Liturgical Arts
Christ Church (Davis, CA)