A Prayer for the Feast Day of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel & Henry Purcell

Posted by Kendall Harmon

(Not yet fully but only provisionally approved--KSH).

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, who dost teach us in Holy Scripture to sing thy praises and who gavest thy musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel and Henry Purcell grace to show forth thy glory in their music: Be with all those who write or make music for thy people, that we on earth may glimpse thy beauty and know the inexhaustible riches of thy new creation in Jesus Christ our Savior; who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistorySpirituality/Prayer* Culture-WatchMusic

11 Comments
Posted July 28, 2010 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

For an explanation of the life of Christ and an excellent piece of evangelism in musical form Handel’s Messiah is hard to beat.  However, I do have doubts about making all and sundry official saints or commemorating their feast day.  Where does it end -  St CS Lewis, St GK Chesterton, St John Stott, St Kendall Harmon?

July 28, 8:31 am | [comment link]
2. justinmartyr wrote:

And what do you find objectionable to a celebration of the lives of Handel, Chesterton, Lewis, or even Harmon? Firstly no one is calling these men “official” saints. Since the Anglican church does no such thing I don’t think you have much to fear. Secondly, why not hold up these men as examples? This world suffers not an abundance of saints but a dirth. Would to God there were a thousand more Lewises, Chestertons and Handels, don’t you?

July 28, 11:15 am | [comment link]
3. Rod L Ronneberg STS wrote:

Wait just a minute!  As a confessional Lutheran who grew up listening to Bach’s chorales and organ/instrumental preludes to the true “gospel hymns and praise songs” of the continental Reformation, throughout his life “St. Bach” took seriously the claim that music is the handmaiden (pardon this politically incorrect term!) of the Gospel.  So ... bring ‘em all on, all these saints who now join the eternal praises to Christ in glory.  And yes - our beloved Kendall has been made a “saint” in the waters of Holy Baptism.

July 28, 11:28 am | [comment link]
4. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

Trouble is, there are only 365 days in the year.  Don’t we do enough feasting as it is?

Now it might be reasonable if the saints would share the year on a time share basis - in that way CS Lewis, etc could all have their own feast day, ever five or ten years, leaving room for someone else to have a go in the following years.    Otherwise it is going to get mighty crowded in the liturgical year.

July 28, 11:33 am | [comment link]
5. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Pageantmaster,

Believe it or not, TEC recently added C. S. Lewis to its calendar of saints.  Maybe six years ago or so.  I’m all for that, although I’m less than happy about some of the other recent additions.

But there are at least two or three considerations that seem relevant here.

1.  How many commerations of lesser saints is too many?  At some point, the calendar becomes overloaded.  Of course, that was a concern of Cranmer’s.  At the time of the Reformation the medieval calendar had one of more saints commemorated on virtually every day of the year.  But when there are so many, all such commemorations can hardly be kep festively or meaningfully. and then the major festivals don’t stand out as they should.

2.  When a whole class of people (such as Christian musicians) are commemorated on the same day, that obviously destroys the link between the appointed day and the idea that it marks and celebrates the saint’s death and passage into glory.  Strange.  I don’t like it.

3.  Most of all, however, multiplying such commemorations suspiciously smacks of capitulating to the cultural pressure to “be inclusive” and make sure that no one feel excluded of left out.  No cause or special interest group be left unaffirmed.  Except, naturally, for those “fanatical zealots” who aren’t tolerant of others, which ironically would be true of many of the real saints!

David Handy+

July 28, 11:46 am | [comment link]
6. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Oops, I hadn’t seen PM’s #4 (only his #1), when I composed my #5.  He beat me to my first point.

So I’ll add a different objection to replace the one he’s already brought out.  Here’s my new one:

Saints are supposed to be models of heroic sanctity.  Not just nice people who did great or noble things.  For example, J. S. Bach’s ardent, sincere devotion to Jesus Christ ran deep and is very well attested.  After all, he spent a lot of his life as a professional church musician (especially at the famous St. Thomas’ Kirche in Leipzig) and signed all his music (even the secular stuff) SDG (Soli Deo Gratia, for the glory of God alone). 

OTOH, although I dearly love and treasure Handel’s Messiah, that immortal oratorio was actually composed for a secular venue, as was most of Handel’s music.  More importantly, there is FAR less evidence that he was very devout, or much of a serious follower of Christ at all, or lived an exemplary life.  Handel was a great musician, but not saint material in my judgment.

David Handy+

July 28, 11:59 am | [comment link]
7. Rod L Ronneberg STS wrote:

David +, I’m troubled by the whole notion of “heroic sanctity” and “saint material” - because, as I look over the festivals and commemorations in my LBW (yep - I still use it!), there are quite a number who might be questionable fitting in to either category if it weren’t for their Baptisms into Christ.  Sorry about my Lutheran bias on this, but it is Baptism which takes the sinner and declares him/her a saint.  Not a sermon - just a thought ...
Rod +

July 28, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
8. Anastasios wrote:

Among the stranger of the new commemorations is John Muir (April 22) who turned against organized religion entirely to find his spirituality the wilderness. How does he, and some of the other crowd now invading our Church Year, fulfill the principles for new commemorations presented at the back of “Holy Women, Holy Men” that their death, “precious in God’s sight, is the ultimate witness to the power of the the Resurrection”, and that they “should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God’s people for the sake, and after the example of Jesus Christ” ?
“And I want to be one, too.” Don’t sweat it, you probably already are!

July 28, 12:24 pm | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Rod (#7),

No offense taken, brother.  Yes, of course, you’re right that it’s our incorporation into Christ our Redeemer that makes us all saints in the Pauline sense.  And my earlier post shouldn’t be taken as denying Luther’s fundamental insight that we all, even the best of us, remain both saint and sinner til our dying day (simul justus et peccator!).  Or as Isaiah 64 vividly puts it, all our righteous deeds are as “filthy rags” in the sight of our holy God, apart from Christ.  And that applies to St. Francis of Assissi, or Mother Theresa of Calcutta, or whoever you might look up to as exemplifying what I call heroic sanctity.

That’s indeed why ++Thomas Cranmer abolished all saints’ days (except for biblical figures like the apostles) from the festal calendar of the CoE at the time of the Reformation.  However, this was later seen, quite properly in my view, as an overreaction, throwing the baby out with the dirty bathwater.

That hybrid combination of Protestant and Catholic tendencies seems quite Anglican to me.

David Handy+

July 28, 1:35 pm | [comment link]
10. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

BTW, Rod (#7),\

FWIW, as a Bach lover, I’m inclined to agree with those who think that J. S. Bach just might have been the greatest Lutheran since Luther himself, in the sense of embodying Luther’s spirit.  More than that synergist Melancthon, or Chemnitz, or other noted theologians.  Just a thought.

And also FWIW, I observe Luther’s feast day in February each year as a personal favorite of mine.  I admire Luther FAR more than Calvin, or Cranmer, or Hooker, or Ridley or Latimer, or any of the English reformers.  Not that he was perfect, of course.  His blatant anti-Semitism and his horrific encouraging of the German princes to put down the Peasants’ Revolt with whatever brutal force necessary shows that he had feet of clay, as do we all.

But heroic sanctity?  Yeah, Luther had that in abundance.  Defying both Pope and Holy Roman Emperor.  His courageous stand all alone at the Diet of Worms in April, 1521.  His risky return from Wartburg Castle to Wittenberg to put a stop to Carlstadt’s Puritanical nonsense, at great danger to himself, etc.

Luther wasn’t always saintly.  But he was often very, very heroic.

David Handy+

July 28, 1:48 pm | [comment link]
11. Larry Morse wrote:

Luther’s heroism was limited in both time and space. His seething anti-Semitism and his brutal advocacy for crushing the Peasant’s revolt, is a quantum factor of viciousness beyond anything he did heroic. He was a hero for a very short time, a dangerously right wing reactionary for a much longer one. Many died because he burned with hatred. Larry

July 29, 8:21 am | [comment link]
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