|Anti-Jewish features of some Episcopal hymns
by the Rev. Kathryn Piccard1
The Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music of the Episcopal Church has an ongoing Project on Christian Anti-Judaism, which is dealing with liturgical matters such as these hymns, the lectionary, etc. They will receive a copy of this. The purpose of this short paper is a) to demonstrate that a few of our Episcopal hymn texts have problems of anti-Jewish content, b) so we can identify the rest of the problem hymns, and c) either fix them or abandon them. The reasons are (1) that these particular hymns teach incorrect theology, and (2) that some of them are offensive to guests and visitors, and (3) that it can be spiritually harmful to a person to be asked to sing (or listen to) lies. This is because it is one thing to passively listen to a reading, where one is free to criticize it mentally, but it is another thing to be expected to sing a hymn, and then recognize that one has been singing something derogatory, such as Supersessionism, or that one is expected to sing it, when it is not true, when it is a lie.
The Hymnal 1982 is not the only authorized hymnal used in The Episcopal Church, but it is the primary hymnal for most congregations, and the one I will mostly use for reference for this paper. It has service music, and 600 hymn texts, but some texts are set to several tunes, so the hymn numbers go higher. Among the hymnal supplements are Lift Every Voice and Sing; Wonder, Love & Praise; El Hymnario; and Voices Found, and My Heart Sings Out. In the Episcopal Church there have been relatively few problems of anti-Jewish liturgical texts for some time, so the problems which remain are relatively subtle. However that does not make them unreal or unimportant.
Maybe the worst anti-Jewish problem which can occur in Christian liturgical texts is the charge of deicide, or the claim that the Jews killed Jesus, and that all Jews since then are guilty. This is a problem for two main reasons: first because it is not true, since Roman soldiers are the ones who crucified Jesus, so it is bearing false witness against our neighbors, and second, because it has been used as an excuse to harass, persecute, and murder millions of Jews. Thus it has contributed to and led to great sins.
Section I explores hymns with problems related to deicide, Supersessionism, etc. As we know, Jesus was a lifelong Jew, like his mother and his other disciples. After Pentecost, when his disciples preached and converted some Jews to be Jesus-followers, most Jews remained faithful to the Jewish covenant as they had received it centuries earlier, and as they continued to understand it, and they therefore declined to become disciples of Jesus. Later Christians came to believe that God had then [supposedly] canceled the covenant with the Jews and gave the covenant and its promises to Christians instead. According to this Christian Supersessionist theology, (which is the second major problem of Christian anti-Jewish theology), God broke promises to the Jews, and so Christians supersede Jews in God's favor, and Judaism became an empty and virtually useless religion. But the truth is that Christians have no reason to believe that God breaks promises, although we are free to believe that God chooses to extend promises to Christians as well as to faithful Jews.
In 1961 the World Council of Churches denounced deicide as an error, as mistaken theology, and renounced it. The Roman Catholic Church in 1965 at Vatican II renounced Supersessionism, and denounced the deicide charge against the Jews in general, in Nostra Aetate. Various Episcopal and other Anglican resolutions, including some Lambeth ones, have denounced different anti-Jewish theology and actions. Since 2006 we have been in the process of screening and adjusting our other liturgical texts to eliminate anti-Jewish material. We need to clean up our Episcopal hymnody, including screening all our hymns, even all the hymns in languages other than English, so they are truthful.
Part II has comments on some non-hymn texts. Perhaps the most subtle problem is the matter of a genre of hymns which have been omitted, the things it has not occurred to us to include. They come at the end of this paper, in section III.
I. Some examples of problematic hymns
First example: hymn 56
During the liturgical season of Advent, the Church recalls the first coming of Jesus (to humanity) at his birth, to be celebrated at Christmas, Christ’s coming into our own lives, and anticipates Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Hymn 56, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” says in stanza one, “ransomed captive Israel [that] mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of Man appear.” But the words of stanza 1 convey that Jews are mourning now, supposedly because of having been cast out of the Holy Land in punishment for deicide, awaiting conversion to Christ at the last day. Not only are Jews through the centuries not guilty of deicide, and hence not being punished for it by exile, but Jewish families were choosing to move out of Palestine for four centuries before Jesus was born. By then, most Jews lived outside Palestine, and spoke Koine Greek, which is why Jews had arranged to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek, to assist them—this is called the Septuagint. Jews were and are not mourning, captive exiles. They are in covenant with God, and we should not be asking them to rejoice that Jesus is coming.
Second example: hymn 843
This is a hymn referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Ye who own the faith of Jesus,” which says in stanza two,
“Blessed were the chosen people, Out of whom the Lord did come…”
Due to the use of the past tense, “were,” instead of the present tense, this suggests that the blessedness of Jews does not exist any more. This is consistent with the Supersessionism, and I daresay it is an expressionism of Supersessionism, even though it is not explicit. The simplest solution would be to replace “were” with “are.”
Third example: the word Jehovah, which appears in hymns 368, 664, & 690.
368 Great Jehovah, form our hearts and make them thine; 664 My shepherd will supply my need,
Jehovah is his Name; and 690 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah.
The word Jehovah was apparently invented in 1520 by Galatinus, published a decade
later in Germany, and appeared in the King James Bible 400 years ago. Galatinus didn’t
understand what he was reading in Hebrew, and he combined the consonants of the Tetragrammaton with the vowels for the word Adonai, and thereby invented a new “name” for God. Yet because it is a representation of the Name of God which observant Jews consider too holy to pronounce, just as they do not pronounce the name Yahweh, many Episcopalians and other Christians think we should eliminate these two words from our liturgical texts out of respect for them. That is relevant to authorized Bible versions.2 Do any hymns in later hymnal supplements use Yahweh?
Fourth example: Voices Found hymn 95
The line, “A Pharisee has seen the light and mourns his arrogance.” concerns me, especially given the extent to which, according to Salmon’s Preaching Without Contempt: overcoming unintended anti-Judaism, much of the American anti-Jewish preaching, often inadvertently anti-Jewish, is expressed through routinely misrepresenting the Pharisees as negative.3 We don’t need more of it, and we don’t need to enshrine it in any hymnal.
Fifth example: Hymn 329, 330, and 331
In this case let us look at the problem and also at some possible solutions. One hymn in the Hymnal 1982, which was also in the Hymnal 1940, "Now my tongue the mystery telling" has the same text at numbers 329, 330, and 331, in the Holy Eucharist section of the book. It is used on Maundy Thursday in some parishes, and is probably most popular among Anglo-Catholic parishes on the feast of Corpus Christi4 and at services of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.5 Unfortunately, there is a Supersessionist line in this hymn, in stanza five. True, this stanza has an asterisk, indicating that it may be omitted without affecting the sense of the remaining stanzas, but those who kneel before Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion, often reserved, often value this stanza.
printed version from the hymnal, stanza 5:
line 1 Therefore we before him bending this great Sacrament revere;
line 2 types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here;
line 3 faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear.
"types" is a way of saying that the Seder is an archetype of the Eucharist, and "shadows" is a way of saying that the Seder was merely the feeble indication of the "newer rite" which came in the Last Supper of Jesus, the first Holy Eucharist for Christians. In Romans, St. Paul explicitly denies Supersessionism. What a way to talk about what Jesus had just taken the time to do deliberately with his disciples (according to earlier stanzas of this hymn)! The Seder did not exist just to prepare certain Jews to be disciples of Jesus. It existed and still exists to be a means of God's grace for Jews, to allow each new generation of Jews to learn Jewish history and God's faithfulness as their own history!
I developed these wording alternatives for stanza five at my own initiative. In my opinion new wording does not have to say the same thing as the prior wording. These choices are not necessarily the best.
first proposal for alternative wording ideas
Substitute one of the lines below for line 2.
line 1 Therefore we before him bending this great Sacrament revere;
line 3 faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear.
A. As he promised, life unending, Christ is really present here;
B. We bow down to Christ, self-giving, who is really present here;
C. Bread and Wine, changed and transforming, Christ is really present here;
D. Bread and Wine, transformed, transforming: Christ is really present here;
E. We revere and honor, thanking Jesus Christ for being here;
F. In Cup and Bread, Christ appearing, in Christ's presence grace is near;
G. Christ's real presence reaffirming, that is why we gather here;
second proposal for alternatives for lines 2 and 3 of stanza 5:
Use line 3 in place of line 2, and use one of the proposed lines above, A through G, for a
new line 3.
line 1: Therefore we before him bending this great Sacrament revere;
line x (old 3) faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear:
new line 3:
Some alteration of the above, or something else.
solicitation of feedback
1. I invited several lay and ordained people to provide feedback if they wished in July,
2011. They were clergy and/or musicians, and/or poets. All have some association with my parish, and all appear to be white, as I am, but with some cultural diversity. Some didn’t answer, some did. Several also spontaneously mentioned revisions to other texts, quoted below. Several mentioned the importance they felt these wording matters have, and a couple spontaneously mentioned having Jewish fathers or grandfathers.
Votes for Proposal One:
Option D, above, received a vote.
Option A, above, received a vote.
Votes for proposal Two:
a) One person said:
“All your proposed line changes are good. I rather like the idea of making the third line of verse five the second, then making your suggested line D the final line of verse five:”
Therefore we before him bending this great Sacrament revere;
faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear:
Bread and Wine, transformed, transforming: Christ is really present here.
Votes for Proposal Three:
Two votes: the person who submitted this voted for it, and so do I: D variant (KP).
a) One person voted for proposal 3 with line D, but with wording changes:
Therefore we before Christ bending this great Sacrament revere;
faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear.
Bread and Wine, transformed, transforming, Christ to us is present here
Explanation of wording changes:
In line 1 I removed the him and put in Christ, my bias about masculine pronouns for the Risen Christ, transformed and surely if present to us all is not specifically gendered as Jesus was.
I removed really because it sounds like Christ really is present as if we doubted it. I know
you mean real presence but really doesn't quite convey that sense.6 I substituted Christ to
us since this sacrament is a Christian expression and it refers to those who are there
bending and worshiping and receiving Christ. I suppose it could be for us as well.
2. Conclusion from feedback: Some version of line D is clearly favored
by 80% of those who provided any feedback. “Proposal Three,” got the votes of those who saw it, and it incorporates D. But other wording options can be considered, of course.
II. Other spontaneously suggested feedback, not about hymns, received from those invited to submit hymn comments:
a) Frankly it would help too if in the eucharistic prayer of consecration we said eternal covenant instead of new covenant. New smacks of better or something completely new and disconnected. At “A” parish we just changed. You'd be surprised at the liturgical
changes going on all over the place. Small tweaks. LB
b) We also said "The Lord is with you," because it makes theological sense and acknowledges Christ's presence in the whole community not just located in bread and wine. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the sacrament is the community and the bread and wine assume a less central role or location. Interesting. LB
c) In Euch prayer B, i change about 5 words instead of "subjection to," i put "in communion with your christ." if there were a reasonable process, i'd check and refine... KB
d) If we can have hymns like “God, Thank you for the Jews,” why can’t we have thanksgivings, in the Prayers of the People, for different things we have received from the Jews? CJS
Anther comment: As one who had a Jewish grandfather I resent [supersessionist] implications. LB
III. Addressing omitted types of hymns.
The Rev. Brian Wren’s 1986 hymn, “God, Thank you for the Jews” is mind blowing and inspirational to those who have never seen anything like this before. Some parishes will include people who believe that the second stanza is not an accurate description of them. Others know that the “crowds” mocking the crucified may well be inaccurate, and may be hesitant to sing it. Nonetheless, this hymn has a place in Christian hymnody.7
Another hymn with some of the same themes is the Rev. Dr. John Hooker’s “As Holy Week Enfolds Us Now,” written in 2011. Maybe we should be soliciting hymn writers to write more of this sort of hymn.