The first and most solid conclusion which (for me) emerges is that both musical parties, the High Brows and the Low, assume far too easily the spiritual value of the music they want. Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken to signify that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not.
—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” in Christian Reflections, 96
What we want to know is whether untrained communal singing is in itself any more edifying than other popular pleasures. And of this I, for one, am still wholly unconvinced. I have often heard this noise; I have sometimes contributed to it. I do not yet seem to have found any evidence that the physical and emotional exhilaration which it produces is necessarily, or often, of any religious relevance. What I, like many other laymen, chiefly desire in church are fewer, better, and shorter hymns; especially fewer.
The case for abolishing all Church Music whatever thus seems to me far stronger than the case for abolishing the difficult work of the trained choir and retaining the lusty roar of the congregation. Whatever doubts I feel about the spiritual value of the first I feel at least equally about the spiritual value of the second.
—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” in Christian Reflections, 96
There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste—there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.
These highly general reflections will not, I fear, be of much practical use to any priest or organist in devising a working compromise for a particular church. The most they can hope to do is to suggest that the problem is never a merely musical one. Where both the choir and the congregation are spiritually on the right road no insurmountable difficulties will occur. Discrepancies of taste and capacity will, indeed, provide matter for mutual charity and humility.
—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” in Christian Reflections, 96-97
Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance. A good show is a show you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were most unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself, and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ “Tis mad idolatry makes the service greater than the god.”
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion to waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was “Feed my sheep” not “Try experiments on my rats,” or even, “Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”
Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit.
—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 13
Throughout the Bible it is emphasized that true worship is obedient worship. It is not the costliness of the equipment or the majesty of the surroundings or the dignity of the ceremonial or the beauty of the music or the elegance of the language that commends our worship to God, but simply its obedience.
—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958):397
In corporate worship, we come to “put in,” not to “get out.”
We may distinguish three uses of the word “worship”; (i) to denote a particular element of what is generally referred to as worship, namely, adoration; (ii) to denote generally the public worship of the religious community gathered together and also the private religious exercises of the family and the individual; and (iii), in a still wider sense, to denote the whole life of the community or of the individual viewed as service of God.
—C.E.B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958), 387