Music, The Handmaiden For Theology

A brief piece from the WaPo on MLK’s favorite hymns:

His love for a range of music was reflected in his sermons, where he sometimes recited lines or whole stanzas of sacred songs. In a 1957 sermon, he said the Easter message was reflected in such hymns as “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “In Christ There is No East or West” as well as words from the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah.”

In that way, lyrics became more important than the musical notes that accompanied them, helping King deliver his message, said James Abbington, who teaches church music and worship at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

“King was a trained theologian,” he said. “Music becomes the platter or the handmaiden for theology.”

The article cites gospel and other styles. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Here’s a very nice instrumental presentation of that second “Easter” hymn. The original text is altered here and there, depending on the hymnal, but here’s verse three from OCP’s publication of it:

Join hands, disciples in the faith,
Whate’er your race may be!
Who serve each other in Christ’s love
Are surely kin to me.

Music and theology with  joined hands: a nice image. Black and white, certainly. What about that great divide of this century, left and right? Who, I wonder, will be the person to bridge such a divide within the Church itself? Music is so often the locus for ideological discontent; does it have a prayer of bringing hands together? What handmaiden will accomplish this joining?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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