Perhaps the best way to enter the musical world of our service is to use images as a guide through the liturgy. From the front door to the altar and back again, our service has a definite shape. Keep in mind that the following is not church doctrine but my own thoughts. The prelude is usually quiet, beckoning us to draw closer to the altar and to God. As the entrance procession begins, the clergy, ministers, and choir process from the back toward the front during the hymn. For me, this is an outward action symbolizing our spiritual movement toward God as introduced in the prelude. The retiring procession shows our going out into the world as disciples and family. The postlude normally the loudest moment of the service, sends out the final strains of worship as though sending our prayers and praises across a vast distance. During these four moments, the hymns and instrumental music can help you participate in the physical actions of the service and their spiritual meaning. I like to think of the prelude, procession, retiring procession, and postlude as emphasizing our relationship to the world around us – leading away from or back to it.
There is another chief section of our Eucharistic music – music within the chancel and sanctuary. In this sense, I refer to the formal “sanctuary area” of the building, behind the communion rail. Once we have processed into the chancel (choir area), we sing the Gloria, psalm of the day, and sequence hymn. These pieces help us to focus on God’s word and the thoughts of our spiritual leaders, shared in the sermon. Instead of reaching out to draw us in, these pieces often are a bit quieter and embrace us with sound. At the offertory, the choir anthem, solo, or instrumental piece helps us transition even deeper into our liturgy. The Sanctus, communion hymns, and other communion pieces are songs from the sanctuary; they are songs from the altar. The music is at its quietest in these moments when we are drawn so near to eternity. As we draw closer, the music becomes more tender.
There are always ways to be inventive when selecting music for different parts of the service. It’s a spiritual journey in sound. This week, we enjoy our music in relative simplicity. However, in services large and small, it’s the music’s beauty and effectiveness to draw us toward the sanctuary and each other that really counts!