AFter the Lessons are appointed Hymns. The Church observing, S. Pauls Rule, Singing to the Lord in Psalms and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, every way expressing her thanks to God.
The antiquity of Hymns in the Christian Church, doth sufficiently appear by that of our Saviour, S. Matth 26. When they had sung an Hymn, they went out, upon which place, S. Chrys. sayes, They sung an Hymn, to teach us to do the like. Concerning singing of Psalms and Hymns in the Church, we have both the Precepts and Examples of Christ and his Apostles, S. Aug. Ep. 119. S. Paul ordered it in the Church of Coloss. Singing to your selves in Psalms and Hymns, Col. 3. Which we find presently after practised in the Church of Alexandria, founded by S. Mark, Eus. Hist. l. 2. c. 17. Where Philo reports that the Christians had in every place Monasteries wherein they sang Hymns to God, in several kinds of Meeter and Verse. S. Ambrose brought them into Millaine, to ease the peoples sad minds and to keep them from weariness, who were praying night and day for their persecuted Bishop, and from hence came all Hymns almost to be called Ambrosiani, because that by him they were spread over the Latin Church. With the Morning and Evening Hymns God is delighted, saies S. Hierome: and Possidius in the life of S. Augustine tells us, c. 28. that towards the time of his dissolution, S. Augustine wept abundantly because he saw the Cities destroyed, the Bishops and Priests sequestred, the Churches prophaned, the holy Service and Sacraments neglected, either because few or none desired them, or else because there were scarce any Priests left to administer to them that did desire them; lastly, because the Hymns and Lauds of God were lost out of the Church.
These Hymns are to be said or sung; but most properly to be sung; else they are not so strictly and truly called Hymns, that is, Songs of praise; and not only by the Church of England, but by all Christian Churches of old, was it so practised: and so holy David directs, Psal. 47. 6. O sing praises, sing praises unto our God: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King. The profit of which singing Hymns is much many wayes; especially in this, that they inkindle an holy flame in the minds and affections of the hearers. O how I wept, sayes S. Aug. in the Hymns and holy Canticles, being enforc'd thereunto by the sweet voices of thy Melodious Church: by reason of the proneness of our affections to that which delights, it pleas'd the wisdom of the Spirit to borrow from melody that pleasure, which mingled with heavenly mysteries, causes the smoothness and softness of that which touches the ear, to conveigh as it were by stealth, the treasure of good things into mens minds: to this purpose were those harmonious tunes of Psalms devised. And S. Basil. in Psal. By pleasing thus the affections, and delighting the mind of man, Musick makes the Service of God more easie.
When we sing or say these Hymns, we stand, which is the proper posture for Thanksgivings and Lauds, Psal. 134. Praise the Name of the Lord, standing in the Courts of the Lord. And 2 Chron. 7. 6. The Priests waited on their office, the Levites also with instruments of musick of the Lord, which David the King had made to praise the Lord (with the 136. Psalm,) because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministery, and the Priest sounded Trumpets before them, and all Israel STOOD. The erection of the body fitly expresses the lifting up of the heart in joy: whence it is, that rejoycing in Scripture is called the lifting up of the head, S. Luke 21. 28. Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh; So then, joy being a lifting up of the soul, and praise and Thanksgiving being effects of joy, cannot be more fitly expressed, then by erection and lifting up of the body, Standing in the Courts of the Lord, when we sing praise unto him.
After the Morning first Lesson follows Te Deum, [We praise thee O God,] or [O all ye works of the Lord, &c. called Benedicite.] The first of which [We praise thee O God, &c.] was, as is credibly reported, framed miraculously by S. Ambrose and S. Augustine at his Baptism, and hath been in much esteem in the Church ever since as it deserves, being both a Creed, containing all the mysteries of Faith, and a most solemn Form of Thanksgiving, Praise, Adoration and what not? and so hath that other Canticle [O all ye works of the Lord] in the which the whole Creation praises God together, been received and esteemed universally in the Church. Concil. Toletan. 4. c. 13.
After the Second Lesson at Morning Prayer is appointed, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, called Benedictus, or, O be Ioyful in the Lord, called Iubilate.
After the Evening Lessons are appointed Magnificat, or My Soul doth magnifie the Lord, and Nunc dimittis, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: or else two Psalms. And very fitly doth the Church appoint sacred Hymns after Lessons: For who is there, that hearing God speak from Heaven to him for his souls health, can do less than rise up and praise him? and what Hymns can be fitter to praise God with for our salvation, than those which were the first gratulations, wherewith our Saviour was entertained into the world? And such are these. Yet as fit as they are, some have quarrell'd them, especially at Magnificat, [My soul doth magnifie the Lord,] and Nunc dimittis, [or, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.] The Objections are these: That the first of these was the Virgin Maries Hymn for bearing Christ in her womb: The latter old Simeons, for seeing and holding in his arms the blessed Babe: neither of which can be done by us now, and therefore neither can we say properly these Hymns.
The answer may be, that bearing Christ in the womb, suckling him, holding him in our arms, is not so great a blessing, as the laying up his holy word in our hearts. S. Luke 11. 27. by which Christ is formed in us, Gal. 4. 19. and so there is as much thanks to be returned to God for this as for that, He that does the will of God taught in his word, may as well say. My soul doth magnifie the Lord as the holy Virgin; for Christ is formed in him, as well as in the Virgins womb. S. Matth. 12. 50. Whosoever doth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. And why may not we after the reading of a part of the new Testament, say, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, as well as old Simeon? for in that Scripture by the eye of Faith, we see that salvation which he then saw, and more clearly reveal'd. We have then the same reason to say it, that old Simeon had, and we should have the same spirit to say it with.
There can nothing be more fitting for us, as we have said, than having heard the Lessons and the goodness of God therein Preach't unto us, to break out into a Song of Praise and Thanksgiving, and the Church hath appointed two to be used (either of them) after each Lesson, but not so indifferently but that the Former Practice of exemplary Churches and Reason may guide us in the choice: For the Te Deum, Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis being the most expressive Jubilations and rejoycings for the redemption of the world, may be said more often than the rest, especially on Sundayes and other Festivals of our Lord, excepting in Lent and Advent, which being times of Humiliation, and Meditations on Christ as in expectation, or his sufferings, are not so fitly enlarged with these Songs of highest Festivity, (the custom being for the same reason in many Churches, in Lent, to hide and conceal all the glory of their Altars, covering them with black to comply with the season) and therefore in these times may be rather used the following Psalms than the foregoing Canticles, as at other times also, when the Contents of the Lesson shall give occasion, as when it speaks of the enlargement of the Church by bringing in the Gentiles into the Fold of it, for divers passages of those three psalms import that sense.
And for the Canticle Benedicite, [O all ye works of the Lord] it may be used not only in the aforesaid times of Humiliation, but when either the Lessons are out of Daniel, or set before us the wonderful handy-work of God in any of the Creatures, of the use he makes of them either ordinary or miraculous for the good of the Church: Then it will be very seasonable to return this Song, O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord, praise him, and magnifie him for ever:] that is, ye are great occasion of blessing the Lord, who therefore be blessed, praised, and magnified for ever.