Heaven, Antiphons, and Friendship: A Thought for Songwriters


John 17:3 gives us a definition of eternal life. “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

We get to know God. At this point I am very tempted to linger just with this thought. We get to know God. The source and the force behind the Universe is a person and that person wants to communicate himself with us. The force is not nameless, not amorphously ethereal. No. The Creator’s name is Father and the Father wants to be known, forever.

To know the Father as a person forever is how John the Evangelist describes heaven. As I mentioned, I could linger on this thought, but I now want to make the jump to worship. If the liturgy is a foretaste of heaven, which it is. And if heaven is a deep knowing of the Father, which it is. Then the liturgy is an exchange of selves: the communication of ourselves to God the Father and God the Father’s communication of Himself to us.

Worship is authentic when we have come to know God better and have made ourselves vulnerable to God and made ourselves known to HIm. It is the kind of exchange found in friendship, in relationship. In authentic worship, God does not simply enjoy our adoration. This is a very incomplete understanding of worship. He is not fixed on his throne and idly receives our adulation. Instead, there is an exchange: a person communicates Himself to particular persons. This why we receive Holy Communion. There is an exchange of selves. Eternal life is the constant communication of God’s very self to us and we, in turn, lay the totality of ourselves to bear most vulnerably before God because this is what friends do.

And this is why the antiphons are important.

The Father communicates himself, gives knowledge of Himself, and makes Himself known through the liturgy, all of the liturgy. Being proper to the liturgy, the antiphons are part of God’s self-communication. This is why those of us who hope to write songs for the Church must make use of the antiphons and do so faithfully.

Artistic expression through music is also a means through which God communicates Himself because it conveys emotion. This is why we don’t simply recite the liturgy. We sing the liturgy and we convey the spirit of the text with the emotion of artistic expression. While the text of the liturgy is eternal, the artistic expression is situated temporally and should utilize sonic elements, the rhythms, the melodic structures, the harmonic structures, that will move the hearts of the particular people who have gathered for worship to reveal themselves to God and to be open to the self-communication of the Father.

A songwriter wishing to write music for the Church must be immersed in the antiphons, the Scriptures, the prefaces, and the collects: the entire liturgy. They must absorbed by the liturgy and pray through the liturgy. As we pray through the liturgical texts, the God beyond our words allows us to experience Him in a manner that escapes adequate description. In our intuition, our thoughts, and yes, our feelings and in our emotions we encounter the Lord. The artist tries to bring these experiences to expression and desires to move the entire person, intuition, thoughts, feelings, and emotion, toward the One who desires to be known for all eternity. 

How, then, can we know if our expressions are accurate of God’s nature? We submit these experiences and expressions to the liturgy itself, the place of God’s self-revelation.