Disclaimer: I’m not trying to be “Anti-Catholic” in this post, nor am I against promoting prayers. There is some theological reflection in this post, but it’s also full of religo-sociological thoughts that reflect the lyricists, editors, and the audience for which they labored. If this post causes someone to question his beliefs, however, I don’t consider that a bad thing. If we never question our beliefs, we’ll never refine them and grow into an understanding of them. Christians never need to fear the truth.
My latest hymnal purchase was Choice Gospel Hymns published in 1923 by the Gospel Advocate Company of Nashville, Tennessee. Churches of Christ have supported Gospel Advocate as a publishing house since 1855. David Lipscomb himself was the editor-in-chief of the flagship publication (“Gospel Advocate”) for nearly five decades. The Gospel Advocate has represented a conservative viewpoint throughout its existence. Anyone who has studied churches of Christ or the American Restoration Movement knows that two distinctives are the rejection of overtly manmade systems of belief and practice and, accordingly, the rejection of instruments of music in worship. It’s because of those distinctives that I find this particular song to be an oddity: “Jesus’ Name My Rosary.”
If you look at the musical score, you can’t help but notice the first two measures are all piano music. While many hymnal editors took advantage of previous songbooks and would simply copy already-typeset pages for inclusion into their new books, that’s not the case here. The type is consistent with the rest of the book and the copyright information tells us that this song was exclusive to this book, that this was its first appearance. When that’s the case, one seldom finds music arranged for piano playing in a hymnal that is designed with a cappella singing in mind.
The text was adapted (it doesn’t say by whom, though. One of the editors?) from a poem by Episcopalian clergyman William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877). These Pennsylvania Muhlenbergs are descended from Henry Muhlenberg (d. 1787), a Lutheran missionary to America (it’s worth it to read their family story – fine people). William was the author of a book of religious poetry and wrote the following lyrics:
Jesus’ name shall every be
For my heart its Rosary.
I will tell it o’re and o’re,
Always dearer than before.
Ave Mary may not be
For my heart its Rosary;
Jesus, Savior, All in all –
Other name why should I call?
Morning hymns and evening lays,
Noontide prayer and midnight praise,
Heart and voice, and tune and time,
Jesus’ name they all shall chime.
Ever new and fresh the strain;
Of all themes, the sweet refrain:
Time will bring what it may along,
Jesus still th’ unchanging song.
Redolent with healing balm,
Pleasure’s charm and trouble’s calm;
All of Heaven my hope and claim,
Grace on grace in Jesus’ name.
In my soul each deepest chord
Ring it out, Our Savior Lord;
Jesus, the eternal hymn
Forth from saint and seraphim.
Breathe it, then, my every breath;
Linger on my last in death;
Jesus – Rest in paradise;
Jesus – Glory in the skies.
The song in Choice Gospel Hymns leaves out any adaptation of the first two lines verse two, which – to me – made the whole thing make sense. “Rosary” is a Roman Catholic prayer device that is rooted in worship (“veneration”) of Mary. So inextricably is the rosary tied to Mary-worship, that to complete a rosary cycle one must pray 14 “ave Marias” (a worship prayer to Mary, commonly known in English as “Hail Mary”) and a “Salve Regina” (hail the Queen of heaven). Obviously biblical passages like Revelation 22:8f and Matthew 4:10 forbid the worship (“hailing”) of anyone but God, so how is the term “rosary” used here?
The lyrics read, “Ave Mary may not be For my heart its Rosary; Jesus, Savior, All in all – Other name why should I call?” In this poem we are taught that praising Mary would be calling into question the all-sufficiency of Jesus as our mediator into the throne room of God (the Bible says, “and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” I Timothy 2:5). Instead of using Catholic rosary beads, this song suggests we use the name of Jesus to word our prayers. This song encourages us to make the theme of our prayers be Jesus.
Too often our prayers are focused on me, myself, and I. I do wonder what the results would be if we recorded our prayers and counted the times we used first person references vs. how many times we spoke about Jesus. Just like the song says to exalt Mary is wrong, remember that it’s equally wrong to exalt ourselves in our prayers. Prayer time is not the same thing as sitting on Santa’s lap and saying, “Yes, I’ve been good, Old Man, and I want X, Y, Z.” Prayer is quality time spent with our Heavenly Father, prayer is adoration and worship time, prayer is about thanksgiving. Look to the psalms and see how many of them are addressed to God. Many of the psalms do nothing more than (should we say, “nothing less than”?) enumerate the great qualities of God. When was the last time I prayed like that? You? Just like you and I compliment those we love, we should compliment God, we should sing His praises, we should tell ourselves, tell others, and tell Him just what a majestically awesome God He truly is.
So, are you going to hear Jesus’ Name My Rosary next Sunday? Probably not (if you do though, I’d love to hear about it!). Musically I think this type of song has run its course. I’m not sure how many people ever heard this song, to be honest with you: songs with piano music don’t seem to be high on an a cappella church’s list of favorites. But at least listen to the music once, reflect on the lyrics – allow the main message of the song to realign your prayer life to be more Jesus-focused.
What else about this song hits you? If you see any other interesting moments in this piece, be sure to comment below.