The Amen/Ah-men is Missing!
Growing up in St. John’s UCC congregation, I looked forward to Sunday morning worship services when we sang the mighty hymns of faith. One hymn in particular stands out from my early childhood, and that is “Holy, Holy, Holy” (hymn tune Nicaea). I was too short to enjoy singing from floor level, when the congregation stood to sing, so my mother let me stand on the edge of the pew beside her where I had a good view of her hymnal as I joined in singing the words as I heard them sung by the congregation. Every hymn ended with the singing of “Amen,” and I looked forward to singing that hearty word of affirmation (so be it) which marked the end of the hymns.
Over the years as hymnals were updated, I found “Amen” less often at the end of hymns, and eventually, “Amen” disappeared altogether except for a few choice selections. Someone had changed our music! I often wondered why the “Amen” disappeared. Therefore I began to do some research which brought to light the origin of “Amen” as well as several of the arguments for eliminating the Amen from hymns. Summaries include the following from the writings of Erik Routley:
In medieval times chants added amens to the final stanzas of hymns in praise of the Trinity. The final verses were known as doxologies, which were praises to God.
In the Lutheran, Reformed, seventeenth and eighteenth-century Anglican, as well as several other religious denominations, the custom of adding amens to hymns did not exist.
Through the centuries, updated translations of hymns with poetic meter corresponding to the words in hymns, made the use of amens more difficult, and thus the amens were used less frequently.
It was not until the 19th century that adding amens came into vogue again, and practically every hymn tune contained amen. (Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861.)
However, in the mid-1960’s, the process of adding amens reversed, and they became less prominent. By the middle of the 20th century, and the beginning of the millennium, amens were dropped entirely. Music had changed significantly, and the affirmation at the end of the songs was not necessary.
In my opinion, there was, and is, something satisfying about singing the little musical “so be it” at the end of hymns. Therefore, I often find myself singing softly “Amen” at the conclusion of my favorites. “So be it!”
Sue Hardwick, Organist