Scholars believe that “Amen” may be the most widely known word in human speech. “Amen” means yes, so be it, verily, I believe it.
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For in Jesus, every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.”
Christians aren’t the only ones who say it. Jews and Muslims use “Amen” as a concluding word in prayers, too. It is likely derived from the Hebrew word emuna which means faith or emet which means truth.
Pronunciations vary. If you’re singing something by Handel, the word is pronounced “ah-men.” In gospel music, it’s usually “ay-men.” Muslims usually say “ah-meen.” Jews pronounce it “ah-main.”
In all its variations, the word lives on — but no longer at the end of our hymns. What happened?
IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT …
When I was a kid at the Medina United Methodist Church, just a few blocks from the Erie Canal, halfway between Rochester and Buffalo, we always ended our Sunday morning hymns with an “Amen.”
Sometimes, they were long and drawn out, in wobbly, full vibrato and dramatic voices. Other times, the amens were short and sweet. Almost always, there was modulating harmony from the altos and basses in the congregation. Now, it seems, we haven’t sung a closing “amen” in years, except to end the Doxology. What happened?
FOLLOW THE LEADER
In 1861, Hymns Ancient and Modern was published for use in the Church of England. The editors of this hymnal added “Amen” to the end of every hymn, thinking to revive a tradition from the Middle Ages. Later, British hymn scholars concluded that this was an historical error and, in the 1920s, nixed the use of “Amen.” After all, Martin Luther didn’t sing amen, nor did Isaac Watts or the Wesley brothers.
Following their British cousins, American Protestants tacked amens on the end of hymns from the 1880s to the 1970s, when they, too, reversed course. One by one, the denominational hymnals were published without amens — first the Episcopalians (1982), then the Methodists (1989) and the Presbyterians (1990).
Now, when we hear an Amen, it is usually spoken at the end of our prayers or shouted out by an enthusiastic member of the congregation or sung in elaborate harmonies as a choral response — a Three-Fold or Seven-Fold Amen, uplifting and fun to sing.
AMENS ON YOUTUBE
“The Lord Bless You and Keep You” Westminster Choir College
“Amen” from Lilies of the Field” with Sidney Poitier, 1963
“St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, Amen”
Acknowledgement: Amen art at top of post is by Linda Woods.