Liturgical Titbits: The Idle Congregation

“Why don’t we get to do more in the service? Why does the pastor get to do (almost) everything? All that the congregation seems to do is to sing hymns and say ‘Amen’ a lot. Why? It makes it feel like the pastor is more special and important, and makes us feel devalued.”

This way of thinking is based on a misunderstanding of what happens in Christian worship. It assumes that in church, like in much of modern life, doing makes you important, so doing less means you are less important. It also assumes that what happens in worship is that we come to do things. The more we do, the more involved and important we are.

But that is not what worship is about. Lutherans often use the term ‘Divine Service’, a translation of the German term Gottesdienst. What happens at church is Divine Service: in worship, God serves us. He is the host, we are the guests.

And like at any great banquet, the host does his serving by means of servants. They do the laying of the table, the cooking, the cleaning, the distribution of food and drink, the clearing up. At a banquet, the more you do, the less important you are, and the more important you are, the less you have to do. The guest of honour only has to sit back and wait for food and drink to appear and for dirty dishes to disappear again.

And so it is in church. The congregation are the guests of honour at the heavenly banquet. God is the host, Jesus the food; the invitation comes from the Holy Spirit. And then there are servants (the pastor(s) and any lay members who assist him/them) who distribute the goodies from the host to the guests. The more you do, the less important you are. The more important you are, the less you do. All you have to do is sit and wait for God’s gifts to appear, and your dirty dishes to be taken away. The only thing left to do is to receive and to say ‘Thank you’.

Immediately after instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus taught this to His disciples:

For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:27)

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession expresses the same truth thus:

The difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the divine service (latreia) that receives the benefits offered by God. The righteousness of the Law is the divine service (latreia) that offers to God our merits. God wants to be worshipped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV:29)

So, when in church, don’t do something: just sit there!

P.S. Yes, in many churches there is a lot more ‘lay activity’ in the service than in the Lutheran church. But that’s because frequently they have a very different view on what the nature worship is.

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A Year of God’s Grace

Our Saviour Lutheran Church

Annual General Meeting
20 March 2014
Pastor’s Report

Church SignOur Saviour Lutheran Church has enjoyed another year of God’s grace, receiving and sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ. There have been many joys, some deep sorrows—but above all, the constancy of God’s loving gifts.

Except on two of the Sundays when the pastor was away on holiday, Divine Service (service with Holy Communion) has been held “on every Lord’s Day and on [many of] the other festivals”, as enjoined by our Lutheran confessions (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.1). Sunday attendance by the members of the church has remained regular, with very many attending every Sunday unless they were away. In addition, a good number of members also attended services for Ascension and Ash Wednesday. I am very grateful to DL who, as the elder, led services during my annual leave—as he did faithfully during his whole long tenure as elder—as well as to Pr. GJ who led the service, preached and administered the Sacrament during the same period of leave. In addition, in February students from Westfield House assisted in the service by preaching and by assisting in the liturgy.

We have experienced greater variety in the liturgical life of the congregation than in the past. In addition to Settings III and IV, the Easter season, we used the Healey Willan setting of the Divine Service, and during Advent, an unaccompanied setting of the Divine Service, which is being prepared by the ELCE’s Committee on Worship.

Thanks to the faithful service of our Sunday school teachers and helpers, Sunday school has been held on almost every Sunday of the church year, and our children continue to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.

A whole new set of services came into being from September. In co-operation with the Parish of St. Peter & St. Paul, regular Daily Office services began to be held at St. Francis’, Funtley: Matins on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and Vespers on Wednesdays. Although members of the congregation have not begun to attend these services regularly, it is nevertheless an encouragement that there is regular prayer for the congregation and for the wider community. Moreover, some members of the local community who are not members of Our Saviour have attended some of the services from time to time.

In the traditional Advent Vespers, we studied the Epistle readings for the Sundays of Advent. In the current series of Lenten Vespers, we are taking a leaf out of Martin Luther’s book, and going back to being students of the Catechism (Introduction to the Large Catechism), with each week’s service focusing on one of the Chief Parts.

Bible study remains well-attended. This entire past year has been taken up by a close study of the chief confession of the Lutheran Church, the Augsburg Confession. Several adults and two children have been receiving instruction in the Church’s doctrine in preparation for full membership in the Lutheran Church.

There have been many joys. On Pentecost, H was received into communicant membership through the rite of Confirmation. As in past years, we have had the opportunity to serve the children of the local area through holiday clubs and the Drama Club. Since the autumn, a newly-formed youth club has met fortnightly, generously hosted by B (even while she was away in Australia!). We have been able to serve the elderly members of our community through ongoing care home visits, as well as regular visits to a newly-built care home. As a church family, we have met monthly over excellent food and drink at Saturday suppers. In January, the congregation was able to lend their pastor to extend God’s grace to a Finnish family in Galway, Ireland, to bring their newborn daughter S to the saving waters of Baptism. We hosted the LWLGB convention in November and a Westfield House weekend in February.

Amid the joys, we have also endured sorrows. The upheavals within the ELCE in the past year were and are felt painfully by all: when one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Our service of prayer for friends and strangers, which manifests itself in a long prayer list in the weekly bulletin, encapsulates many needs of loved ones and others. Some prayers have been answered with a ‘Yes’ through relief and healing, others with a ‘No’, as we have had to bid a final farewell to those for whom we have prayed. Above all, we lost from our visible fellowship our dear friend and sister in the faith, Forbes. She has gone to the promised glory ahead of time. We, who are left behind, grieve, yet not as those who have no hope but rather in the firm assurance of the resurrection of the body and our reunion with all the saints in God’s heavenly kingdom of glory.

Beyond Fareham, Brighton Lutheran Mission had its second anniversary in January. The work continues to grow and develop slowly and steadily. The monthly services and Sunday Bible studies are regularly attended by five to eight people, of whom three are receiving adult instruction with a view to Baptism or Confirmation. In addition, since last spring, there has been a regular Bible study on the afternoon of the fourth Friday of the month. In addition, I have had the opportunity twice now to share the Gospel with guests at the lunch club run by Holland Road Baptist Church, our generous hosts in Hove.

Our Saviour continues to serve the wider ELCE also by supporting the pastor’s regular visits to Oxford Mission, enabling that small but steadfast community to receive the same gifts of grace which God gives to us.

Finally, my thanks are due to all who have assisted me and served the church in various capacities: DL, who during his long tenure as Elder, which came to an end in August, was always exemplary in his concern for the welfare of the congregation, and who continues to serve as Treasurer; MC, as Chairman and as incoming Elder; to all the other office holders; to the Sunday school teachers; the musicians who make it possible for us to have accompanied services; those who make tea and coffee, the washer-uppers; all who cook; those who have hosted guests; those who give lifts to others; holiday club helpers; and to all for your prayers.

In human terms, the future of our church remains uncertain, all the more since we received the added financial burden of retrospective pension liability payments. Nevertheless, none of that needs to make us anxious: we are not a human society but a divine society, the body of Christ in Fareham and Southern England. Whatever is uncertain to us, whatever shortfalls we may be aware of: none of those are a concern to our Heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow. Whether the future promises growth and greater resources, or decline and the reduction in worldly goods, we have the sure promises of Jesus. He will be with us always to the end of the world. The Church is His Church, and the gates of hell not prevail against it. So all is well, because all will end well!

Soli Deo Gloria: To God alone be all glory!

Respectfully submitted on the Thursday of Reminiscere Sunday,

Rev. Tapani Simojoki
Pastor

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Aaron

Holinesse on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To leade them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profanenesse in my head,
Defect and darknesse in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest,
Poore priest thus am I drest.

Onely another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another musick, making live not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my onely head,
My alone onely heart and breast,
My onely musick, striking me ev’n dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new drest.

So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my deare breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ, (who is not dead,
but lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

George Herbert (1593–1633)

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The Lord Who Saves

Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, 5 January 2014
Text: Matthew 2:13–23
You can listen to the sermon here.

La fuite en ÉgypteWhat’s in a name? For us moderns, not a lot. Names are labels chosen from a stock of traditional or (increasingly) non-traditional stock. We name children after relatives or celebrities, or we pick a name that we like the sound of. We avoid names that we dislike, or names that bring back bad memories. Yes, there are all sorts of more or less complicated reasons for our names, but in the end, it’s all about our preferences and tastes.

In the Bible, however, names have a far greater significance. Numerous times in the Old Testament, when a person is named, a little explanation is added to tell us the significance of that particular name. Adam called his wife Eve, which means life-giver, “because she was the mother of all living”. God took Abram, whose name meant ‘exalted father’, and re-named him Abraham, which means ‘father of a multitude’, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Likewise, God took Jacob, whose name meant ‘he deceives’, and gave him the new name Israel, ‘he strives with God’.

And this Israel, the man who strove with God, gave his name to all his descendants, to whom God promised to give all that He had promised to Abraham and Isaac, all the blessings He had intended for His creation. In Israel and through Israel, God would do His work of restoring the creation that had fallen when Adam and Eve disobeyed the Creator.

It didn’t take long, however, before it seemed that God’s promise to Israel would be snuffed out before it had even begun to manifest itself. Jacob and his sons were on the verge of extinction, because there was a great famine about to fall on the land. The curse on the land that their forefather Adam had earned for himself and all his descendants, was about to undo the promise to the woman’s seed, that the serpent’s head would be crushed and the curse lifted.

But God’s promises will not be thwarted. God turned the evil intentions of the ten older brothers for His own good purposes. When they plotted to destroy their younger brother Joseph, God used their evil plot to send him ahead of them to Egypt—so that he might feed them and their families there. And so it was. Joseph, the younger brother, rose to power in Egypt just in time to feed his father and his brothers when they ran out of food, and to give them a home in the rich land of Goshen. He who was the son and the younger brother to Jacob and his sons, became a father to them, and under his care and by God’s blessing, they were fruitful and multiplied. For his name was Joseph, which means, ‘he will add’.

In the fullness of time, God took Israel out of slavery in this foreign land and led them home to the land He had promised them, a land flowing with milk and honey. During their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they proved to be an unworthy bearer of their forefather’s name. For they strove not with God but against Him, again and again.

Nor did their rebellion end when they were safely established in the Promised Land. Time and again, they contended against God and the prophets whom God sent them to call them back to His good and gracious care. They were busy forfeiting the promised redemption through their idolatry and disobedience. Judge after judge, things got worse, until God gave them kings to be shepherds of his people. But king after king, things degenerated yet further. The kingdom was split, brother against brother after the image of Cain and Abel, and then first one, then the other half of the kingdom was destroyed by their enemies—a just punishment for the rebellion of Israel, their insistent striving against God. The nation that had been called to be a kingdom of priests, to shine the light of God’s truth in a fallen world, instead left her God and went the idolatrous way of the world.

And so Israel embodied in her history the history of all humanity: a called, redeemed creation refusing to heed the call of Him who made and redeemed it. Insisting on its own way, the broad highway of death, over the narrow way that leads to life. Rejecting the wisdom of God, preferring instead the folly of this world. Heeding the siren-call of what our eyes see and ears hear, here and now, rather than receiving by faith what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Separated from the Lord, whose name is יהוה, ‘the one who is’, the world is rushing head-long into oblivion.

But this name, יהוה, tells us something more about God than a mere label would. He is the one who is, the being one. And as He is, so is His word. As the one who is, He will endure forever. As He is, so is His word: it will endure forever.

Therefore, once He has made a promise, He will by necessity keep His promise. Otherwise, His word of promise would fail to endure. And so in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, and gave Him a name that would change everything: Jesus.

The English name Jesus comes to us from the Greek transliteration of Jesus’ Hebrew name Yehoshua, or Joshua. This name is made up of two parts, God’s own name, יהוה, plus the verb, ישׁע , which means ‘he saves’. God sent His Son, and called Him, יהוה saves’, ‘the one who is saves’, ‘the Lord saves’—for, as the angel told Joseph, He was to save His people from their sins.

And in this Jesus, all the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled: the promise that Israel were to be His chosen people, that Israel were to be blessed through the keeping of God’s Law, that Israel were going to receive an eternal heritage from God in a land flowing with milk and honey, that Israel’s prayers were going to be pleasing to God, that Israel was going to have a means of atonement and God’s forgiveness forever—and that through Israel, all the nations of the world would be blessed.

And what Israel according to the flesh, Jacob and his offspring, failed to do, the Son of God undertook to do. And so God took the evil intentions of Herod who wanted to destroy the beloved Son, and used them to take Joseph to Egypt. There, Joseph became father to the one who was his creator and his elder brother, by taking care of his wife’s son, Jesus. And having been taken to Egypt, Jesus traced the way of the Israelites: from exile in Egypt back to the land of Canaan. There, he grew in Galilee, the land of the people living in darkness, obedient to His earthly parents and to His heavenly Father.

In the fullness of time, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world by taking on the sinners’ baptism of repentance from John the Baptists. He faced the wilderness for forty days, but resisted the temptations of the evil one, repelling Him with the word which both Adam and the people of Israel disregarded to their own peril. Keeping the Law to the end, He strove with God in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking the cup of suffering to be taken from Him, but only if it was the Father’s will. Thus, having been obedient to the point of death, He was crucified and destroyed for all of Israel’s transgressions—and for the sins of the whole world. When the first Israel, Jacob strove with God at the brook of Jabbok, God relented and let Jacob go with His blessing and the new name. When the second Israel, Jesus, strove with God on the cross of Calvary, God did not relent but forsook His obedient Son, so that He might bless all the disobedient sons and daughters of Adam and Israel who had incurred His wrath by their disobedience. Thus, the cross of Christ was set up as the beacon for the world, where those weighed down by sin may leave their fatal burden and find a gracious God, and the crucified Saviour was the priest who brought the light of God’s truth to all the people.

But what has all this to do with you?

Everything. When you were baptised, you were truly Christened: you received the name of Christ and were made a Christian. Your incorporation into Him by the circumcision of the heart in baptism made you a member in Him—a member of Israel. Thus, all the promises of God to Israel throughout all of Scripture are His promises to you. He striven with God for you, so that you need not strive but to rest in His salvation. You have been brought from the Egypt of slavery to sin into the freedom of the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom, where you are not a slave but a son and heir. You, a member of His body, are as beloved as the head. He has defeated Satan, and all of Satan’s accusations and temptations, for you. He is your mighty fortress, to which God has gathered you from among the nations, as we sang in the  Gradual.

In short, יהוה, the Lord, has saved you. Now you are a member of that nation of priests, Israel, called to proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. He who has done this, He who has promised all this, is the one who is and stands forever, whose word stands forever. Whatever temptations, anguish, discouragement, persecutions come your way, He will see His promise through as long as you stay in the One who has done all this and who has won the victory for you, Jesus, the Lord who saves.

May God give you His grace in this New Year to enjoy His great gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, seeking His kingdom in the joyful knowledge that all other things will be added to you as well.

In the holy name of ✠ Jesus. Amen.

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Death as debtor to Christ

An interesting thought from Luther’s sermon for New Year’s Day in the Church Postil:

For when death fell on Him and killed Him, and yet had no right or case against Him, and He willingly and innocently submitted and let Himself be killed, then death became liable to Him, did Him wrong and sinned against Him, and itself spoiled everything, so that Christ has an honest claim against it. Now the wrong of which [death] became guilty toward Him is so great that death can never pay nor atone for it. Therefore, it must be subject to Christ and in His power forever, and so death is overcome and put to death in Christ. (Luther’s Works 76 [CPH, 2013], 45)

Again, this fits beautifully with the centrality of the baptismal union:  all things are subjected to Christ, for the Church (Eph. 1:22). Apart from Christ, death rules over my body. In Christ, death is subject to me, because it is subject to Him and I am in Him.

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Divine monergism in salvation leads to synergism in good works

When the Holy Spirit has worked and accomplished this, and a person’s will has been changed and renewed by His divine power and working alone, then the new will of that person is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Spirit. So that person not only accepts grace, but he also co-operates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.

From the Formula of Concord, Epitome II.18.

That lovely phrase, “the new will of that person is an instrument and organ of God the Holy Spirit” wonderfully sums up the relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the regenerate will of the believer.

This is why St. Paul was able to write to the Romans, “… be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2 ESV). In other words, be what you have been made, and become what you are.

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Would this be sung at your church?

Unconditionally

Oh no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what’s really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me
Don’t need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I’ll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

So open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart

Acceptance is the key to be
To be truly free
Will you do the same for me?

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
And there is no fear now
Let go and just be free
‘Cause I will love you unconditionally (oh yeah)
I will love you (unconditionally)
I will love you
I will love you unconditionally

Source: YouTube
HT: twitter.com/richardengland, via Peter Ould

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Putting s back into Christmass

Here’s a brief article I wrote for the Christmas issue of the magazine of a local Baptist church. It’s distributed to hundreds of homes in the area where our congregation worships.

What’s missing from Xmas?

The answer: the second ‘s’.

Get it? If not, bear with me, and I will explain.

It’s coming up to Christmas time. At the time of writing, I’m preparing the first church services in December, including the first carol service of the year.

Now, whether you love Christmas or hate it, it’s probably for the same reason: all the Christmas traditions. It’s the carols, the decorations, the food, the cards, the presents, the TV specials, Father Christmas, as well as all sorts of family traditions that have developed over the years. Some love them, others detest them. And for some people, they are a cause of regret or sadness or grief—bringing home the realities of loneliness, tragedy or loss in a particularly painful way.

There’s one other tradition, a more recent one, that I didn’t include in that list: Christians complaining about the fact that for most people there is no more Christ in Christmas. It’s all Xmas, Christmas without Christ: the jolly bits originally there to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but without Jesus. Santa, not God’s Son, is now the central character.

It’s all festive season without the Reason for the Season. Add the grotesque commercialisation of Christmas, and even those who aren’t Christian will begin to complain.

To be fair, I’m with the complainers. Up to a point. Contrary to what you might have read or heard, Christians never did steal Christmas from the pagans—but in these latter days, the non-Christian world does seem to have taken over Christmas and pushed out its real meaning altogether. And that’s regrettable, to say the least.

On the other hand, there’s this to consider: why should someone celebrate the birth of Jesus if they don’t believe in Him? And it doesn’t seem right to insist that shops, supermarkets and public broadcasting companies should take responsibility for teaching the real message of Christmas—their job is to make money or to attract viewers and listeners. They are just doing their job, even if they sometimes do it almost too well.

No, putting Christ back into Christmas isn’t a matter of forcing the general culture, or commerce, to talk more about Jesus—even though, if they did, I would be the first to be pleased.

Just as much as we need Christ instead of X in our Xmas, we also need the second ‘s’. The real meaning of Christmas is ‘Christ’s Mass’—the church service to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Church at Christmas is more than a tradition: it is where we encounter Jesus today in His word and in Holy Communion.

The Son of God who came to earth as the child of Mary comes to us today as we gather in His name to hear and meditate on the words of the Bible, to pray in His name, and to eat and drink the bread and wine of which He said, “This is my body, this is my blood.”

It’s when you put Mass back into Christmas that you will also get Christ back into Christmas—and with him, lasting joy. Not just for Christmas, but for every day of your life, and to all eternity.

Happy Christmas!

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Bring back The Office

No, not this one. Or that. The original.

Because repetition is the mother of all learning.

I am frequently struck by the extent and depth of the biblical knowledge of the fathers—the apostles, the fathers of the early church, the Mediæval doctors, the Reformers and the great theologians of the late-16th and 17th centuries. How did they manage to absorb the Scriptures so thoroughly?

This facility with the Bible is most obviously demonstrated in two features of their writing. First, there are the frequent minor errors in quotations and references, which show that the author is quoting from memory. Secondly, it’s frequently difficult to tell where the Scripture reference begins and ends, because the author’s language is so thoroughly suffused with biblical language as to blur the edges. (In NT scholarship, there is talk of “echoes” of Old Testament in the language of the apostles.)

Nor is this biblical facility restricted to professional theologians. I remember being struck, when preparing a performance of Heinrich Schütz’s Seven Last Words, to see that the composer grossly misquotes John’s reference to the hyssop branch used to offer a vinegar-filled sponge to Jesus. It’s obvious that (a) he had forgotten what hyssop was and, therefore, (b) he can’t have been copying the words down from a book, but rather from memory. He got all the other words verbatim.

How did they manage to learn so much, so well—all without Navigators flash cards?

The answer (at least part of it): the Office. The Liturgy of the Hours.

From time immemorial, the Christian Church has marked each day, and different parts of the day, with the Word of God and prayer. The form of these services has varied from time to time, from one place to another, and from one setting to another. But it has always been there.

When the Lutheran reformers, or the later Lutheran theologians, were little lads at school, they participated in the Daily Office. At the very least, each day began and closed with a service where they sang the Psalms and heard readings from the Old and New Testaments (as well as the Apocrypha). Day in, day out. Year after year.

Then they went to university (or the monastery), and carried on doing the same, or in the case of the monastery, an awful lot more of the same.

And then they were ordained, so they continued to do so as part of their vocation in the church.

A whole lifetime of singing, hearing, reading the Scriptures, twice-daily or more. Repetition upon repetition.

And so they learned.

Looking back at the brief history of my church, there is much that is good, worthy of gratitude. Some things I wish hadn’t happened, and some things I wish that had happened.

I do wish that from the very start, all pastors would have been encouraged—nay, instructed—to observe the Daily Office in their churches, and to encourage all members of their congregations to attend these services as much as possible, so that priest and people alike grow in the Scriptures.

As of this autumn, that is what has started to happen in my congregation (see details here and here). I have been saying Matins privately for years, mostly silently in my study. A few months of public recitation of the Psalter and the reading of Scripture has already made a significant difference.

I started at 40. God willing, if I’m as average as I appear in other respects, I may have another 40 years to go. If in those 40 years I absorb a small part of what Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Gerhard, Schütz or Bach absorbed, I will consider myself blessed.

P.S. I am increasingly convinced also that assigning the same melodies to the same Psalms is an important tool in the learning. If I ever edit a Psalter, each Psalm will have its appointed chant. But that’s really another topic for another post.

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