Liturgically Pro-Life

I am guilty of liturgical innovation.

I have added a few words to the Litany (Lutheran Service Book version):

“To strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children; to free those in bondage; to protect the unborn, the disabled and all who are vulnerable; and to have mercy on us all;
We implore you to hear us, good Lord.

May God in mercy hear our prayer!

“Liturgical Texts” in LSB

(Post edited 8/9/16, 8 pm)

One of the greatest features of the Lutheran Service Book family of books—including the Treasury of Daily Prayer—is that the biblical sources of the liturgical texts are all marked in the margins.

This is both informative—it teaches us where those texts are taken from—and edifying—it is a constant reminder that the vast majority of the liturgical texts come from the Scriptures rather than from the mind of some person or committee.

Every now and then, however, instead of the Bible, the reference is to a nebulous “Liturgical Text”, with no further clue as to what the source might be. Are those references the product of the mind of some person or committee?

As it turns out, the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no. These portions of text, which are found almost exclusively in the various responsive chants of the orders of service (introits, graduals, Alleluia verses, responsories, and such like) are indeed taken from writings that are not in the 66 (Protestant) canonical books of the Bible but are found in the liturgical tradition of the Western church: the Latin sacramentaries and liturgies of the hours compiled in the first millennium.

However, with very few exceptions, these texts are not from the mind of a person or a committee any more than the biblical texts.

Instead, they are most commonly taken from books we refer to as the Old Testament Apocrypha: those writings which are found in the Septuagint (3rd century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament) but not in the Hebrew Bible.

Both the Eastern and Western churches read the books of the Apocrypha in the daily office (Matins, Vespers, etc.), as did the Lutheran and Anglican churches long after the Reformation. Since the responsories that follow the readings were often tailored to match the readings in any particular office, whenever readings were from a certain book, the responsory may well draw on the same book.

To give an example, the responsory appointed for the weeks of Propers 14–20 of the Post-Pentecost Season (Trinity 14–19) in the Treasury, has its origin in the service of Matins. From Septuagesima onwards, the Old Testament was read in that service continuously. In late summer, the readings were from the book of Judith, and so the responsories were also drawn from the book of Judith:

L: We have no other God except the Lord, in whom we trust. (Judith 8:19b Vulgate)

C: He does not despise us, nor does He take away His salvation from us (Judith 8:19b Vulgate)

L: Let us seek His mercy with tears, (Judith 8:14b Vulgate)
and humble ourselves before Him (Judith 8:16a Old Latin translation)

C: He does not despise…

Likewise, the previous season for Propers 8–13 is from the book of Tobit.

A complex set of factors have detached the responsories from their original context in the Lutheran church, not least our modern-day aversion to the Apocrypha and the near-death of the Daily Office in our church and personal lives.

It’s a shame that the editors of the LSB decided further to obscure our connection to the generations that came before us by concealing the source of these liturgical materials. After all, which is more offensive to a church that claims to be in continuity with the Church Catholic: the use of quasi-biblical texts that were read from the first apostolic generation of Christians until the eighteenth century, or the use of texts that came from the mind of some unknown person or committee?

Source: Ruth Steiner, “Gregorian Responsories Based on Texts from the Book of Judith“, in Terence Bailey and Alma Santosuosso, Music in Mediaeval Europe: Studies in Honour of Bryan Gillingham (Aldershot/Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 23–33

Liturgical Titbits: A Tale of Two Days

As we learned in the previous post, the church retained two different calendars side by side: the lunar and the solar. Thus there was a clash between two ways of dividing up the year.

But there is also another clash in the church’s time-keeping. We think of the new day as beginning at midnight. So did the ancient Romans. However, in Palestine, each day ended at sunset. As a result, from Old Testament times, Jews have marked the beginning of a new day at sunset. By Roman reckoning, the Sabbath began on Friday evening and ended on Saturday evening—but for the Jews, that was just one day, the Sabbath.
Christianity emerged out of Judaism, but soon spread into the Roman world. As a result, both ways of time-keeping exist side-by-side. On the whole, the church operates the Roman way, from midnight to midnight. At the same time, the Jewish way hasn’t gone away altogether.

For centuries, Christians in the West have begun the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with Saturday night vespers. Many churches also have the first Communion service on Saturday evening. At Christmas, we have Midnight Mass, which often finishes rather than starts at midnight.

The modern observance of the Easter Vigil is a mixture of the two systems. Originally an all-night service (hence the name ‘vigil’). In the Eastern Orthodox church, midnight is marked with particular festivity, with the lighting of fresh candles and the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. In the West, it is common to have the service already on Saturday evening as the ‘first Mass of Easter’—since by biblical reckoning, the day of Christ’s resurrection began at sundown on Saturday.

This clash of times will no doubt persist until the end of the world—until the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, where there will no longer be night but one endless day (Rev. 21:23), and no seasons, but a perpetual season of fruitfulness (Rev 22:2).

Liturgical Titbits: A Tale of Two Calendars

The Christian Church was borne out of the mixed soil of the Old Testament Scriptures, first-century Judaism and the Græco-Roman world. This mixture of influences is still with us today when it comes to measuring and marking time in the Church’s life.

The worship of the Old Testament, and much of the Judaism of Palestine in the first century, operated with a lunar calendar, where the change of months was determined by the cycle of the moon. Months, and therefore festivals, would not always occur at the same time of the natural year.

This is why the chief festival of the Church, Easter, which is based on the Jewish festival of Passover, can occur on any time between 22 March and 25 April, depending on when the first full moon of the spring occurs.

On the other hand, the Romans (like us) used the solar calendar, so that months always occur at exactly the same time of the natural year. Festivals that have no Old Testament precedent but were introduced by Christians, such as Christmas, therefore have a fixed date.

Some of the seasons of the Church Year relate to fixed dates (e.g. Advent for the 4 Sundays before Christmas), some to movable dates (e.g. Lent for 40 days before Easter), and others vary depending on how the two relate (Epiphany and Pentecost).
The Church Year has kept both calendars side by side, giving us a number of fixed festivals, with Easter moving to and fro. As a result, in any given year, we might have a short Epiphany season and a long Pentecost (Trinity season), or vice versa.

Chants for the Reformation Lessons

After the lecture on Music and the Reformation last Friday, we celebrated choral vespers. To get a sense of an earlier time in the Lutheran church, the readings (Epistle & Gospel for Reformation Day) were chanted according to Luther’s directions in Die Deutsche Messe. Here’s the music (text from ESV®).

The Epistle:

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The Gospel:

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Click here for a PDF version

Seven theses on church music

From a presentation I was honoured to give yesterday at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in London, as part of their annual Reformation Festival.

I. Music is the chief vehicle for the proclamation of the Word of God in the Church.
II. Therefore, the task of church music is to proclaim the Word of God.
III. As such, the music used to proclaim the Word must be appropriate for the task of proclamation.
IV. There is no one kind of music that is appropriate for the proclamation of the Word.
V. By the same token, not all music is appropriate for proclaiming the Word of God.
VI. What is appropriate at a certain time in a certain place is not necessarily appropriate at all times and in all places. But all times and places should be heard in the Church.
VII. Therefore, church music in all its forms must be judged, and used, in such a way as best to communicate God’s Word to those who hear it—including those who make music.

Sinai, the Land and Liturgy

Profound words from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (as was). This forms the foundation for his discussion of the ‘spirit of the Liturgy’.

Now it becomes clear that what took place on Sinai, in the period of rest after the wandering through the wilderness, is what gives meaning to the taking of the land. Sinai is not a halfway house, kind of stop for refreshment on the road to what really matters. No, Sinai gives Israel, so to speak, its interior land without which the exterior one would be a cheerless prospect. Israel is constituted as a people through the covenant and the divine law it contains. This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift. Sinai remains present in the Promised Land.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 19.

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.

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.

If we are going to sing long hymns

… as I advocated in my previous post, we are going to have a couple of problems.

First, it will lead to longer church services. Which, to be perfectly frank, isn’t a problem at all, but a good thing. There are 168 hours in a week, most of which we spend working, sleeping, eating, drinking and washing. Being very busy. So setting aside more time for church must only be a good thing. At least Martin thinks so.

Secondly, and this is a real problem, people are going to get tired of singing. I don’t mean bored. Tired. Singing is a physical activity, and like all physical activities, it requires stamina. Most people don’t get that much practice at singing these days—I’ve heard anecdotal claims that it’s mostly football fans and Christians who do any singing in today’s Britain—and so they aren’t particularly fit. As a result, if you ask them to sing for ten, fifteen minutes without a break, their voices will get very tired. And when that happens, the spiritual benefit will also begin to be lost, because the pain and the fatigue will start to take over the singers’ attention. It’s like going for a jog in the mountains: when your lungs hurt and you can taste the blood in your mouth, the scenery won’t be quite so beguiling. And this second problem needs to be taken seriously. So here are a couple of suggestions for dealing with it on a Sunday morning:

  1. Alternate between the congregation and other singers.
    Have the congregation sing some of the stanzas (always the first and the last!), but give some of the other stanzas to the choir,  to a soloist, to the Sunday school. That way, there will be a breather. It’s also benefitial to listen to a hymn with the words in front of you.
  2. Alternate within the congregation.
    Split the congregation into sections and assign different stanzas to different sections: men/women, adults/children, gospel side/epistle side, etc. The benefits are the same as above. And when everyone joins in for say, stanzas 7, 14 and 21, the sudden increase in volume will give them extra oomph.
  3. Split the hymn.
    Sing some of the stanzas in one part of the service, the rest later on. For example, the offertory hymn could continue as the communion hymn, the hymn of invocation could be finished off as the sending hymn, or as a gradual hymn. There are plenty of possible permutations.

These are just some ideas. There are others, depending on the resources available to your congregation. The real point is this: there is no reason not to sing long hymns, and there are lots of good reasons to sing them!