Luther’s Influence on Church Music

I was privileged to give a talk on this topic at St. Mary’s Church, Portchester, on Reformation Sunday (29 October 2017). I took the liberty of reflecting on the role of music in worship more generally.

The text below is a transcript of the talk, with a little tidying up. The passages enclosed in square brackets are ad lib and incidental to the substance.

If you prefer, you can listen to a recording instead. Or as well as

Thank you very much for the welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a case of buses again. Eight years I’ve been in this part of the world and visited a few times—never spoken here—now twice in two weeks. It’s a great privilege.

The making of music is such a basic human activity that it’s hard to imagine that there’s ever been a society where there wasn’t music in society that did not make music. For this reason alone, and for others, that people of God has always been a singing people. And, ironically, it is in our own time that we are experiencing a particularly low point in the history of music-making in society and in the church.

“What a lot of nonsense!” you might think. In the era of non-stop music on the radio and in shops and on transport, the technology to carry entire choirs, symphony orchestras, pop musicians, or whatever else you might fancy, in our pockets, and stream whatever we wish to hear almost anywhere we like, and whenever we like, it seems that in fact the opposite is the case. Never has there been so much music available continuously to so many people, so much of the time.

Yet in this era of commercial music we are experiencing what the BBC comedy W1A might call “more of less”. While the professionals sing them play for us, music making has become a specialised activity alongside football and chess and landscape painting, rather than what it has been throughout the history of mankind, a universal human activity in which all people participate rather than something primarily for listening to passively. We have become consumers of music rather than music-makers.

Continue reading Luther’s Influence on Church Music

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 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.

True worship and heathen worship

This is as true today as it was in the Old Testament and in the first century.

The church of Jesus Christ embraces people who were Jews and people who were heathen. Until the apocalyptic dawn of the last things heathen-Christianity will typify the church of Jesus Christ. Israel was elected from the midst of heathendom. The heathen-Christians came into the church of Jesus Christ directly from heathendom. Membership in the people of God always implies a rupture with the heathen past and the heathen cultus. The relationship between heathen cultus and the church’s worship can never be defined as a transition from a preliminary stage to a crowning maturity. There is an unbridgeable gulf fixed at all levels between the heathen cultus and the church’s worship. There is nothing whatsoever to join them. They are as different as God and devil (2. Cor. 6:14–18). Therefore the conversion from heathenism to the church rightfully involves a renunciation of the devil, which as such is simultaneously a renunciation of the pagan cultus.

Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus (St. Louis: CPH, 1968), 49.

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

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.

What’s with all the Psalm chanting

From last Sunday’s service bulletin at Our Saviour Lutheran Church

Where do we have Psalms in the service?

The Introit, the Gradual and (often) the Alleluia Verse are portions of Psalms. Sometimes, a whole Psalm takes the place of the Gradual. Also, some of the hymns we sing are paraphrases of Psalms (such as The Mighty Fortress and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven).

Why do we have Psalms in the service?

The Psalms are the hymn book of the Bible. They are the only hymns Jesus would have sung (e.g. Matt 26:30), and they have always been the chief songs of the church (Col. 3:16). When we sing the Psalms, we are singing the same songs that the people of God have sung since the second millennium bc! And when we sing the Psalms, we are singing words that God has given for us to sing. So why wouldn’t we sing the Psalms?!

Why do we sing the Psalms?
Psalms are songs. They were written to be sung. In fact, there are still some musical instructions left in the book of Psalms in the Bible—although unfortunately we no longer know what they mean.

So singing the Psalms is like singing the hymns. They are meant to be sung. And speaking the Psalms are like speaking hymns: not wrong, but not the full experience.

But why do we chant?

The Psalms are ancient poems, written with a very different idea of what singing is from our own. Unlike in the hymns in our hymnal, there’s no regular meter. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to set them to a regular, repeated tune.

As a result, the way Psalms have been sung for at least 1,500 years (and possibly much longer) is by chanting, where most of the words are sung to a repeated note, with other notes only at the ends of phrases. This way, it’s possible for the congregation to sing together with a simple melody. The only alternatives are speaking (but see the previous question), or writing an enormously long melody that covered the whole Psalm—but that would be very hard to learn!

But since the word ‘chant’ just means ‘song’, you can just say that we ‘sing’ the Psalms if that sounds better to you, and it would be just as true.

This Way and That: Liturgical Orientation

Another liturgical titbit, from last Sunday’s service bulletin at Our Saviour Lutheran Church:

Liturgical Titbits: Liturgical Orientation

One of the noticeable things about the liturgist in a Lutheran service is the fact that he doesn’t stand still. One moment, he’s facing the congregation, another he’s got his back turned on them. What’s that all about?

The clue is in the fact that the liturgist has a dual role in the service. Sometimes he addresses God with, or on behalf of, the congregation. At other times, he addresses the congregation on behalf of God.

Whenever he speaks with or on behalf of the congregation (invocation, confession, Psalms, hymns, prayers), the liturgist faces the same way as the congregation: towards the altar (which symbolises God’s presence). And whenever he speaks on behalf of God (absolution, salutation, readings, sermon, blessing), he faces the congregation being addressed.

The one exception is the Service of the Sacrament, when the liturgist does both at once. There is an explanation for this—but it’s somewhat debatable, so we’ll leave that to another time.

Whole body worship

From time to time, I add a little section called ‘Liturgical Titbits’ to the service bulletin at Our Saviour Lutheran Church. The idea is that, over time, the congregation’s knowledge and understanding of various aspects of the liturgy will grow—and bring about a growing appreciation thereof.

These pieces are, as the name suggests, very brief, so that people will bother to read them, and have little trouble learning, marking and inwardly digesting them.

Inspired by this post by John Halton, here’s last Sunday’s entry (the longest one yet). I will post others as and when.

P.S. These little snippets are never scholarly and rarely very complete. I hope they are accurate, though. So liturgiologists, don’t nit-pick!

Liturgical Titbits: Whole-Body Worship

Some people have a deep suspicion of any kind of ‘bowing and scraping’. Worship is a matter of the soul and the mind, to be done in words, not gestures.
Though this is well-meaning, it is not how the Bible speaks. The biblical words for “worship”, in both Hebrew and Greek, mean physical postures: bowing, kneeling, prostration.

Just as we were created body, mind and soul, God saves us body, mind and soul (“I believe in the resurrection of the body!”). And so it is appropriate to worship Him with body, mind and soul. At the same time, physical gestures can be helpful ways to remind and teach our minds the meaning of what we speak and sing.

Therefore, you may:

Bow:
* at the altar on entering and leaving the church, to acknowledge its role as a symbol of God’s presence, and the presence of Christ in the Sacrament
* during the doxology at the end of the Psalm (‘Glory be to the Father, etc.’), as a sign of reverence for the Triune God
* during the words ‘and was incarnate … and was made man’ in the Creed, as a sign of reverence for the mystery of the incarnation (but not originally: see next page)
* during the first half of the Sanctus (‘Holy, holy, holy…’), as a sign of reverence for the presence of God.
In Isaiah 6, where this song comes from, Isaiah didn’t just bow, but prostrated himself at God’s presence.
* whenever we sing of worshipping God (e.g. in the Gloria in excelsis and the Venite in Matins), since that’s what the word ‘worship’ usually means.
Christians throughout the centuries have also bowed their head at the mention of the name of Jesus, on the basis of Philippians 2:9–11. This includes the conclusion of the Collect (… ‘through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…’).

Kneel (or genuflect) :
* during the words “and was incarnate … and was made man” in the Creed. Bowing (see previous page) was introduced as a less arduous alternative in the 1960s.
* all the way from the Proper Preface (‘It is truly good, right and salutary…) to the end of the Agnus Dei (‘Lamb of God’), as a sign of reverence for the great mystery of Christ’s presence in the sacrament. Or, at least:
* during the Words of Institution. Or, at least:
* following the consecration of each element, to acknowledge and reverence the presence of Christ’s body and blood in our midst.
* whenever we sing of kneeling before God (e.g. in the Venite in Matins)

Raise your hands: This is the customary stance for prayer. Jewish people have prayed with uplifted arms for as long as we know, and it was also assumed to be the posture of prayer by St. Paul (1 Timothy 2:8).

Make the sign of the cross:
* whenever the name of the Triune God is pronounced over, or by, the Christian. This is in remembrance of our Baptism.
* during the announcing of the Gospel and the words of Christ in the Words of Institution. This is to acknowledge that Christ comes to us in grace, as at our Baptism.