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

More bad things done to good hymns

My researches for Sunday Cantata keep throwing up wonderful Lutheran chorales that never made it into English, or have been forgotten entirely. More distressing still is to find that hymns that have survived have been sadly mistreated by translators and/or hymnal editors.

The latest exhibit for this latter category, from BWV 166, Bach’s cantata for Cantate Sunday (5th of, or 4th after, Easter, depending on which way you like to count): Ämilie Juliane von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt’s hymn Wer weiss wie nahe mir mein Ende.

Here’s how Bach gives us verse one in that cantata:

[Performed by Bach Collegium Japan]

(Listen to the whole thing this Sunday on Lutheran Radio UK)

The original has 12 verses. TLH gave us 11 of them as Who Knows  When Death May Overtake Me (TLH 598), a translation reproduced also in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELH 483).

Question 1: If you’re willing to sing 11 verses, why not 12?

The missing verse is no. 7:

Ich weiß, in Jesu Blut und Wunden
hab ich mir recht und wohl gebett ;
da find ich Trost in Todesstunden,
und alles, was ich gerne hätt.
Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut:
Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!

An English prose translation by Francis Browne (on the marvellous site bach-cantatas.com) reads as follows:

I know that in Jesus’ blood and wounds
It is right and good for me to make my bed;
There may I find consolation in the hour of death
And everything I would happily have.
My God, I pray through Christ’s blood:
Make sure my end is good.

Why would you want to leave that out? Makes me want to know:

Question 2: What’s wrong with the blood of Jesus?

You see, not only do they leave out the bloody verse. Jesus’ blood is veritably written out of the hymn.

If you know TLH (or ELH) well, you will know that there is a refrain at the end of each verse, which goes like this: “My God, for Jesus’ sake I pray / Thy peace may bless my dying day.”

Except that it doesn’t. The German reads:

Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut:
Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!

That’s the blood of Christ. Something like, “My God, I pray through Jesus’ blood / Make Thou my life’s end only good.” (OK, so I’m no Shakespeare. Sorry.)

Verse11 (10 in TLH/ELH) declares in the original:

“I am and remain in his care,
fairly adorned with Christ’s blood.”

But the hymnal simply states:

“He grants the peace that stills all sorrow / Gives me a robe without a spot.”

The only blood the translators didn’t write out is the direct reference to the Lord’s Supper (verse 10/9). Which makes me wonder:

Question 3: Is it hard to tell the difference between cause and effect?

The translators seem to prefer translating Blut as ‘peace’. Now, as any well-catechised child will tell you, the blood of Christ does bring us  peace with God. That’s why we have the Pax Domini in the liturgy, and that’s why we have it where we have it.

But the blood and the peace aren’t the same thing. The one brings about the other. They are not synonymous. So why on earth would you treat them as synonymous?

Which leads us to:

Question 4: Why would the editors of a conservative Lutheran hymnal go to such lengths to avoid talking about the blood of Jesus (except in the Lord’s Supper, when they can’t get away from it)? Could it be that they were crypto-Ritschlians, perhaps without realising it?

As someone once sang, Ritschl shall reign where’er the sun

Question 5: Given that, even with such a deficient translation, this is a pretty stunning hymn (do read the whole of Browne’s translation, together with the original German, here), why would it be culled even further in the finest modern English-language Lutheran hymnbook, the Lutheran Service Book? All that remains of the 12 verses are  9, 10 and 12 in what has been re-cut as a baptismal hymn (‘Once in the Blessed Baptismal Waters’, LSB 598).

What on earth for? There are plenty of fine baptismal hymns in LSB as it is. No need to go a-butchering for another one, thus depriving the church of the opportunity to reflect on what gives us confidence on the edge of the grave.

And finally: You just heard the tune used in Bach’s time for this hymn: Georg Neumark’s Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten. Why would it be replaced by the later unremarkable creation used in TLH, ELH and LSB?

But at least that’s only a matter of opinion.

Ritschl shall reign where’er the sun?

One of the joys of working on Sunday Cantata has been to delve into the texts of the chorales used in Bach’s cantatas. My policy has been to quote the translation in the Lutheran Service Book whenever possible, for the benefit of listeners who are familiar with the hymns.

Every now and then, however, I need to depart from the LSB translation, when it diverges too far from the German original. And that is always a bit of a worrying sign. Either the chorale in question is dodgy, which is obviously a little disappointing (I always like to think that Bach and the parish of Leipzig were not dodgy theologically); or the LSB translation has re-written a hymn for no apparent reason.

I haven’t come across any incidents of the first problem as yet in my research.

However, the other week, I did come across a depressing example of the latter type. While working on BWV 36, I was delighted at first to find the libretto include a verse from Philipp Nicolai’s ‘Queen of the Chorales’, Wie schön leuchtet. And then I discovered what the LSB (following the Lutheran Book of Worship and Lutheran Worship) does with it.

Here’s the German text of v. 6 of Nicolai’s text, with the relevant portion highlighted:

Zwingt die Saiten in Zithara
Und laßt die süße Musika
Ganz freudenreich erschallen,
Daß ich möge mit Jesulein,
Dem wunderschönen Bräut’gam mein,
In steter Liebe wallen!
Singet, springet,
Jubilieret, triumphieret,
Dankt dem Herren!
Groß ist der König der Ehren!

And here’s the LBW/LW/LSB take on it:

O let the harbps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
Our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way—
Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day!
His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out!
Jubilation! Exaltation!Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of Glory!

What on earth happened there? The prayer “that I may in constant love sojourn with  Jesus, my most beautiful Bridegroom” is not only turned upside-down (“Christ goes with us all the way”), but it is stripped of its very heart: Christ as the Bridegroom, whom I am to love as His bride.

Poke a little harder at the translation, and it turns out that this Bridegroom mysticism runs through the whole of Nicolai’s text—and is almost entirely removed from the LSB.

But not only from the LBW/LW/LSB. Turns out that the rot set in already in The Lutheran Hymnal.

I would be interested to know why. Anyone? I can’t think of a good reason myself. I mean, if the original was so bad, it shouldn’t be sung. And if it wasn’t, it shouldn’t have been emasculated.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in re-translating the hymn and restoring its message, please get in touch. I will be more than happy to get it published! Mark Preus? Matthew Carver? Anyone?

Lectionary madness

Next Sunday is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in the three-year lectionary, Series B are 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (the calling of Samuel), 1 Cor 6:12-20 (flee from sexual immorality) and John 1:43-51 (the calling of Philip and Nathanael). Which got my blood boiling.

Here’s a preview of part of the sermon I’m writing for this Sunday. I’m so narked that I’m letting off some steam here. Perhaps I’ll sound more measured in the pulpit as a result.

I am told that there is a Lutheran professor of theology who tells his students that unless a seminarian or pastor thinks he can preach a better sermon than the one he is listening to, he has no business to be in the ministry. No doubt he is exaggerating to make a point—at least I hope so. I do wonder, however, how many seminarians or pastors have looked up the readings for a given Sunday and thought that they would have been able to come up with a better lectionary than the one in front of them. Arguably, this Sunday’s lessons are a case in point.

Normally, the lectionary is constructed along these lines: the Gospel text is chosen according to the time of the church year so that, for example, on Christmas morning the Gospel will focus on the incarnation of the Son of God. Then the Old Testament reading is selected to complement the Gospel, so that on Christmas morning you might have an Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Christ. Finally, the Epistle reading is added. Sometimes, the Epistle is also related to the theme of the Sunday; at other times, the Epistle readings over a period of consecutive Sundays take the congregation right through a whole book, regardless of the themes of those Sundays.

Now, given this principle, let me ask you: What Old Testament passage came to mind when you listened to Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel: “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Let me give you a clue: it has something to do with an epiphany or appearance of God to a person, involving angels of God ascending and descending.

That’s right: Jacob’s ladder. Not the calling of Samuel. After all, we are in Epiphany season, which focuses on the epiphany, manifestation of the Son of God among us. Important a theme as the calling of disciples is—and today’s Gospel does teach us about that, too—within the church year there is a proper time and place for that. John’s point in recording the calling of Philip and Nathanael was not to tell us about disciples or discipleship. He wrote what he wrote in order to tell us about Jesus, about who Jesus is.

Not only that, but it turns out that the three-year lectionary favoured by the publishers of the Lutheran Service Book has not managed to include Jacob’s ladder at all, in three years’ worth of OT readings.

Breathtaking!