“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