Grant peace, we pray, in mercy Lord;
Peace in our time, O send us
—Martin Luther (after a Latin hymn)
Peter Bender describes the text of the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God”:
[The Agnus Dei] is the fifth and final great hymn of the Divine Service. The words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” were first spoken by John the Baptist in the public announcement of Jesus’ ministry. These words are the sum and substance of what our Lord came to do. (Lutheran Catechesis, p. 119)
In Christ, the Lamb of God, the two-part plan of the Passover is fulfilled: kill the lamb and eat the lamb. The death the of Lamb of God is a once-for-all, calendar-day event. But the eucharistic eating of the Lamb continues around the world until Christ returns. We are accustomed to singing the three-fold Agnus Dei one time, but Art Just notes the Medieval precedent for singing it ”as long as there was bread to break” (Christ’s Gifts in the Liturgy: The Theology and Music of the Divine Service, p. 41). How fitting that Jesus is described as the Lamb of God thirty times in the eschatology of the book of Revelation, where Jesus is enthroned as the Lamb who is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty: Which was and is and is to come.
—Antiphon for Trinitytide
Peter Bender describes the role of the Sanctus (please see the Latin and English text below) as the fourth of the five pillars (along with the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus Dei) of the Divine Service:
[The Sanctus] was sung by the angels when Isaiah the prophet was called by the Lord to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to sinners (Isaiah 6). In Isaiah’s vision we are taught that heaven, which had been closed to us because of sin, is now open for the sinner through the good news of Christ’s forgiveness. This forgiveness is given to us in the Word of Christ which comes to us in His gifts of preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. (Lutheran Catechesis, p. 107)
Isaiah’s encounter with the holy set the precedent for the Lord’s Supper as “the holy things for the holy ones,” i.e., the holy body and blood of Christ are only for those who have been made holy through Baptism and have heard the cleansing word of Absolution. The Lord’s words to Isaiah in his temple vision also apply to us in the means of grace: “Your sin is taken away and your guilt is atoned for.”
Anniversaries in Sacred Music: One Hundred Years of Singing the Gloria with Frank Martin and Ralph Vaughan Williams
We beheld the glory, as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
—St. John 1:14
Recall from the first installment of this special series on settings of the Mass for double choir by Frank Martin (1890–1974) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) that these two choral masterworks overlap historically and stylistically. Martin began writing his Mass in 1922, finished it in 1926, but curiously concealed it until the early 1960s. Vaughan Williams (hereinafter RVW) wrote his Mass in G minor in 1922, but with no idea that Martin was writing a similar work, much less any notion that the two works would become unofficial ‘choral companions’ a century later. Stylistically, both works draw upon older compositional methods, perhaps most notably the motet, a compositional process in which the musical themes change with each word or phrase of the text. But both composers also employed newer compositional methods, earning both works a permanent place in the choral repertoire. Please join me during this, the latter portion of the Easter season, to explore how these composers treat the Gloria.
When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory
— I Peter 5:4
The liturgical context for Cantata 104, “Thou Shepherd of Israel, Hear Us” is Misericordias Domini Sunday, informally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Most modern readers probably associated the Good Shepherd theme with the Fourth Sunday of Easter, placing the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd at the very center of the seven Sundays of the Easter season. But the flock in Bach’s day, and almost universally from Medieval days to the 1960s, expected the portrait Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the second Sunday after Easter. The Introit declares that the “earth is full of the goodness of the Lord; by the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” declaring from the start of the service that every good gift in this world is under the auspices of the risen Shepherd. The Epistle (I Peter 2:21–25) reminds the faithful of their true calling and their identity as Christ’s sheep: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (v. 25). The Verse (St. Luke 24:35b; St. John 10:14) and the Gospel (St. John 10:11–16) draw from John 10, declaring the good news that the Shepherd knows, loves, and even dies for His sheep. His sheep (i.e., the elect), in turn, know their Shepherd, hear His voice, and follow Him. Psalm 23 is curiously absent from the historic propers for this Sunday, but church musicians can easily incorporate it as a choral response or attendant music, as J. S. Bach (1685–1750) did with the Good Shepherd theme in Cantata 104.
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered,
so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.
22222“There is one thing to preach, the wisdom of the cross.” These oft-quoted words of Luther come from a sermon fragment from 1515, wherein Luther was answering the question, “What shall I preach?” Hermann Sasse (1895–1976) summarizes what this means for the church, especially as she prepares yet again to ponder on Jesus’ Holy Passion: “The wisdom of the cross, the word of the cross, a great stumbling block to the world, is the proper content of Christian preaching, is the Gospel itself. So thinks Luther and the Lutheran Church with him.” To be sure, the centrality of the cross does “does not mean that for the theologian the whole church year shrinks to Good Friday.” Rather, Sasse says, it means that “one cannot understand Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost without Good Friday” (Letters to Lutheran Pastors, 1:387).
Anniversaries in Sacred Music: One Hundred Years of Singing the Kyrie with Frank Martin and Ralph Vaughan Williams
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
—St. Luke 17:13
Among the significant anniversaries in sacred music in the year 2022 are two musical settings of the Mass, both with origins in the year 1922. Frank Martin (1890–1974) began writing his Mass in 1922. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1974) wrote his Mass in G minor in 1922. Both are scored for double choir, are similar in scope and sequence, and have risen to the top of choral gems of the twentieth century. Please join me this year to explore each movement of both settings, beginning with the Kyrie, with four more issues to follow, arranged according to the seasons and readings of the church year.
On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs:
Welcome to Around the Word
Around the Word paints a Biblical and joyful picture of teaching and life. We have our Bibles open, and we believe with simplicity what the Lord speaks there. We endeavor to have a thoughtful and generous, historical and current approach to the Lord’s word, understanding that theological integrity is the best way that we can serve the church at large.
We are Lutheran, that is, we let the Law and the Gospel echo in the full voice with which God speaks it, and we are on the lookout for error because we love to hear the truth, the life-giving voice of Jesus. So we care about their families and their neighbors and the world, both in this life and in the life to come.
We are working to recover the joy and delight of doctrine, of the Gospel.