And by the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter:
Help us, good Lord.
By Thy glorious resurrection and ascension;
And by the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter:
Help us, good Lord.
— from The Litany
As the church celebrates the Fifty Great Days from Easter Sunday to the Feast of Pentecost, the focus of the Gospel lessons gradually shift from the resurrection appearances of our Lord to His discourses on the Holy Spirit. This seems to be a fitting time to focus on the portions of Bach’s B Minor Mass that address the Holy Spirit, the church, and the sacramental and eschatological gifts given therein.
To Your Royal Highness I submit in deepest devotion the present small work
of that science which I have achieved in musique, with the submissive prayer
that Your Highness will look upon it with most gracious eyes …
— J. S. Bach, from the dedication of
the Kyrie-Gloria Mass, 1733
On Easter Sunday this month, the Gloria of the Divine Liturgy will return after its omission for the penitential season of Lent. This seems to be a fitting time for another installment in our “B Minor Basics” series, focusing on the last four movements of the Gloria.
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son / Now is one / With our blood forever.
— Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
The relatively late date for Easter in 2017 places Ash Wednesday on March 1st, which means that the entirely of the month of March will be devoted to the Lenten discipline. As the connection between the incarnation (Christmas) and the cross (Good Friday) gradually unfolds in the church year, it seems fitting to focus on two corresponding movements in The Mass in B Minor by J. S. Bach (1685-1750): Et incarnatus (“And was incarnate”) and Crucifixus (“And was crucified”).
Behold, the Lord, the Ruler hath come:
And the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.
— Historic Introit for Epiphany Day
The relatively late date for Easter Sunday 2017 facilitates a lengthy Epiphany season. As the Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) returns after its absence during Advent, it seems fitting to focus on the Gloria in this installment of “B Minor Basics”. The Gloria of Bach’s Mass in B Minor comprises eight movements. For the sake of length, I will divide it into two columns, addressing the first four movements in this issue, and the final four movements in the forthcoming April 2017 column.
Everything that happens with Christ forms a prefiguration for the church.
— Martin Luther
As the season of Epiphany begins on January 6th, many parish choirs will hopefully sing the traditional carol, “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day,” which tells the entire story of salvation in the voice of Christ:
Drop down, ye heavens, from above
And let the skies pour down righteousness.
— Historic Introit for Advent IV
As the church celebrates Advent, a season of hope and expectation, many of us will hopefully pray and sing the seven Great “O” Antiphons, which lend a seasonal theme to the Magnificat at Vespers. The following translation of the antiphons is from Lutheran Service Book (LSB), with scripture references from Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary by David Kind:
Bless, O Lord, Your servants who minister in Your temple;
Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
And what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
— A Chorister’s Prayer
During the late 16th century, the debate between Lutherans and the Reformed became polarized after the territory of Anhalt-Dessau, under Joachim Ernst and his son, Johann Georg, began to introduce Reformed liturgical customs into a traditionally Lutheran territory. Wolfgang Amling, the leading theologian in Anhalt, set things off by trying to remove the baptismal exorcism in 1590, and the ensuing Anhalt Controversy climaxed in 1616 with a 25-point declaration from Johann Georg, Margrave of the Silesian duchy of Jägendorf. The following translation is from Joseph Herl’s book, Worship Wars (p. 111), with numbering added by the present writer to facilitate easy reference in the forthcoming liturgical IQ test:
Many false masters now hymns indite
Be on your guard and judge them aright.
Where God is building his church and word,
There comes the devil with lie and sword.
— Martin Luther, Preface to the Babst Hymnal
Fans of the NCAA Basketball Tournament are familiar with the field of 64 teams and the nick names associated with the final weekends of the tournament: The Sweet Sixteen, The Elite Eight, and The Final Four. This process of numerical reduction also conveniently applies to the first Lutheran hymnal (1524), usually known as the Achtliederbuch (“Book of Eight” or, moreliterally, “Eight-Song-Book”). As faithful sons of the Reformation approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, just one year away, it seems fitting to survey the contents of our first hymnal to help us understand why Lutherans sing what they sing. Stephen Crist of Emory University sets the stage:
The heart opens [in the Kyrie of the B-Minor Mass]
and it leads us to the hill of the crucified one.
— Carl Hermann Bitter (Bach biographer)
In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis and U. S.-Soviet tensions, the late choral conductor, Robert Shaw (1916-1999), led his famed Robert Shaw Chorale on a six-week tour of Russia. They performed three different programs of choral literature, but the biggest hit was the Mass in B-Minor of J. S. Bach (1685-1750), which often held audiences well beyond the final curtain call. Shaw recalled leaving the stage in Moscow, for instance, after numerous encores, then changing clothes and returning to the hall for one last look. To his amazement, the audience was still in the theatre, some thirty minutes after the conclusion of the concert. And they were standing in silence! (Keith C. Burris, Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw, pp. 122-123)
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping
that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.
— Antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis
During the Middle Ages, an elaborate system known as “The Liturgy of the Hours” developed to frame the prayer lives of the faithful at regular intervals each day:
These non-Communion offices (also known as “Daily Office,” “Divine Office,” or “Canonical Hours”) “flow down from that liturgical mountain peak [of the Lord’s Supper], like streams seeking the lower places, the daily routine and grind of life” (David Kind, Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary, p. vii). Reformation revisions, along with a pesky dynamic known as reality, have generally reduced the rhythm of daily prayer to Matins, Vespers, and Compline. Most recent hymnals, including Lutheran Service Book (LSB), also include the orders of Morning and Evening Prayer, providing at least three evening services to highlight the gifts of the Gospel at eventide: Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline. The profound theological themes for eventide have not been lost on the great composers of the church, including the hymn, anthem, and solo that are highlighted in this installment of “Lifted Voice.”
Pr Brian Hamer
Rev. Brian Hamer is Deputy Chaplain at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, CA, via the LCMS Board for
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