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.”
[In the church Christians] find delight not in the baleful songs sung by
theatrical performers, songs which lead to sensual love, but in the chants of the Church.
-- St. Ambrose
Wedding season is in full swing, which brings to the local parish a unique set of blessings and curses. On the positive side, the rite of Christian marriage brings the blessing of the lifelong union of husband and wife. On the negative side, however, the wedding rite is often cursed with a theatrical soloist singing another sensual and seductive rendition of “The Wedding Song” (“It is good to be together at the calling of your hearts,” etc.), against which St. Ambrose and a host of other fathers warned. One prominent Lutheran church musician from New York, Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick, perhaps put it best when she said that most weddings are “an orgy of bad taste.” In an effort to recover the solemnity and dignity of the Christian wedding, I would like to recommend three choral settings of the sequence hymn, Ubi Caritas, “Where Charity and Love Are [Found], God is There.”
Theology must sing.
— Martin Franzmann
As the summer months approach and the seminaries dispatch candidates for the office of the ministry into the field, many pastors and church musicians are selecting choral music for services of ordination. In addition to the sacred music for Pentecost that was discussed in the June 2015 issue of this column (“Veni Creator Spiritus”) and last month’s issue (“A Musical ‘Tallis Man’”), I would like to suggest three choral responsories that are equally fitting for such an occasion.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) is perhaps best known in Lutheran congregations for his tune, known as the Tallis Canon, which is usually sung with the text, “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (Lutheran Service Book 883). This article seeks to demonstrate there are several aspects of his sacred vocal music that make the case for his inclusion not only in the hymnal, but also in the repertoire of the church choir.
The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men
And be crucified and on the third day rise.
-- St. Luke 24:7
On March 27th, 1900, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, PA, gave the American premier performance of what Alfred Mann calls J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) “crowning achievement of sacred music” (American Choral Review 27:1, p. 52), the Mass in B Minor. It is just a coincidence that Easter Sunday also occurred on March 27th this year, but that is more than enough reason during these Fifty Great Days of Easter to focus on Bach’s musical depiction of the resurrection of the Son of God, the inaugural installment of our occasional “B Minor Basics” series.
Pr Brian Hamer
Rev. Brian Hamer is Deputy Chaplain at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, CA, via the LCMS Board for