Visit our dwellings, O Lord, and drive from them all the snares of the enemy
—Prayer for Compline
The chant now known to the English reader as the hymn “Before the Ending of the Day” (LSB 889) probably originated between the late fifth and seventh centuries. In liturgies ancient and modern it is generally prescribed as the office hymn for Compline, especially during the Trinity season. Not unlike the later Lutheran practice of assigning a hymn of the day to each Sunday and feast day in the church year, the monastic office generally prescribed an office hymn for each hour of daily prayer, such as “Now That the Daylight Fills the Sky” (LSB 870), which is usually assigned to Prime, the prayer office for the beginning of the day. “Before the Ending of the Day” is a perfect fit for Compline, the service at the completorium or completion of the day. It is not difficult to picture a group of monks congregating to close the day in prayer with the following Latin chant:
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
— Psalm 51:10
“We have now reached the Psalm of all Psalms; that which of all inspired compositions has, with the one exception of the Lord’s Prayer, been repeated oftenest by the Church.” Thus wrote John Mason Neale in his monumental, four-volume Commentary on the Psalms (II:181). These words about Psalm 51 also apply to the church as she approaches Ash Wednesday and prays in this Psalm that hearts broken through repentance might be restored through the joy of salvation.
Therefore do the Wise Men hasten with their offerings to the royal nuptials
where the guests are gladdened with water made wine, alleluia.
— Antiphon to the Benedictus
Cantata 65 was first performed in Leipzig on 6 January 1724, Bach’s first Epiphany in Leipzig, the end of the Christmas season, and the beginning of the festival of the manifestation of Christ. What was anticipated during Advent and fulfilled at Christmas is fully revealed as Christ is manifest to the Gentiles, as this cantata vividly depicts in its text, tune, and context.
I believe in . . . the life of the world to come.
Readers of “Lifted Voice” might be surprised to encounter a column on the sacred music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Although he was raised Roman Catholic, he was not much of a church goer in his adult life, and certainly not a composer primarily for the church. Nevertheless, his Solemn Mass in D Major or Missa Solemnis (Opus 123), is what conductor Robert Shaw, from whose writings and recordings I have borrowed here, described as “an Everest,” i.e., a musical mountain that begs to be climbed (Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw, p. 497). Those who have done so (the present writer included) have not emerged the same; indeed, they never fully descend from this majestic mountain, even years after the programs have been archived and the echo has faded. As the church contemplates the end times this November, concurrent with COVID-limited celebrations of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, please join me to survey Beethoven’s masterpiece, with special focus on his setting of the words “and the life of the world to come.”
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia
— Easter Acclamation
During my tenure at Naval Air Station Lemoore (central California), I had the privilege of participating in the annual Child Remembrance Ceremony, in recognition of October as Child Loss Month. As part the ceremony, those who had personally experienced the death of a child (in utero or otherwise) were kind enough to share their stories of grief and hope, followed by the lighting of votive candles in memory of those who have departed this world in the faith. In addition to these faith stories, I was privileged to share one piece of sacred music with the assembly, along with an appropriate hymn or prayer. Though I am no longer part of the Lemoore community, these wounded healers are forever in my heart for sharing their stories, which stand in vivid theological contrast to the current promulgation of abortion as a “reproductive health option.” In recognition of the reality of child loss, please join me to explore the work “When David Heard” by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970), an appropriate hymn by St. Ephraim Syrus (ca. AD 306–373), and a simple funeral chant on the words Jesus spoke after the death of Lazarus.
Cantatas over Coffee: "Lord God, We All to Thee Give Praise": Cantata for St. Michael and All Angels (1724) by J. S. Bach
Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.
—Martin Luther’s Daily Prayer
Among the principal feasts of Christ in the church year, few are more beloved in the Lutheran tradition than St. Michael’s and All Angels (hereafter “Michaelmas”), with the possible exceptions of Reformation and All Saints. Two competing (or are they complementary?) theories might explain the choice of September 29th for this festival: the dedication of a church by the same name in ancient Europe, and/or the passing of the fall equinox, resulting in shorter days and longer nights, an allegory of the end-times battle between good and evil. The Scripture lessons were Revelation 12:7-12 (Michael’s end-times battle with the ancient dragon) and St. Matthew 18:1-11 (angels behold the face of God as part of their care for God’s children). In Bach’s Leipzig, St. Michael’s Day was also one of the quarterly occasions on which “rents were levied and agreed in northern Europe, the start of the new agricultural year for many people and, in Leipzig, the day of one of its three annual trade fairs” (John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, p. 457). Theologically, the day called for what Jonathan Green describes as “a flashy and brilliant cantata” (A Conductor’s Guide to the Choral-Orchestral Works of J. S. Bach, p. 289), but the other commitments of the day might explain why Cantata 130, while unmistakably festive, is also one of Bach’s shortest cantatas.
Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.
— Psalm 119:54
The August 2020 issue of “Lifted Voice” is the 50th installment of this online column on sacred music. Almost every one of these issues has been edited by Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick, Professor Emeritus in Music at Rider University, and best known to many of us as Director of Parish Music at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY.
From thine altar, O Lord, we receive Christ,
in whom our heart and flesh rejoice.
— Antiphon for Corpus Christi
Psalm 84 is a hymn of the sons of Korah, descendants of Moses’ nephew. Korah once led a revolt against Moses and died, along with all his co-conspirators, when God caused "the earth to open her mouth and swallow him and all that appertained to them" (Num 16:31–33). His children, however, did not die (Num 26:11) and went on to serve as porters of the Temple (1 Chr 9:17–19), with special responsibility to care for God’s house, including the baking in pans for the meat-offering (Lev 2:5). These vital roles in the stewardship of God’s house, in addition to rescuing the family name, are reflected in the Psalms by the sons of Korah: 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87 and 88.
O wondrous interchange! The Creator of mankind,
taking upon Him a living body, vouchsafed to be born of a pure virgin.
— Antiphon for the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary
In the history of sacred music, it is difficult to pinpoint which text outside of the Psalms has been more frequently set to music: the Mass or the Magnificat. The appeal of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) lies in the catholicity and continuity of the text, since it is being sung somewhere around the world at every second of every day. The Magnificat, however, is not far behind the Mass in Christian devotion. The miraculous story of the infancy narrative in Luke 1 and 2, the uniqueness of Mary’s place in the story of salvation, and the rich vocabulary in the Magnificat have given it a rightful and prominent place in the story of sacred music.
From the womb of one aged and barren was brought forth John, the Forerunner of the Lord.
— Antiphon for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
In an article entitled, “Praying the Psalms with Jesus and His Body,” Thomas W. Winger makes the intriguing observation that the Codex Alexandrinus, the most important Greek manuscript of the fifth century, follows a common pattern of appending canticles to the 150th Psalm. These additions include the canticles of Luke 1 and 2: Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis (CTQ 84:1-2, p. 123). The inclusion of Lukan canticles at the end of the Psalter suggests (or does it prove?) that the canticles of Luke 1 and 2 are part and parcel of the referent of St. Paul’s admonition to sing “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col 3:16; cf. Eph 5:19). In simple terms, the canticles of Luke 1 and 2 are part of our “A List” hymns, not to be neglected. In our ongoing exploration of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24th, six months before Christmas) gives us a chance to focus on the Benedictus (St. Luke 1:68-79).
Pr Brian Hamer
Brian J. Hamer is Chaplain to the 11th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, CA, via the LCMS Board for