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 concludes 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 J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass that address the Holy Spirit, the church, and the sacramental and eschatological gifts given therein.
As the church enters the Pentecost season, most of us will probably sing the hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, usually known in English as “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” (LSB 499), along with its German version, Komm Gott Schӧpfer (LSB 498):
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come,
No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.
— Isaac Watts
Psalm 23 is perhaps the most beloved and well known of all psalms. Martin Luther summarizes the content of this Psalm:
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
As the Church transitions from the forty penitential days of Lent to the Fifty Great Days of Easter, the word of the resurrection once again rings true: "Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" Perhaps in no other sacred choral work do they ring more clearly or gloriously than in the Et resurrexit movement of Bach's Mass in B Minor.
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son / Now is one / With our blood forever.
— Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
On this Holy Saturday, the Faithful remember the connection between the incarnation (Christmas) and the cross (Good Friday). Christ cannot redeem what He has not assumed, as we see in the following exploration of two complimentary movements in The Mass in B Minor by J. S. Bach (1685-1750): Et incarnatus (“And was incarnate”) and Crucifixus (“And was crucified”).
With the inclusion of the hymns “Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling” (Lutheran Service Book 630) and “Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior” (LSB 640) in the 2006 hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, it would appear that St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is gaining a foothold in his contribution to Lutheran sacramental piety. Still missing from our hymnic repertoire, however, is perhaps his finest contribution, “O Sacred Feast”:
Today you are not to be given fear of life but courage;
and so today we shall speak more than ever of hope,
the hope that we have and which no one can take from you.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Confirmation Sermon, March 13, 1932
On Sunday, April 8, 1945, in an abandoned schoolhouse in the village of Schönberg, the Lutheran pastor and prisoner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), celebrated the first Sunday after Easter (hereafter “Easter I”) with a short service of preaching, prayer, and praise. Bonhoeffer had been imprisoned since April 5, 1943, charged with collaboration in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Hitler, whose army was reduced to young boys and old men, was handing out death sentences aplenty. On this solemn occasion, Bonhoeffer read from a devotional book known in German as the Losungen (“watchword”), which appointed Isaiah 53:3 as the Old Testament watchword for the day and I Peter 1:3 as the New Testament counterpart (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, pp. 527-529). The traditional Communion propers for this Sunday, especially the Introit and the Gospel Lesson, were certainly on his mind, if not included in his sermon. Inspired by these events, this issue of “Lifted Voice” will focus on musical settings of the aforementioned devotional readings and appointed propers for Easter I.
For the faithful who have gone before us and are with Christ,
Let us give thanks to the Lord: Alleluia!
—Liturgy of Evening Prayer
All Saints’ Day is the most comprehensive festival among days of commemoration. Indeed, the Feast of All Saints encompasses the entirety of the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1). It holds before our eyes a great multitude which no man can number, of every nation, tribe, and language, who have come “out of the great tribulation [and] washed their robes . . . in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9, 14). All Saints’ Day shares with Easter Sunday an emphasis on the resurrection. It overlaps with Pentecost in its emphasis on the ingathering of the church in its universality. Finally, and especially fitting for church year from November 1st through the Last Sunday in the Church Year, it shares with the last three Sundays of the church year an end-times focus on the life everlasting. This connection between All Saints’ Day and the end of the church year has not been lost on the great composers for the church. Three sacred choral works, arranged in biblical order, are fitting for the Bride on All Saints’ Day and through the end of the church year.
Buxtehude + Bach + Brahms
Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone / And rests in Him unceasing.
—Paul Speratus (1484–1551)
The text of the hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” hails from Paul Speratus. In a progression that is remarkably similar to Luther’s life, Speratus was forced to leave two parishes in Roman Catholic territories for preaching the right doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ. He received his doctorate from a major university and later became one of the first priests to openly marry. Speratus was condemned by the Catholic faculty at Vienna, imprisoned for a time under King Ludwig, and in 1523 came to Wittenberg, where he assisted in the preparation of the first Lutheran hymnal. It is no surprise, then, that the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch (“Eight Song Book”), contains the earliest hymns of both Luther and Speratus.
The Lord, the King of Archangels: O come, let us worship Him
— Invitatory for the Common of Holy Angels
The name of the archangel St. Michael means “Who is like God?” He is mentioned in the book of Daniel (12:1), Jude (v. 9), and Revelation (12:7). He serves as the angelic helper of Israel in the battle against all forces of evil. The narrative in the Epistle for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (hereafter “Michaelmas”) describes Michael’s final casting down of Satan, the enemy of God’s people, an end-times victory made possible by Christ’s victory on the cross. St. Michael is often associated with Gabriel and Raphael, the other chief angels who surround the throne of God, although only Michael is specifically described in the Scriptures as “the archangel.” Since Michael and all angels are “charter members” of the heavenly choir, there is no shortage of sacred music for Michaelmas, including choral works by Bach, Mendelssohn, and Willan.
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
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