Saturday, April 8, 2017

Singing liturgy and not just hymns...

“[Liturgical] singing means singing the Mass, not just singing during Mass.”  Those words by a Roman Catholic author lament the fact that the Mass most Roman Catholics know best is the Low Mass (the spoken Mass) and not the High Mass (always sung).  He further laments the fact that singing the Mass has become equated with singing hymns during the Mass.

While not directly referencing the situation among Lutherans, it can be safely said that the Reformers clearly had in mind the High Mass -- the Sung Divine Service -- as the norm.  Only in places where it was not possible did Luther offer His hymn setting or Deutsche Messe.  Strangely enough, the hymn Mass has become the norm for some Lutherans.  I am not speaking of the LSB DS Setting 5, either.  I am speaking to the fact that many places where the liturgy is on the way out will retain hymns (or at least some of the most popular Gospel hymns) -- long after the people have forgotten the responsive chants of the Ordinary.

 Just recently a visitor commented approvingly on the fact that we sing the whole Divine Service AND that we do not shortchange the hymns by singing only a few stanzas.  She regularly attends a Lutheran congregation where the Divine Service is routinely spoken and the hymns are sung in truncated form (1st and 3rd and 5th stanzas).  It might be conceivable if the pastor is actually deliberately choosing hymn stanzas but, as we all know, the purpose of omitting some hymn stanzas lies in the pursuit of the ever essential Divine Service that is under 59 1/2 minutes!  In this case the woman said the goal was to be through the Divine Service in 45 minutes or less!!

Personally, I do not get the attraction for singing only the hymns within the Divine Service (and not the responses and chants of the ordinary).  I find the practice of skipping stanzas even more suspect.  It is precisely liturgical singing that is the essential singing of the Divine Service and hymns are optional.  Perhaps when we begin to get that, we will learn the value of listening to the whole of the poetry of the hymn and we will learn to appreciate the full context of the Divine Service.  Even more hopeful is the day when we can end the odd situation of a pastor speaking his parts while the people sing theirs.


Anonymous said...

For reasons I have never understood, many people are reluctant to sing. I suspect that many think that they don't have well trained singing voices, so they are embarrassed. Such thinking makes it all about me, about my appearance to others, rather than my offering to Jesus. Even so, it is very real, I think.

Some years ago, my wife and I were part of a small congregation in the Philadelphia area that sang marvelously. They had disbanded their choir, largely because the congregation drew from a very large area and it was difficult for people to come to a midweek choir practice. The former choir members disbursed among the congregation, and "led from behind." The result was grand, and the entire Mass was sung every Sunday!

Today, we have fewer people trained in music than ever before, so many do not really know the hymns and cannot sight read them. If those that know them will sing out, it will encourage others to try to join in. We must not be shy or self-conscious. This is the work of the people!


Mark said...

I wish our Lutheran communion had services more like the Eastern church. Give a listen to the amazing Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom chanted in English by the Mount Lebanon Choir of Byzantine Music:

It lasts well over an hour and everyone involved must be totally spent by the time it's over, but, Wow, you know you've been to worship. Forty some years ago, I would have turned the lights down low, grabbed a Löwenbräu and turned on The Dark Side of the Moon. How my tastes have changed.

Janis Williams said...

We are ever in search of shortcuts. Singing verses 1, 2, and 4 of practically every hymn in the Baptist hymnal of my youth was commonplace. Not good to miss a verse or two in a Baptist hymn, but disastrous in a Lutheran hymn! Would you leave out part of the Gospel as you tell it to an unbeliever?