Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hymns Are Out

Coming from the Church of the Great Reformation in which the reform was as much sung as it was preached or written or taught, it seems odd that the instructions to the new translation of the Roman Mass (we call them rubrics), would seem to preclude or restrict the singing of hymns.

As an example, in the directions regarding the procession, various options for chant are given and then the parish musician and priest were given this option:  or, (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  One blogger complained:  The reality is that the Church has official entrance texts composed for every Mass of the year.  In the Gregorian books they are known Introit chants.  Much like the psalm that comes after the first reading, there are similar pieces for the entrance.  They are official texts of the Mass, and chant is the official music of the Church.  Notice that the first three options all reference the use of chants and/or psalms in various forms.  Only the last one departs from this.  Unfortunately, the last option is the one chosen almost universally in American parishes.  More than that, the song chosen often has little to do with the given text from the Roman Missal or the Roman Gradual.  It has basically become a free-for-all, chose whatever suits our whims, kind of selection.

While the Latin rubrics have not changed, the translation has.  The offending option four now reads: (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  Liturgical song, i. e. hymn, has given way to liturgical chant.

There are choices -- all of them meant to be liturgical chants appointed by the Church or, specifically, those appointed as part of the pericopes.  Hymns are not among the choices (unless you want to rename all hymns chant, rename the hymnal the chant book, and have people chant "On Eagles' Wings! -- as one wag put it). 

All of this seems rather confusing and, well, petty, to a church in which singing is so much a part of it all.  We sing the hymns, we sing the liturgy (sing means that most of our current liturgies have through composed ordinary texts and not strictly "chant" settings of the ordinary).  Of course, as this blog notes, if you want to get the comments button going all you need to do is mention Pastors chanting (not singing but actually chanting) and things get heated.

Eugene Brand, the tireless staff director of the inter-Lutheran hymnal project that resulted in those very popular through composed settings of the ordinary, has had some second thoughts.  He wonders now if it was wise to depose chant from the norm and replace it with what we have now in the Divine Services originating from LBW and its cousin LW.  As one who longs to hear sung again the wonderful chant setting 3 of SBH, I am not unsympathetic to this point of view. 

On the other hand, we have what we have.  Generations have grown up singing the ordinary to the through composed settings so very much in use among Lutherans today.  Given the alternative of praise bands and solo singers with backups, I will vote for the through composed ordinary every time.  In fact, given the alternative, I will also vote for a hymn setting of the ordinary (ala Divine Service, Setting 3, of LSB) over no ordinary at all.

Yet.... chant is the musical form that came to identify with the Church and singing in worship and I am saddened greatly that chant has largely disappeared from the songbook of God's people.  Liturgical chant has become for us a synonym for hymns.  Now I do not anticipate making much change in this identification any more than I would predict that tomorrow the ubiquitous praise band will be replaced by a pipe organ and a liturgical choir.  But... perhaps it would be a good thing for us to reintroduce into the repertoire of the people the most ancient form of liturgical song so that it is still a part of our singing and not some distant memory... even for Lutherans there is something to think about here...


Anonymous said...

it seems odd that the instructions to the new translation of the Roman Mass (we call them rubrics), would seem to preclude or restrict the singing of hymns

Not odd at all, Pastor. Those RC parishes that are heavy into the "social justice" paradigm aren't going to change their repertoire of 70's campfire songs that support that agenda.

There is this curious notion among non-Catholics that the bishops are a uniform influence in this matter.

The RC parish where I was received into the Catholic church is just such a parish as I described above and brings in a nice collection every week.

Enough said.


Terry Maher said...

Not odd at all for other reasons too. One being, the Roman Mass has an entirely different self-understanding than the Lutheran Divine Service. And this hymn thing is but yet another example of it, and why we Lutherans should pay absolutely no attention to what Rome does when it makes changes in its worship, let alone seek some sort of participation in some so-called wider Christian community by devising our own versions of same.

It is not at all a matter of chant and hymns for the RCC. What is chanted in a chant is a text. That text is part of the liturgy itself. It can also be spoken. The order of Mass does not change in the least whether the text is chanted or spoken. The text will be there either way.

Hymns from an RC point of view interrupt the liturgy. That is because while their text may relate to the liturgy or the readings, it is not the liturgy or the readings. That is why one generally finds them in the Mass either before or after it, but not during. That is also why we started having them during -- as an instruction, a catechesis on what is happening, or as they say now, a teaching tool.

The post Vatican II emphasis on congregational participation reflects a peculiarly Roman Catholic problem that we simply do not have. Which is, when the Mass is as much the Mass whether there is a congregation or not, how does one present congregational participation as essential? And too, the typical liturgical texts -- typical in its technical sense, the approved type, the normative text -- are done with no music whatever. That comes in a separate book. One does find later compilations of the two, such as a Liber usualis, but these are derivative of two separate sources. There is no such thing as a "setting". The Mass is the Mass, from solemn high to low. One from there either chants its parts or not, adds on hymns here and there or not.

It is quite correct that the Mass has an entrance hymn built in, the Introit. One can, as WELS has done, do away with them altogether in favour of an "entrance hymn". One can as we do have an entrance hymn and other stuff too, then get around to what is supposed to be the entrance hymn text, saying the Introit.

We used to understand the underlying unity of the mass, and in reforming it from the RC Holy Sacrifice of the Mass indeed added hymns for the benefit of teaching the people. This understanding is clear from the Confessions the The Lutheran Hymnal. It is not clear now, and that lack of clarity is a major factor in why we can no longer confess with a straight face what was discussed in the earlier post.

Anonymous said...

The best liturgical chants are based
on Biblical texts. The best hymns
are based on Biblical texts. The
best praise songs are based on the
Biblical texts. NO PROBLEM.

Bad hymns are not true to any
Biblical texts. Bad praise songs are
not based on any Biblical texts.

scredsoxfan2 said...

Christine and Terry,

I think you only further with each comment my current understanding that reason you are so against the Church is precisely because you grew up within bad parishes. Perhaps, Christine, you were received in a bad parish...but precisely because the Church is properly structured gives you the opportunity not only to truly understand the faith but also calls you to work to correct the wrong you see from the inside. Any thing else is really just a cop out for why you left the Church.

Ironically, this may be the most egregious error made by Luther...you can't "reform" that which you left.

Also, why is so much of your interest in debunking the RCC? It seems, to me, that you must put all your efforts there because you know that is the key and IF you are wrong, that you have made a huge mistake. So, at least you recognize the gravity of the distinction.

In Christ

Terry Maher said...

There is no Biblical text saying we should have a liturgy. Having a liturgy is based on no Biblical text at all. Is the liturgy a problem?

Anonymous said...

Redsox, you are entitled to your opinions but please rest assured that I was not received into a "bad" parish, I was received into a typical novus ordo parish.

Terry has hands-on experience of the preconciliar RC church that you obviously have no knowledge of, and, being a convert as I suspect you are that is understandable.

My father's family have been Roman Catholic for generations, my Dad took me to the old Tridentine mass when I was a kid, I am not someone who watched by the sidelines and had no direct contact with that era.

Why am I so interested in debunking the RC? Because she is still in error and needs to become truly catholic again. Otherwise, her misled members should follow the instruction of Scripture and "come out of her my people."

For that matter, why are you coming on Lutheran blogs and trying to convert people to YOUR way of thinking?

Your comment that the RC is "properly structured" exactly proves me point, the whole state church instituional hangup of the Catholic church which is the Catholic church because the Catholic church says so.

Really, this is getting to be old.

Maybe you should spend more time catechizing your fellow Catholics who are badly in need of it after the last 30-40 years. I have no interest whatsoever in returning to the Roman church again.


Anonymous said...

Attention Terry Maher/ Past Elder

No one said the Bible says we must
have liturgy. Our liturgical chants
are based on Biblical texts like
This is the Feast (Rev. 5:12-13,etc)
Sanctus (Isaiah 6:3,Matt 21:9)
Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)
Agnus Dei (John 1:29)

Have a Good Day...No Problem

Terry Maher said...

Herr Redsoxfan, it is understandable that a non-Lutheran would have a seriously deficient understanding of Lutheranism.

What is embarrasing, if not to yourself to me for you, is that you would appear to have no experience of Catholicism or the Roman Catholic Church either, other than the one that invented itself in the 1960s.

What characterises the bad parishes of which you speak is a product of that era and did not even exist in RC parishes when I grew up.

GLC Member said...

To those who leave hateful comments towards others who legitimately read this blog, please stop with the petty nonsensical bickering. It really makes everyone else upset. I think everyone is forgetting the purpose of this blog. This is a pastor of a congregation who is voluntarily sharing his thoughts. I personally think he is a wise man and deserves respect. I'm not saying that you can't leave criticisms on posts of his blog... I'm only saying that they should be constructive and well thought out.

Anonymous said...


If you are directing your comments at those of us who are Lutheran by choice but have living experience of the Catholic church, Pastor Peters often comments on Catholic matters which is going to attract both Catholics who may or may not understand Confessional Lutheran principles and those of us who have been members of both churches.

Petty bickering? Lutherans had better be very well aware of the very important differences between Rome and Wittenberg, one's spiritual health depends on it.

Any time a Roman Catholic is going to challenge the authenticity of my faith as a Lutheran Christian he/she is going to get a response.

My Lutheran ancestors who were forced to leave Salzburg, Austria or convert at the behest of the local Roman archbishop took their faith very seriously. They left.


scredsoxfan2 said...

"Because she is still in error and needs to become truly catholic again. Otherwise, her misled members should follow the instruction of Scripture and "come out of her my people."


In all sincerity, this response is baffling. Where did you receive the Scripture from that you claim to quote? This is precisely the point.


Though each of you may have "hands on" experience for a period of history longer than I, surely you haven't lived 2000 years...

I would expect that since you are each intelligent well studied and well meaning Christians that you would understand that your particular experience of the Church in any period does not define Her for all eternity.

My intent is not to reconvert you and indeed a good number of Catholics still need to be taught themselves, my intent was to try to understand your position. I am left grasping as to what exactly you think made the Church no longer the Church and that you could "leave" her for a more "authentic" version rather than try to change the wrongs you at least think you saw. This will be my last post. I do enjoy the Pastor's writing from time to time as it has quite a bit of truth. I would encourage you to try to define how you know, as a Lutheran, that the Trinity or any other Christian doctrine is necessary. Otherwise, your complaining about any range of issues from different liturgical practices to the real presence is meaningless. If you can't define the Trinity to be necessary you certainly can't tell me what is and isn't Scripture never mind informing me on what the Church is, was, or should be. I have appreciated the discussion but for the sake of others like "GLC Member" I will refrain from commenting. God Bless.

In Christ

Cary Balser

Terry Maher said...

Herr Anonym, not the point. You offer being based on Biblical texts as the basis for validity; if that is our basis for validity there is no validity to any liturgy because there is no Biblical basis for the liturgy.

Terry Maher said...

Not being able to read hearts, I would not assign emotions to comments.

Anonymous said...


The first error you need to jettison is that the "Catholic" church is 2000 years old. She is not.

The catholic church is.

If you can't define the Trinity to be necessary

Er, I hate to bludgeon this subject darn near to death, but who can't define the Trinity to be necessary? Since the Book of Concord clearly states that Confessional Lutherans accept the three ecumencial creeds accepted by all orthodox Christians: Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian you certainly can't lay that on us. Or what would you call it when a Lutheran prays in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (sorry, I still like the old language :)

What you want to me say at this point is that it was the "Catholic" church that authorized those Creeds.


And since when is apologetics "complaining" ??

I think you are right, continuing this discussion is fruitless.

I know very well where Lutherans "get" their Scriptures but until you become a bit better informed about what we teach and believe this conversation is really not worth pursuing.

Colleen Oakes said...

I have found that chanting can either be worshipful and transcendent or...super awkward and uncomfortable, depending on the chanter.