Sunday, April 14, 2024

The loss of the prayer offices. . .

Rome basically has relegated the evening prayer office (Vespers to most) to a spoken duty and obligation of the priest in his daily prayer.  Hardly any Roman Catholics are even aware of the prayer offices -- morning or evening.  Oddly enough, the liberal Episopalians have preserved Evensong and the East has kept Vespers as part of the ordinary expression of the church's life at worship.  For Lutherans, Vespers (or Evening Prayer) have become the stuff of Advent and Lenten devotions less than any real or normal part of their daily life of prayer.  Matins was once robustly sung but it has become a casualty of the success of the weekly Eucharist and is no longer uniformly sung or known among Lutherans.

All of this is greeted with some measure of sadness by me.  I recall when nearly every Lutheran knew and knew by heart the familiar words and songs of the two chief prayer offices of morning and evening.  Indeed, we have lost to our memory the once profound songs such as the Venite or the Benedictus.  Worse, the greatest of our hymns, the Te Deum, has become a forgotten song.  We did it to ourselves with improvements incorporated into new hymnals until its once rather uniform melody is mixed up with different melodies and hymn paraphrases in a confusing mess of words and musical notes.  How sad it is to have lost this!  While I have nothing to do with the loss and nothing to do with the restoration of such prayer offices to Rome, I lament that I have not done what I should to keep the great canticles of the morning and evening prayer offices alive in the hearts, minds, and voices of God's people.  Mea culpa!

It is probably more likely that folks know Amazing Grace than the Te Deum or Venite, or Benedictus.  The Nunc Dimittis has survived largely through its use in the Divine Service as Post-Communion Canticle.  The rest have become for today what the forgotten and ignored canticles and Psalms of The Lutheran Hymnal, 661-668.  How said for us!

What we might not be able to do within the larger congregation, let us at least do individually and in our family devotions.  Let us restore to our usage these canticles and songs of the prayer offices at least through what we pray in our solitary devotions and in our homes.  We have ample opportunities to find musical accompaniments to support the singing at home or in our private devotions.  What version we might use is less important than becoming familiar again with what were once cherished songs of the faith and of the faithful.

For my part, the Healy Willan setting of the Te Deum still stirs my soul.  I listen to it far more often than I do the paraphrases typically more well known among most -- Holy God We Praise Thy Name or, the newer setting by Starke, We Praise You and Acknowledge You (sung to the inspiring Holst tune Thaxted).  Alas, I hear it more as echoes of my past than as decisive song of the present.  So permit me this lament this morning and take the time to rediscover these gems of many generations which should be esteemed in our own.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Reap what you sow. When you dismiss or ignore the prayer offices and prefer that people merely "read their Bible" how can you be surprised by these developments? The Matins and the Vespers of each day provide the "meat" for the festivals and commemorations, and the LIturgy is the celebration of the totality of Christ's redemptive work. So what has happened is that Liturgy is inundated with the hymns normally retained for Matins and Vespers and thus becomes a chimera of Matins-Vespers-Liturgy all rolled into one. Until Lutheran seminaries and even the President starts to reinforce that the totality of the offices must and should be served every Sunday, at the very least, then the Liturgy is only going to be truncated more and more so it's only a 30 minute service with some songs and a sermon like the Evangelical churches whose services should make anyone cringe.