Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


One of the resources to which I subscribe is the Cantus Novus "list-serv" provided by Pastor Stefanski's "CAT-41" site. (CAT-41= 'Confess and Teach for One'). Recently, a poster asked the folks on the list to share their customs regarding the use of the various settings of the liturgy. Responses confirm that some parishes use just one or two settings, others more. Each situation is different, given the liturgical history of a congregation and the average musical literacy of its members, but most parishes do some rotation of musical settings.

I think it is usually a good thing for a parish to have variety in its musical practice of the liturgy, though certainly some situations may call for the use of but one setting. I'll give specific reasons for some of the kinds of variety I advocate below, but before we get to that I think it best to point out that the liturgical principle itself is the establishment of a pattern around which meaningful variety and creativity can form. Indeed, good patterns such as one has with the order of the historic liturgy (or the rules of counterpoint, or the laws of harmonic motion, or the rules of rhetoric) allow greater freedom and creativity than we ever could have without them.

Because the liturgy uses the idea of variety-within-pattern with its balance of ordinary and proper texts (i.e. texts which are the same and texts which are appointed for a given day), and has simplifications and elaborations around its basic form (such as omitting the Gloria during Lent, a longer Verse with more alleluias during Easter, etc.), judicious and intentional selection of tunes for the liturgy serve to highlight liturgical form, amplify its simplifications and elaborations, and allow the overall shapes and forms of the liturgy to resonate more clearly. I am convinced that such use of the art of music can add meaning and sustain interest in the hearts and minds of worshippers, letting the Word dwell in them more richly.

Let us know what your custom is. Perhaps our conversation may enrich our mutual practice. Meanwhile, here's how a suburban congregation in Chicagoland makes full use of the resources of LSB:


GREEN SUNDAYS OF EPIPHANY - special setting, using Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei from Haugen's "Mass of Creation" (we have OneLicense), Celtic Alleluia, and Nunc D from LSB III.
JULY & AUGUST - a local setting (composed by the local Cantor, soon to be available for download via Liturgy Solutions!)

*In October we take a break from LSB I and either do LSB III or LSB V for Reformation (and some of the prior weeks). We alternate between these each year. When we do LSB V in October, we set it up by singing various hymns from the Deutche Messe throughout the year. (e.g. by singing "Kyrie, God Father" as the Kyrie during Lent).

We have the Lord's Supper twice a month at each of our four service times. The most popular service times, 9:00 & 11:15am, commune a third time whenever there is a fifth Sunday. We also add extra communion services on feast days.

When we do not have the Lord's Supper, we use one of the prayer offices (such as Matins or Evening Prayer most of the time, but do use "antecommunion" (the Divine Service w/o the Service of the Sacrament) on first and second Sundays. Antecommunion provides us some good opportunities to use some of the alternative Canticles or other options for the Entrance Rite (such as a hymn paraphrase of the Gloria). Our day school chapel services on Wednesday mornings use either Morning Prayer or the Service of Prayer and Preaching.

Our rotations on the prayer & preaching offices are as follows:

Advent, Lent, Summertime, October in the AM- Matins
Christmas, Epiphany, Eastertide, September, and November in the AM - Morning Prayer
Wednesday Lenten Services - Matins in the AM; Evening Prayer in the PM
Wednesday Advent Services (PM only) - Evening Prayer w/ Taizé music.
Saturday 5PM Services - When the sun is up, Vespers; in the dead of Chicagoland winter, when the sun is down, Evening Prayer!

Why do we do this?

The advantages of seasonal rotations are considerable:

1 - Everyone gets to "settle in" to a particular setting over several weeks' time. This is especially important for young people learning the settings, and even more important for catechumens and visitors.

2 - It reinforces the primacy of the TEXTS over the tunes. Many Lutherans unfortunately think of "the liturgy" as a particular set of melodies w/ texts in a book, rather than the historic prayers and patterns of prayer of the Church.

3 - Seasonal rotations, when done consistently over several years, highlight the seasons of the Church Year. It is common in parishes with this practice for people to voice hopeful expectations toward specific seasons when their favorite versions of various Canticles might be sung (ex. "I can't wait until Easter when we sing 'This is the Feast' again," and "Isn't Epiphany when we get to do the Haugen 'Glory to God in the Highest'?").

4 - Using a few different settings also improves the music literacy of the congregation, thereby strengthening their hymn singing. No, it doesn't make sight-singers out of them, but the use of varied settings and various options on the Canticles, Alleluias, and responses makes people pay attention to the notes and helps their music reading at a fundamental level.

5 - Having at least two settings guards against the false idea that there is some uniquely holy setting of the liturgy (all settings are of human construction and therefore fall under the Judgement!), and helps preserve us from vain repetitions of the service. To be sure, vain repetitions come from the heart of man and so can and will occur no matter how much variety there may be in a parish. The problem is not the repetitions (otherwise the Lord's Prayer would be settings us up!), but in the vanity of man. However, providing at least some variety does communicate to the parish that their performance of any given set of tunes is not a meritorious work.

6 - Variety also defends the liturgy against charges of being 'boring'. Let's face it, though it is extremely rare for someone to complain about saying the Lord's Prayer every week, people do get tired of singing the same tunes ad infinitim. Even the best music gets tiresome over time, even music composed for such a purpose (like good liturgical music). Rotation of settings maintains interest and inoculates against liturgical burnout.

On a personal note, I want to add that this last point has been proven in several parishses, including the last two where I have served. In these cases, where there was little liturgical variety, many folks were clamoring for 'contemporary' worship; however, when greater liturgical variety became the custom in the parish, most of those expressing dissatisfaction with the liturgy became satisfied and moved from saying that the worship music was boring to saying that the worship music was something to which they were looking forward! Care must be taken to provide the right amount of variety, and to introduce new things at a deliberate pace, so as not to overwhelm the congregation, but the practical lesson in such cases is clear: it is not that the liturgy has been tried and found wanting, it is that the liturgy in all its fullness has not actually been tried!

So there you have it: "how we do it" at Bethany. I certainly don't think our rich and varied practice should be normative, but I offer it as an example of the customs of a singing parish that mines the riches of LSB and avoids the "worship wars" that plague so many parishes today.


Orianna Laun said...

The church we're at right now does DS III for early service and DS IV for late "blended" service. They use DS I for festival services.
The college professor I had for worship class talked about how the ordinaries of the liturgy as being the bare bones to be fleshed out with the propers. There is much to be said for using variety in the liturgy.

Chris H. said...

Thanks for sharing your schedule for using the Divine Service settings and prayer offices. Where I currently serve as organist we seem to use a random method of choosing a LSB service setting for those Sundays when we celebrate the Lord's Supper. I would like to move toward using a specific setting throughout a given season of the church year and you provide compelling reasons for a seasonal rotation.

Do you have any insights/suggestions regarding Creative Worship from CPH?

Phillip Magness said...

Hi Chris,

I think CPH's Creative Worship can be a helpful tool - particularly the music section in the second half of each book - but that it is easily and often over-used and/or poorly used.

I actually wrote a few liturgies for them 3 and 4 years ago, and so know a little bit about the market demands CPH is seeking to address with this project. Unfortunately, some of those demands don't serve the Gospel well, and so contribute to weaknesses in the series.

That said, it is possible to draw a few things judiciously from Creative Worship (CW) w/o disrupting the dance which is Lutheran liturgy. Such things as alternative versicles before Confession & Absolution, a Eucharistic Prayer which includes amanesis from the readins of the day, or a hymn stanza to a familiar tune which would work well as an Offerotry can all be found from time-to-time and can certainly enrich a congregation's worship life w/o sacrificing the integrity of the liturgy.

The key is to bring in elements from the resource which add to a congregation's estbalished practice. This would be like the "fleshing out" to which Orianna refers to the propers as doing on the "bare bones" of the Ordinary.

It is important to remember that each worship service of Creative Worship is written by someone who cannot help but be shaped by his own congregation's estbalished customs. When people just use all or large parts of these services, they in effect move their own parish all over the map from Sunday to Sunday and foster a practice which is erratic at best. Such usage of CW runs contrary to the fundamentals of good liturgical practice and needs to be avoided.

I think CW has some light cautions about this buried somewhere in the introductory material, but CPH shoudl really give more guidance to pastors so that they don't overuse and/or abuse the resource. It should never be used as a substitute for true creativity in worship: the authentic use of pastoral and cantoral craft in sensitive interaction with the baptized within the context of the Lord's ministry of Word and Sacrament.

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Luther Gulseth said...

1. Thank you for an excellent argument/discussion point to be used with our new pastor-to-be-installed next month. He has indicated that our current church year based structure could be changed to have times where a different setting is used on back-to-back Sundays.

3. I thought I was unique with this idea several years ago, but you beat me to the idea. Shucks, it is a great idea though! :) We use DS3 for the pensive Advent and Lent seasons, DS1 for Easter through Ascension, DS4 (plenty of variety here) for the Trinity Season, DS5 for Reformation (and possibly more at your suggestion), and I would LIKE to use DS2 for Christmas and Epiphany.

4. I also believe that someone who has several (sometimes many) years of experience singing hymns and liturgy out of a hymnal can read music, even if it is on a very basic and sub-conscious level. They might not know it, but their brain has the capacity to understand this: when the "little black dots" go up, I sing higher, when they go down, I sing lower.

6. I have yet to see that in my church. I believe they are using our lack of "contemporary" worship as a scapegoat for their lack of drive to evangelize. This creates an easy reason why our elderly congregation is not growing. I continue to pray that they will eventually come around.

Keep up the great work and the pure Gospel of Christ!

In Christ,

Phillip said...

Thanks for checking in, Luther! Yes, I agree if one is going to use DS V on Reformation one should be sure to use it (or part of it) a little more often - even if sometimes it is simply the choir singing "Isaiah, Mighty Seer". Keeping these classic chorales in the peoples' ears will prepare the way for their hearts to resonate with these texts on Reformation Sunday!

Regarding the congregation & their blaming the lack of "contemporary" worship for the size of the parish, I don't know whether or not they are evangelizing/telling the good news about Jesus. But I do know from what you've described that you have PLENTY of contemporary worship going on in your church. For example: DS I is by Richard Hillert, whom you can have lunch with in Chicago. And DS IV also has parts by living composers! And I bet you are singing hymn tunes by young(er) guys like Blersch, Hildebrand, and Stephen Johnson, too! So maybe that needs to be mentioned.

At the end of the day, though, we must remember that the Lord does not promise growth in numbers, nor does he require that of us. Such is the world of the Law. And, it may very well be that we are in the Last Days, in which case Scripture warns us that the church will become smaller, not bigger. Much smaller, in fact. Instead, we are simply called to be faithful.

So be faithful in your craft and sing faith into peoples hearts. Just as the pastors preach Christ, we are called to sing Christ. Just as their craft brings Christ to people's ears and connects them to the living Word, that the Holy Spirit may work the marvels of faith, so do we - when we are faithful to our craft - bring Christ in song to people's ears.

So whatever setting(s) you sing, and whatever (orthodox) hymnody you sing, bring the texts alive, my friend, and let the faithful rejoice!