Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Catechesis in Song

Vater unser im Himmelreich is one of several catechetical hymns on the Lord's Prayer which we receive from the Reformation era (particularly the flurry of hymn writing between 1523-24). The catechetical emphasis regarding Lutheran hymnody has not always been the central criteria in determining the composition of hymnals - pietism and rationalism continue to be deadly foes. The LSB notes which hymns are dedicated for the six chief parts of the small catechism. The 1543 edition of the Wittenberg hymnal provided this preface:

Now follow spiritual songs in which the Catechism is covered, since we certainly must commend Christian doctrine in every way, by preaching, reading, singing, etc., so that young and unlearned people may be formed by it, and thus in this way it will always remain pure and passes on to our descendants. So may God grant us his grace and his blessings through Jesus Christ.

Catehism hymns (and most church music) has been considerably shortened for hymnal projects based upon the attention span and desires of church goers. It is my understanding that this trend will in the future possibly spiral out of control. The average 3-4 minutes popular song on the radio rarely plays out to its conclusion and is prematurely spliced for a new song to start. The popular song as a unit of 3-4 minutes is a new phenomenon. Popular music has a nasty consequence of influencing how Christians ought to consider the sacred music of the church - its hymns and liturgy. Robin Leaver in his book, Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications has an important observation particularly about catechism hymns which all Lutherans should take careful consideration. Leaver writes:

"These shortened forms of hymnic versions of the Lord's Prayer are symptomatic of our modern age, which is impatient with hymns longer than three of four stanzas and with services of worship that last longer than fifty-nine minutes. But worship and prayer require time if we are to become attuned to what we are doing and why. Luther and his generation have much to teach us about hymns that have more to do with faith, rather than simply evoking feeling, hymns that are sometimes expressions of prayer, instead of always being thought of as expressions of praise, hymns that make us take time in worship and prayer to consider who God is, what God has done for us, what God continues to do for us, and what our real needs - as opposed to what are wants - are." Leaver, Robin A (2007). Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications. Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans (p. 133-34)

This is more interesting given that Leaver is not even a Lutheran but an Anglican - he certainly has plenty to say about celebrating the rich heritage of Lutheran catechesis and hymnody.

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