Thursday, December 18, 2008

Keep the Mass in Christmas

We so often hear about the need to keep Christ in Christmas which is well and good. The focus of this season does need to be on the birth of our Savior. But what about the Mass in Christmas? On this the Nativity of our Lord what a blessing to have a church that celebrates the Holy Supper. The call to keep Mass in Christmas is what should ring out. The term "Mass" has fallen out of use in our circles (lest you be deemed a magpie). However, the confessions do refer to the divine service as the mass with the focus on Christ crucified and the Holy Supper. As pointed out below it is hard to offer communion when a church service is not even held. That Christmas morn Christ came in the flesh..."take and eat this is my body.."

I wonder if Ed Stetzer will be telling the WELS pastors to keep the Mass in Christmas?

"We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend. ... We keep traditional liturgical forms' (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, 24)"

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Leading us back again, in my mind, to what kind of subscription did/does WELS have to the Lutheran Confessions?

Our church has a Christmas Eve service that seems to be more of an outreach event (doesn't everyone come to church on Christmas and Easter? It's the perfect time...) more than a celebration for the sheep in the fold. No Lord's Supper and no Christmas Day service. This seems to be without the influence of Ed Stetzer. Was it ever a practice in WELS to have the divine service on Christmas Day and include communion?

If not, the recapturing of our "grandfather's church" might not be the pinnacle of achievement.

Rob

Freddy Finkelstein said...

Rob,

Good question. Our congregation hold's the Divine Service on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, along with three mid-week Vespers services in Advent. We have Communion Vespers on New Year's Eve and on Maundy Thursday, and have begun celebrating Ascension Vespers as well. We also hold Lenten Vespers and Good Friday Tannebrae. I mention all of this because my Pastor mentioned to me a few years ago that this never used to be the case at our congregation (about a 40-year-old conregation). The sad fact is (and he cringed when he admitted this) the congregation started to hold all these mid-week services about 20 years ago, when they started to have some severe financial troubles. The thought was, more services equals more offerings. I don't know if the extra services helped or not, but such is not the sentiment today. Having had the opportunities to worship like this over the past two decades, two things have happened: (1) today, even the mere mention of not holding these mid-week services brings shrieks of objection (in fact, we used to hold two services on Christmas Eve -- reducing that to one was rather controversial); (2) today, our congregation is looking for more worship opportunities from the Church Calendar -- like Ascension Day, and possibly Reformation Day in the future.

But I still don't know the answer to your question. My Pastor often makes the point that we are an unusual congregation that way, that most congregations don't observe Advent with mid-week Vespers, and suggests that he didn't grow up with such observances being common. In some ways, I wonder if WELS is still growing into Confessionalism?

Freddy Finkelstein

Anonymous said...

Freddy, I think you're right about WELS growing into Confessionalism. And where movements in that direction are made, we can rejoice. Our church, thankfully, did hold three mid-week Advent services and one even included Communion which was such a blessing. We used the evening Vespers with some chanting and the singing of the benediction too. Quite powerful and gospel rich.

I have appreciated your comments this year about how the Divine Service should be for the believers. It only seems to fitting that the holy days of Christmas and Easter should be such celebrations for the elect to gather around our Lord. That would be joyous indeed.

Rob

Benjamin Tomczak said...

The men to ask about your question, Rob, would be Rev. Bryan Gerlach, the administrator for the Commission on Worship, or Prof. James Tiefel, professor of worship and homiletics at the Seminary. They would probably have a sense of how widespread certain worship traditions are in the Synod.

I'm not sure that anywhere there can be found any sort of statistical records of who celebrates which festivals. That would be an interesting bit of research though, to have congregations report which festivals they celebrate.

I can speak anecdotaly (sp?). The congregations I've attended in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas either have, or do now, celebrate the Festival of Christmas. I haven't been to the Christmas Day celebrations at all of them (due to school vacations and what not), so I can't give you too much more than that.

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak

Anonymous said...

When people set up Christmas Eve and Easter as either being something that can be used for outreach or something that should be for the faithful, they set up a false antithesis. Why not both?

For example, it is foolish to deny that Christmas Eve might be a good time to invite the unchurched/dischurched to join us. I believe the big reason the Church fathers chose the dates they did for Christmas and Easter was precisely because it was time people were interested in "the spiritual" (word used VERY loosly there). I think a Christmas Eve service, where a congregation invites the community, and where the message is very basic, might be ingenious. Ex. how without Christ at the center of your life (which means the Word and Sacraments are the center of your life), life is only darkness, no light. Would tie in nicely with a candlelight service.

But then, I hope that church would ALSO provide something just for the members - perhaps a Christmas vigil with the Lord's Supper. The message might be deeper, such as on the mystery of the incarnation.

Same with Easter. Why not two services, one with communion and one without? One where members are encouraged to bring unchurched friend and family, and one where it's encouraged just for members, with the message tailored accordingly (milk in the former, meat in the latter).

Just some thoughts.

LCMSwasWELS said...

My LC-MS parish has Divine Service with LS both on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Morn. We do not have Midweek Advent Vespers, but do during the Lenten Season.

My sister's WELS parish which is a mile away does have Advent Vespers, but no Lord's Supper at The Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Services.

Anonymous said...

I have a good friend who would have been a very probable WELS convert. The WELS church he visited on Christmas Eve did not serve Communion. He was agahst and vowed to never attend and could not understand why a church would not serve Communion on C.E. He grew up ALC. He would not have been able to have partaken anyway, due to not being in fellowship. He is now Methodist.

With so many visitors, it could be a great witness to the doctrine of closed communion if properly explained, which regrettably is not often the case, just a brief line in the bulletin that people see after they have been seated and or the service begun. Pastors are often not as available as they may think they are for much discussion before a service before a family goes in and finds out that there actually is Communion on that day.

Having Communion on C.E. can also leave many with a bad taste, because it is not understood or well explained and create awkwardness for families not of the same fellowship. That is amplified at Christmas. I say have it as a truely closed service after the regular worship for those confessing the same doctrine.

I would prefer to have Communion on C.E. and every Sunday, because I so need it, but we are only commanded to "do this in rememberance of me" not how often or specifically when. We are warned not to fall away from it.

Felice Navidad, prospero anno y felicidad.

Tico

Anonymous said...

I recall reading or hearing that at one time in some Lutheran circles, the doors were closed and non-communing members didn't even watch. I'm not saying that is right or wrong. But it seems a bit much to worry about offending visitors by the closed communion policy. That's the mindset of church growth methodology which strips away anything that might offend the visitor (probably most often Christ crucified and the full force of the Law which shows our continual need), customizing the service with entertainment-grade, emotional manipulating replacements at the expense of the members in need.

I agree the pastor has a responsibility to explain closed communion, which is offensive in today's culture, but the proper practice.

Rob

Anonymous said...

"He is now Methodist."

Huh? He was so upset about not receiving the Sacrament on Christmas Eve that he joined the Methodist church where they don't have the Sacrament at all? Umm, that doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

"Having Communion on C.E. can also leave many with a bad taste."

Jesus does that, you know.

LCMSwasWELS said...

We have a communion card that clearly states we practice closed communion, and in addition to that our pastor asks evryone to prayerfully read it and then if they are in agreement with it (must be an LCMS'er or a member of a church body in fellowship with us)they are welcome to partake.

I too, thirst for weekly Lord's Supper.

Anonymous said...

"must be an LCMS'er or a member of a church body in fellowship with us"

Wow, an LCMS church that actually practices closed communion? I didn't know those still existed.

Anonymous said...

There's a number of confessional churches in LCMS; faithful to Scripture and the writings of the Reformers, unapologetically and unashamedly Lutheran. We pray the same can be said of WELS some day.

Rob

Anonymous said...

"There's a number of confessional churches in LCMS; faithful to Scripture and the writings of the Reformers, unapologetically and unashamedly Lutheran. We pray the same can be said of WELS some day."

So you're saying that there are no confessional churches in the WELS that are faithful to Scripture and the writings of the Reformers? That's an awfully big and broad charge. Is that what you were trying to say or did you choose your wording poorly?

LCMSwasWELS said...

I left the "Living Water" WELS in the nineties when I started seeing some disturbing trends whilst living in the The Arizona~California District. I found safe haven in an LCMS parish and when I moved back to the Midwest I remained in the LCMS. Granted, I was hardpressed to find a good and confessional Missouri parish here, but I did find it. And we still used The Lutheran Hymnal 1941 until 2007 when we bought the Lutheran Service Book. The pathetic and non-Lutheran Christian Worship hymnal with its feminist creed was only one of the factors that kept me from returning home to the WELS where I was baptized, catechized & attended Lutheran K-8. Don't even get me started on that bizarre "songbook" LAPPY. We use DS III (pg 184) in the Lutheran Service Book, which is page 15 in TLH. I love that liturgy.

BTW, Anon @December 20, 2008 7:05 PM--roughly 50% of LCMS parishes still practice closed communion and are closer in practice and liturgy to what most 'boomer's grew up with in the WELS circa 1955-1970.

My WELSian brethren remain in my prayers as I hope your LCMS brethren remain in yours.
A Blessed Christmastide to all.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

LCMSwasWELS said...

Prepare my heart, Lord Jesus,
Turn not from me aside,
And grant that I receive Thee
This blessèd Adventide.
From stall and manger low
Come Thou to dwell within me;
Loud praises will I sing Thee
And forth Thy glory show.

Anonymous said...

"So you're saying that there are no confessional churches in the WELS that are faithful to Scripture and the writings of the Reformers? That's an awfully big and broad charge. Is that what you were trying to say or did you choose your wording poorly?"

I didn't say there weren't "any" in the WELS, that appears what you were trying to read into it. I said there were a number of them in LCMS, responding to the anonymous poster who didn't think any practiced closed communion. I have no idea how many confessional churches there are in the WELS. There are "a" number of them and I suppose it depends on how one defines "confessional," as we've been discussing in this thread and others in this blog.

So, nice try. I used the words I intended, which isn't always the case, I admit. I just happen to not despise LCMS as much as many in WELS seem to. And, I rejoice and appreciate historic Lutheranism wherever it is found and find many solid resources within Missouri.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Rob, I don't think you understand.

You said, "There's a number of confessional churches in LCMS." Then you said, "We pray the same can be said of WELS some day."

The implication of those two sentences is that there aren't any confessional churches in the WELS.

So again I ask, "Is that really what you meant to say?"

LCMSwasWELS said...

"I just happen to not despise LCMS as much as many in WELS seem to."

LOL! Nice to see that you despise us less than many in WELS seem to.

My WELSian brothers and sisters will get a kick out of this when we are gathered together on Christmas Eve, and yes, we will join together in prayer before the meal.

Anonymous said...

I understand perfectly. There is a stronger confessional movement within the LCMS than in WELS. If I had inserted the word 'more' or 'larger' that would have been more clear. My apologies.

Just because WELS is by and large conservative does not make it confessional. There are many pastors in LCMS speaking out loudly against the errors within their synod.

Where are the pastors within the WELS fighting the errors? Or, do you see WELS as confessional and without errors? Is all well within the WELS?

Rob

Anonymous said...

LCMSwasWELS, I'm stepping in it on this thread all over the place, I guess. I actually don't despise LCMS at all, so the "as much" was improperly placed. Certainly, LCMS has many of its own things going on in St. Louis, but there are some great confessional pastors within it whom I cherish.

Rob

LCMSwasWELS said...

Rob,
I *thought* that was the case, that was why I LOL'd. Yes, our Violet Vatican/Purple Palace is a mess, and faithless to the Lutheran Confessions but Confessional Lutheranism is growing stronger and stronger as we in the laity hunger for more and receive more orthodox catechesis. It was not an easy matter to leave for Missouri, but I had to do it. All those years of the sectarian WELS indoctrination against Missouri and (perceived) orders that we in the triumphalist Wisconsin Synod had to be re-thought as I made the move. Of course it was easier since I was the product of a "mixed marriage" with one set of WELSian grandparents and one set of Missourian grandparents. BTW, I was catechized by a *giant* in the WELS, a longtime prominent and much beloved bishop (DP) I was in WELS K-8 school in the sixties, but my family never refrained from praying with our LCMS relatives, or attending Divine Service with them for milestones such as baptisms, confirmations, etc. We shared the same hymnal, fer crying out loud! Blessings to you my brother in Christ.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am amazed at how many WELS pastors are afraid of the heterodoxy in the LCMS. They would much rather attend a Baptist conference and invite Baptist speakers than even speak with an LCMS minister or read LCMS publications.

Why the LCMS paranoia?

LCMSwasWELS said...

"Why the LCMS paranoia?"
Seminex. And rightfully so.

But that is ancient history now and confessionals in Missouri are loud and getting louder. We in Missouri also have an inerrant Bible God-Breathed by the men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. JAO Preus squashed the heretics. I realize we have heterodoxy and heretics in Mother Missouri, but so does Wisconsin and the ELS.

LCMSwasWELS said...

I, too, am amazed at how many WELS pastors are afraid of the heterodoxy in the LCMS. They would much rather attend a Baptist conference and invite Baptist speakers than even speak with an LCMS minister or read LCMS publications.

Why the LCMS paranoia?

WELS is afraid of the Book of Concord and authentic Lutheranism with a quia subscription.

Anonymous said...

"Why the LCMS paranoia?"

You have to know your history to understand the attitude of many in the WELS about the LCMS. In the 19th century, the LCMS was a bastion of Lutheran Confessionalism. The WELS, which had its roots in the German mission societies, was not nearly so confessional. Because of this, the LCMS looked down on the WELS. Rather than using brotherly encouragement and admonition to bring the WELS to confessionalism, the leaders of the LCMS were absolutely brutal with the WELS. Walther and others mocked and ridiculed the WELS men in the harshest terms. Obviously, this created hard feelings in the WELS, even as the WELS were moving towards confessionalism.

Even when the LCMS and WELS enjoyed fellowship with each other in the Synodical Conference, the relationship was quite strained. Many in the LCMS saw the WELS as an unsophisticated little brother, a synod filled with country hicks. Many in the WELS saw the LCMS as a bully of an older brother, doing whatever it wanted with little or no concern for the WELS.

In the 1950s, as the WELS was considering breaking fellowship with the LCMS because of it laxity in doctrine and practice, LCMS leaders were known to scoff at the idea, insisting that the WELS would never survive if it didn't have the LCMS to tell it what to do.

This is just a brief description of the history between the LCMS and the WELS, but hopefully it helps to demonstrate why some in the WELS feel the way that they do about the LCMS.

Anonymous said...

"Where are the pastors within the WELS fighting the errors?"

I'd say that the election of Mark Schroeder, a man known to be staunchly against church growth is strong evidence that the majority of the WELS is fighting against error.

"Yes, our Violet Vatican/Purple Palace is a mess, and faithless to the Lutheran Confessions"

Then how can you in good conscience support the Palace through your membership and offerings? I don't know how I could give offerings when I knew that a portion of the money would go to an organization which fails to acknowledge even the fact that Christians and Muslims worship different gods.

"but Confessional Lutheranism is growing stronger and stronger"

I wish that were true, but it isn't. Recent decisions and elections at LCMS synod conventions have proven definitively that the Confessional movement in the LCMS is growing weaker, and the Church Growth movement has taken complete control. If only the confessional pastors in the LCMS would finally realize that they are fighting a losing battle, that the LCMS is lost, that they need to separate themselves from false doctrine. Unfortunately, though, many of them love Mother Missouri more than God's Word, and so delude themselves into thinking that the LCMS is still confessional, when really they are only throwing pearls to pigs.

Freddy Finkelstein said...

For those of you missing the Mass on Christmas Day, or even Matins, may I suggest the following? Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning is a selection of Michael Praetorious' music from the early 17th century -- the dawning of the Lutheran "Age of Orthodoxy" -- set according to the 1569 Wolfenbuettel Order of Service, which descended directly from Luther's Wittenberg liturgies.

Praetorius was a staunch Lutheran, whose father was a student of Luther. His life was dedicated to producing music for the German church, and to this day he is known as the greatest organist to have ever lived. His three-volume Syntagma musicum, a treatise on baroque instruments, composition, and performance, is considered definitive even today. He and his work are a lasting blessing to the Church.

I have owned this recording for years now, and can say that it has become a Christmas Morning tradition in our young family. The opening Processional literally brings me to tears. The Introit which follows, an exchange between choir (in Latin) and congregation (in German), is at the same time ethereal and terrestrial, Church Triumphant and Church Militant joined in worship before the King, in celebration of His first Advent, in anticipation of His second. I picture myself in a massive congregation, as our family sings along with the congregational part at the top of our lungs in forcefully enunciated German:

Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem,
Des freuet sich Jerusalem,
ALLELUJA.

Die Koenig aus Saba kamen dar,
Gold, Weihrauch, Myrrhen brachtn sie dar,
ALLELUJA.

Hei leit es in dem Krippelein,
Ohn Ende ist die Herrschaft sein,
ALLELUJA.

...

Fuer solche gnadenreiche Zeit,
Sei Gott gelobt in Ewigkeit,
ALLELUJA.

Lob sei der heilgen Dreifaltgkeit.
Nun und in alle Ewigkeit,
ALLELUJA.

This sort of exchange occurs throughout the 79min recording. It is more than invigorating. It is triumphal and victorious. Engaging myself in the music, by the end, I am fully reminded and convinced that by faith in Christ's completed work on my behalf, I am part of something invincible -- the Church Universal. Nothing from the modern era, in its effeminate longing for amore, its desire for surrender rather than for victory, and its narrow-minded focus on the contemporary over against the broad arc of history that results in meaningful tradition, can match it.

Anyway, if anyone is interested, you can still get it before Christmas...

Lord's Blessings,

Freddy Finkelstein

John said...

Freddy -

Thank you for the outstanding resource. I have actually put my order in for the "Lutheran Mass for Christmas morning."

I want to thank you especially for your even keel approach to the various discussions that have occurred on BW. I have learned much through your thought-filled posts. I hope that your Scriptural knowledge and skill are being used in a church. Nonetheless, in a small way you have served His kingdom through discussions here.

The past few weeks I’ve actually faced some health concerns thus my postings are minimal. Therefore, the resource you mention is much appreciated. I do want the dialogue to continue. I hope others will continue to post, discuss, and fight the fight.

Anonymous said...

John, we'll pray for God's mercy for your health concerns. Thank you for hosting this site. It has been valuable to me this year. And I echo your compliments to Freddy.

Rob

Benjamin Tomczak said...

Thanks for the Praetorius reminder. I picked that up a couple years ago myself and haven't listened to it as much as I should...I'll make sure to put it on in my office today...

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

John, this is an unrelated post, but maybe you can create a new post with this topic.

What are the views of WELS having "planned gift counselors" to help write wills, etc. ? I am middle age, and I never remember planned gift counselors existing 35 years ago or so...

Sometimes I think it is a good idea; other times it sounds kind of like a "hard sell".

I think WELS has a lot of money issues, but I am not sure this is the solution...on the other hand, the younger generation does not seem to be making up for the older generation that is passing away.

Freddy Finkelstein said...

John,

I was saddened to learn of your health issues last week, and wanted to let you know that I have joined Rob, and others, in my prayers for your comfort and recuperation. Has your health improved at all over the past weeks? I hope so. Also, did you receive that Praetorius disk, and did you enjoy it?

Just Curious,

Freddy Finkelstein

John said...

Freddy,

Thanks for asking! I did receive the Praetorius disk. It arrived the day after Christmas. We used it as part of our devotions. I have been working with my local pastor towards every Sunday communion. I pray that this will happen in 2009. Our pastor does offer it to my family each week.

I am scheduled for surgery mid-January. So I'm hoping for a quick recovery. However, my posts will continue to be less frequent.

I have been pondering the question of what are the marks of a confessional Lutheran church and church body. Those that post on this blog have been labeled confessional crusaders by Tim and others. It seems that those that support CW would say the marks of a confessional church body are that they praise God and preach a sermon. My contention is that the church does not have to change to follow the winds of the culture at hand. It is far more important to lean on the historical persectives of the Lutheran Confessions. I will say that I believe that Missouri has strayed further than the WELS and thus you see an exodus in the LCMS to the orthodox church as pastors and members wallow in the changing winds of the church of today.

The WELS is a much smaller body yet it seems that some are guiding us down the path of the Willow Creek churches and the teachings of Ed Stetzer.

So as we enter 2009 I hope that the WELS and other Lutheran church bodies can cling to Scripture, our creeds, the Confessions, and the historical liturgy. I believe that this "change" can occur at the local level. I would like to see an association within the WELS rise up and become confessional crusaders. I know that under the previous administration there were confessional witch hunts for those that spoke out against Kelm and his boys. So many pastors were advised to keep their head low and watch out. But in the last two years under Pres. Schroeder I believe this climate has changed. I believe 2929 is now a house divided. I pray that Pres. S can remain strong during this turbulent time and do what is right and true. I believe that church displine must occur.

Those are just a few random thoughts and rants. I look forward to the Holy Supper.

Blessings and fight on...

Anonymous said...

I concur that change can happen at a local level and feel that is where it has the best chance for success and implementation. I also agree that LCMS as a whole has embraced CGM, but counter that there is a strong confessional movement within it. There are pastors who openly speak against the errors supported in St. Louis. That doesn't seem to be the case in the WELS as of yet, but it is possible. Maybe due to fear or maybe not feeling the problem is significant. Or maybe it is supported... I continue to pray for WELS to pursue historic Lutheranism with all of the accompanying blessings.

Freddy, I took advantage of the Praetorius CD as well this Christmas. Thank you to alerting us. Is there anything comparable in my native tongue?

Blessings on your surgery, John. I'm glad you can commune weekly as well.

Rob

Freddy Finkelstein said...

Rob,

Thanks for asking. Honestly, I think the big stink over musical style that seems to rise from the Church Growth crowd is fed principally by a lack of familiarity with anything other than pop musical forms. It's poor education and lack of exposure resulting in misunderstanding of, discomfort with, and lack of appreciation for other musical forms and the use of those forms in their native contexts. Instead of educating and exposing the laity to the vast body of distinctly Ecclesiastical forms of music, the Church Growth Church Changers exploit the ignorance of the laity, by pandering to extreme and narrow musical tastes that are foreign to the context of Church usage. I prefer to educate, and encourage my fellow laymen to explore for themselves these “new” musical genres of “old” Ecclesiastical forms.

My wife and I have been collecting Classical choral works of the Sacred genre for a long time – we can provide quite a list, for those interested. Most of the pre-Enlightenment (Baroque and Renaissance) compositions were not at all written as performance pieces for entertainment, but for use in the context of the Divine Service – especially those written by the German Lutherans. These works are quite edifying.

But you ask about works in the English language. Interestingly, by my estimation (and maybe I need to be corrected on this point) English-language Sacred Choral repertoire seems to be nowhere near as vast as the German and Latin. This is probably the result of Calvinism's influence -- its wretched iconoclasm killed the arts and stunted creativity everywhere it held influence. Even today, one notices a comparatively conspicuous dearth of art and music from Reformed sources over history, and it appears that this shallow artistic pool, from which modern Reformed composers have to draw, has impacted the quality of the music they produce for the Church today, especially among Evangelicals, who produce mostly pop-drivel.

Despite this, the veritable King of Sacred Choral works is a piece in the English language (composed by a German, of course): The Messiah, by Georg Friedrich Händel. Although he had studied for a time at Halle (when Spener and Francke were there), he was not necessarily known as a composer of Sacred works, nor as a necessarily devout Lutheran (unlike Bach or Praetorius, for instance). The lyrics of this piece had been assembled for Händel – lyrics that come directly from the Scriptures and preach of the prophecies of Christ's Advent, of the fulfillment of those prophecies in His Birth, Passion, Resurrection, and of His Ascension and promised Return – and he set them to music. It is simply one of the most marvelous works ever written. It moves hearers even today. In fact, I think I recently read on Cranach that a recent performance of The Messiah in China was responsible for the restriction of further performances of Christian works there. It was that moving/unsettling for those who heard it – they were left with a thirst to know more about Christ, and made this fact known. The link I supply, above is among the definitive performances of this piece (which we own, so I can vouch for it).

Other English-language Sacred Choral works include those by Henry Purcell, and more recently, Ralph Vaughn Williams (both Anglican) – both of whose compositions appear in our hymnal (Christian Worship). Purcell was a prolific composer of Sacred works for the Anglican Church. I haven't found a good single (yet affordable!) collection of Purcell's Sacred Choral works, but here's one that we listen to occasionally, with two of his more important compositions: Te Deum & Jubilate Deo. Ralph Vaughn Williams was a respected early 20th century British composer with a love for aesthetic Christian expression. His Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Talis is one of my favorite orchestral works. Anyway, a few of his English-language Choral works that may be of interest include, Sancta Civitas -- the “Holy City,” taken almost exclusively from the Book of Revelation -- and Mass in G Minor, both of which were intended for use in the Church, not for performance. Another disk that may be worth investigating is a collection of hymns that he either wrote, re-harmonized, or set to alternate tunes: A Vaughan Williams Hymnal. We own all these recordings, except this last one -- again, just vouching for them.

Another work worth checking out is The Creation, by Franz Josef Haydn. He was Austrian and Catholic, and a Classicist composing in the era of the Enlightenment. Not known as a composer of the Sacred genre, he composed this work late in life – as if, it strikes me, he was trying to do something good for God before he died (perhaps he thought he could earn his way into heaven). It is quite good. I've read that when Haydn heard it performed the first time, he wept uncontrollably and had to be carried out. Anyway, while this work was originally composed by Haydn in German, the late Robert Shaw, a highly respected conductor of seminal importance in the revival of choral repertoire in America, translated the work into English. The work I link to here is considered the definitive English-language performance.

Perhaps you've noticed that I repeatedly make use of the term “performance.” This is a troubling fact that I wanted to point out. Its use is necessary because, even though most of these works were intended for use in the context of the Divine Service, worshipers no longer sing them; rather, performers, obsessed with the genuine artistic quality and musical integrity of these Sacred choral works, are the ones who continue to sing them and to keep them alive – and even these secular performers are quick to admit how well these musical compositions complement their lyrical content. It is a sad fact, in my opinion, that we need to take our lessons in this regard from such performers, many of whom may likely be unbelievers, rather than have the privilege of realizing it for ourselves in our own worship. Where has the excellence gone?

In the end, however, I prefer the Lutheran works of the Late Renaissance and Baroque Germans, like Heinrich Schütz, Praetorius, and Bach -- even if they are not in English. These guys were solid Lutherans (Praetorius and Bach, especially), with a theological point to prove. Schütz and Praetorius wrote almost exclusively for the Lutheran Church, and later, Bach, a staunch Lutheran whose personal library has been described as the library of a theologian, strove in his expansive body of Sacred works to battle against the onslaught of Pietism (how about that – today, our “Lutheran” composers and "Worship Ministers" seem to borrow more and more from modern Pietists, rather than struggle against them!). What's more, still available are recordings of their works made by choirs who routinely used this music in the context of the Divine Service -- where they were not performers, but worshipers who actually meant the words they sang, bringing an entirely different quality to the music, and making it something one feels drawn to engage in with them. At home here, the majority of our Choral collection is dominated by these types of recordings, by these German composers.

Anyway, I've probably not even answered your question – maybe you were looking for suggestions on some good Christmas-themed music in English? I've some of that too, but have already rambled on enough here. Thanks for the excuse to do so!

Hope this was at least interesting for some folks.

Freddy Finkelstein

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Freddy. I was inquiring about Christocentric productions in English, not necessarily Christmas-themed. My dad has the written translation for Praetorius, but I was hoping for something I could understand in the literal sense while it was playing, not just the emotional. I'll check out your suggestions as I'm able. As one of the masses, I confess to be musically illiterate myself. But even in German, I found Praetorius to be stunning. Thanks again.

Rob

Freddy Finkelstein said...

Ohhhh... Well, duh.... Of course that's what you meant! Why didn't I get that?

Did your CD not come with liner notes? The translation should be contained there. I know, it's kind of a pain to sit and read along when one is used to just listening, but what I have found is that reading along forces me to focus on what is going on in the music, and prevents the music from slipping into the background. One positive result that I have noticed after years of doing this, is that now, whenever we listen to music, we actually sit down and listen to it, and make it the focus of attention, rather than merely have the music on while we do something else. It's one of those things I've learned along the way -- one needs to actually focus on the musical compositions and think about them as they unfold to really appreciate them. Also, over the years we've learned to recognize by ear the key Ecclesiastical terms and phrases as they are sung in Latin or German. We use these phrases in our conversation with each other and the kids, too. It's kind of fun, now.

As far as I know, there are no works of Praetorius recorded in English, nor are there for most of the good Lutheran composers I mentioned above, although, like I said, the liner notes almost always have an English translation, and if not, they certainly have the lyrics in the language the choir sings in.

Anyway, I had fun composing my thoughts above, even if they weren't necessarily relevant. BTW, as for being musically illiterate, that's something that can be altered. Way back when I was a long-haired peach-fuzz undergraduate, I started from 70's Southern Rock as my idea of the pinnacle of musical integrity, and discovered Classical Music as I worked my way back from Lynyrd Skynyrd through Blues and Folk. I'm totally self taught, man. So, yes, it can be done.

Freddy Finkelstein

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

I'll second the "reading along" advice. At a recent performance of the Messiah I attended in Fort Worth I was having trouble hearing clearly a couple of the soloists, so, I turned to the text which they provided. Except for the parts I already knew by heart, I read along the whole night and it was the best performance of the Messiah I've ever heard!

Anonymous said...

I am lazy. And vain as I defend my cyber-reputation with this, but I bought the downloadable version of Praetorius so I could have it for Christmas, so I didn't actually have the lyrics. But I can get them as previously mentioned. And, I appreciate the recommendation of the value of reading along with the German and will take that to heart. I admit, Freddy and Ben, to having the music on while doing other things, so I was not 'really' listening to it except for at certain moments. So your insight is appreciated.

Rob

John said...

Pr. Tomczak,

I see that you are delivering a paper at an upcoming conference. I wish you God's blessings. I hope that your confessional witness will have an impact on those in the C&C camp.

I look forward to reading your paper.