Musical Notes ♫♬ (Archive)

Though much emphasis is placed on the Word when Luther explains his pastoral theology of liturgy, the way the Word is delivered is important.  While Luther discourages the emotionless recitation of liturgy among worship leaders, he advocates for the implementation of music to move the worshiper both spiritually and emotionally.  Fifteenth century French theologian Jean Gerson, who many believe to be influential in Luther’s work, wrote a poem called “Carmen de laude musicae” in the second part of De Canticis (1426-1426) that praises music for its effects on a person.  In the poem, Gerson witnesses that “[new music that comes about through the impulse of divine love] refreshes the spirit, drives away cares, and soothes ennui…  Moreover,” Gerson adds, “music is beneficial in healing bodies, in that is rejoices, soothes, and relieves the spirit.” As one explores Luther’s opinion on music, similar sentiments are expressed.

 Luther asserts that music “is the mistress and governess of those human emotions... which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them.” Though Luther believed music to bring about a “calm and joyful disposition” and “create joyful hearts,” he also understood that music could bring inspire a gamut of emotions for pastoral use:  “For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate—and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?--what more effective means than music could you find?”

Luther regarded music to be a powerful tool on the side of both good and evil.  For this reason, the church is called to claim the gift of music for good so that God’s Word may prevail in the hearts of the faithful.   “Thus, it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and psalms where message and music join to move the listener's soul.”

This understanding of music is enough to affirm the vocation of any music minister.  Music possesses an ability to “move the listener’s soul” that spoken word alone cannot accomplish.  Luther also says that “by adding the voice it becomes a song, and the voice is feeling. Therefore, as the word is the understanding, so the [singing] voice is its feeling.”  According to Luther, music inspires faith.  One could recite something every day of one’s life, but it to sing it enables one to practice it more fully.  Music inspires action.

For these reasons, Luther was particularly intentional in using music as a tool when composing liturgy.  One example of this is the deliberate melodic symmetry used in his German Mass (Deutsche Messe) from 1525.  The Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), both threefold prayers of mercy, shared similar melodies so that the worshiper was inspired to consider our need and God’s offering of mercy.  Similarly, Luther chanted the gospel reading for the day in the same tone as the Verba testamenti (Words of institution), so that listeners would understand that the words being spoken were the words of Jesus, and were Good News. It is for this same reason the Luther would have written the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s prayer in hymn form.  He understood that one would more readily be nourished and moved to action by singing these sentiments of these important documents.

The use of music in a worship experience is to be seen as a gift from God that can provide pastoral care to those in need.  It is a tool with which a liturgist can work so that the gospel is more readily heard, pondered, and acted out.  It drives home the message of God’s mercy through Jesus and calls Christians to God’s table for a taste of forgiveness.

Gretchen Mundinger


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Daily Bible Verse

  • Malachi 4:1-6

    5Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

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