You will notice in the upcoming months that Zion’s pastors will be starting to do more chanting during weekend services. In one way, this is a new practice in that we haven’t been chanting much during the Divine Service. In another way, this is just an extension of the chanting we’ve already been doing during Midweek services in Advent and Lent which have been well-received. But whenever we make a change at Zion, particularly in worship, we endeavor to communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Chanting has a long and rich history in the Christian church.
A common misconception is that chanting originated with Roman Catholicism, but
chanting as we know it today has been in place since at least the time of
Gregory the Great (540-604 AD). In fact, chanting in various forms goes back
all the way to the time of the New Testament and even to worship in the
synagogues prior to that. In other words, chanting belongs to us as Lutherans
just as much as it does to Roman Catholics. It is our heritage as “catholic”
Christians who have received this tradition from our ancestors in the faith.
Furthermore, as Lutherans we don’t throw out salutary and beneficial practices simply because they are things the Roman Catholic Church (or any other church for that matter) practices. If we adopted that principle, our church would also stop saying the creed, reading from the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, and even scrap the sermon, because these too are elements of worship we share in common with the Catholic Church.
But even if chanting isn’t “too Catholic,” why do we want to introduce it now? The move to include more chanting is an intentional one. We believe it will be beneficial for our congregation for three reasons.
- Chanting marks worship as holy.
We are bombarded by words every day of the week. From podcasts and YouTube advertisements, to casual conversation and business meetings, words are spoken to us constantly. Chanting marks the time of the Divine Service as special. The words we are hearing and chanting are not just ordinary words like we might use in a conversation over a cup of coffee. We are hearing and speaking the very words of God. Chanting helps draw us into that special time and place every Sunday morning (or Saturday night!) where heaven meets earth and our God speaks to us anew.
We believe it is beneficial for our worship to look completely different than anything else you will see or hear anywhere else. In Matthew 5, Jesus says that as His church we are the light of the world. No one puts a lamp under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that it might give light to the whole room. So also, through our proclamation of the Gospel, we point others to the light of Christ. One of the best ways we can accent the light of Christ is to demonstrate to the world that what Jesus offers us in worship is something totally unique by adorning the worship with beautiful song and chant that is unlike anything you hear in the entire world.
2. Chanting helps deliver the message.
Speaking is essential a monotonous action. We can vary tones and pacing to a degree, but it largely sounds the same unless we are very well-trained in the art of speech. On the other hand, chanting is easily varied in pitch and pacing. Chanting thus actually assists in communicating the message of God’s Word.
Did you know that for centuries the Gospel reading was chanted by the pastor? That might sound a bit silly to us today, but Christians for many centuries found chanting helpful in communicating what was going on in the readings. The evangelist (the person who wrote the Gospel; think “narrator”) was chanted in a high tenor voice. When the reader got to the words of Jesus, this was chanted in a lower baritone voice. Thus, a helpful auditory clue was given that helped set Jesus’ words apart from the other words in the reading. This survives today in the chanting of the Words of Institution, where Jesus’ words, “Take, eat, this is my body” stand out from the rest of the text, helping us focus on the very words of Jesus in the institution of His holy supper.
3. Chanting teaches through repetition.
This is perhaps the most important benefit of chanting. Parts of the service that are virtually unknown to you now will become very familiar to you when chanted. When I first became a pastor, I struggled to remember the Words of Institution when I would bring communion to a shut-in or nursing home service. The only way I could remember them was to chant them silently in my head! I had unintentionally memorized them by hearing them chanted during my time at seminary.
This will aid our children who are working on learning the liturgy, but the benefit will extend to all of us as we will learn more of the liturgy so that we can take more of God’s Word with us to inwardly digest throughout the week.
None of this is to say that what we’ve been doing has been wrong or inappropriate in God’s house. But we believe that including more chanting will be beneficial to all of us as we seek to communicate the Gospel most clearly in our place and time. Nor does this mean that everything will be chanted from now on. Lent and Advent are times where there will be less chanting as is fitting to a penitential season. And chanted Gospel lessons are probably a bit too strange for a modern audience.
We look forward to continuing to hear and proclaim the Gospel with you, and singing praise to our Lord with songs and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19), including chants!
In praise to the Lord,