The Word of God in Song
Educators have known for a long time that music can be a valuable learning resource especially when one needs to memorize something. Furthermore, singing songs adds elements of participatory involvement. Luther encouraged the involvement and participation of the congregation in worship by having the congregation participate through the singing of the liturgy and hymns. It was also his conviction that the hymns sung should teach and proclaim the faith.
As noted the importance of music to Martin Luther can not be underestimated. Luther taught that through Christ we have been given direct access to God, just like a priest; thus the doctrine is called the priesthood of all believers. Because of this understanding of the priesthood of all believers, he prepared and preached a series of catechism sermons.
To insure that the theology of the hymns reflected the faith of the church and that the word and music properly proclaimed the gospel, Luther composed several catechism hymns to be sung during the service. For Luther, the Catechism has a liturgical function because it provides focus to Christian doctrine in prayer and praise. Luther also encouraged his musically talented friends to compose appropriate hymns.
Luther began to compose hymns in 1523. His first hymn was Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice. His first congregational hymnbook was published in 1524. In the preface, Luther indicated that hymns and psalms should be sung “so that God’s Word and Christian teaching might be instilled and implanted in many ways.” Luther composed six catechism hymns, one for each of the six parts of the Small Catechism. Four of these were actually composed before he wrote the Small Catechism and two appeared after the publication of the Small Catechism. Some of his hymns were composed specifically for liturgical use. In place of the recital of the creed, one could sing We All Believe in One True God.
Luther strongly believed that the catechism has a liturgical function because it provides focus to Christian doctrine in prayer and praise. “For Luther worship was a corporate activity, an expression of the unity of the community of faith, a reality that was uniquely demonstrated in the song of the whole congregation.”[i]
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[i] Robin A. Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music, Principles and Implications (2007), 199.