Paul R. Schilf, Ph.D.

In the Lutheran tradition of worship, the church choir provides two liturgical roles. The choir offers service, and provides assistance to the congregational body, enlivening and enriching the worship of the entire gathered assembly. It does this in three distinct ways.

  1. The Lutheran Church Choir supports and enriches the congregational singing of hymns.
  2. The choir brings richness and modest variety to congregational worship by singing and proclaiming the portions of the liturgy entrusted to it.
  3. The choir enriches congregational worship by presenting attendant music as possible and appropriate.

Now, we focus on the role of the church choir as providing attendant music. Attendant music may be defined as the spectrum of songs, hymns, anthems, motets, Passions, and cantatas that were not covered in the previous articles, but are used during the liturgical service. When the choir director selects and plans the selections for worship, at least three considerations must be forefront:

The selections must be liturgically appropriate to the Sunday, festival or season of the church year. By not following this consideration and allowing music to be out of season or generic in some way, the music detracts from the worship environment and the comprehension of the liturgical environment.

The attendant music should be appropriately placed in the liturgy. The first consideration must be revisited. For example: if the selection supports the Gospel of the day, it should be presented just prior to the reading of the Gospel. Attendant music may be given special emphasis in the traditional Lutheran practice of music subcommunione, or during the distribution of Holy Communion.

The attendant music should always be within the musical limitations of the choir. For example: the preparation of the attendant selections must never supercede or displace the preparation of the other functions of the choir in the liturgical worship.

The Lutheran church choir has a unique and significant role in Lutheran worship. It can fill that position with music ranging from the simplest to the most complex. However, complexity must never be a criterion measure of its liturgical worthiness. What is of utmost importance is that the choir, their director, the pastor, and the congregation understand the role of the choir in liturgical worship and how that role contributes to the interest, effectiveness, meaningfulness, continuity, and reverence of the gathered corporate body.

Take my voice and let me sing 
Always, only for my King;
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Text: Frances R. Havergal, 1836-1879

Notes
Buszin, W.E. (1958). Luther on music. New York, NY: Lutheran Society For Worship Music, and the Arts, by permission of G. Schirmer Inc.
Schalk, C.E. (1983).  Music in Lutheran worship.  St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Looking ahead:

March: Why the pipe organ?

April: Luther's view of music in worship: A synopsis

May: The music of the congregation