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.

This month's article focuses on the way the Lutheran Church Choir can provide assistance to the worshiping congregational body through the liturgy.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is a liturgical church. Liturgical worship is centered heavily on Scriptural passages as well as the church year.  The centuries-old liturgy has not merely survived but developed and thrived throughout history. It provides order, stability, and a very meaningful source of continuity to the parishioners. With other congregations, our church shares a concern for ordered worship. Our worship must not be centered in eccentricity or in faddishness. The worship of the Lutheran church must center on the aural and visual elements of stability with worship forms and practices that place them in the line of worshippers from the New Testament to the present. Lutherans must not worship in isolation from other congregations but we must join "with angels and archangels" of all times and all places. For this reason, we must teach our hymnody and liturgy to our children so that they too may join with the heavenly hosts! This therefore, is a primary responsibility of the Church choir.

The choir supports and enriches the congregational singing of the liturgy by devoting regular rehearsal time perfecting the musical nuances and harmonies found in the Lutheran Liturgy.  It is through this process that the church choir effectively leads the congregation in the singing of the liturgy.  Furthermore, the choir can learn new musical settings of the Lutheran Liturgy and enlarge the dimensions of its participation through the instruction of the congregation.

The choir also adds variety to the congregation worship by singing the portions of the liturgy that have been entrusted to it by the congregation. In the singing of the liturgy, specific texts, change from week to week: thus these liturgical texts are more suitable for singing by a group that rehearses on a regular basis. During different points in history these texts have been assigned to leadership groups within the church. However, most often they are suited for a choir or mini congregation leading the corporate congregational members from the side or rear of the sanctuary. Their use is crucially important because they provide part of the variety that is of the utmost  importance to liturgical worship. For example, throughout history in services at which Holy Communion is celebrated, the proper texts traditionally we assigned to the choir were: THE INTROIT, THE GRADUAL, THE ALLELUIA, THE TRACT, THE SEQUENCE, THE OFFERTORY AND THE COMMUNION.

In the services at which Holy Communion is not celebrated, chiefly Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers and Evening Prayer, and other services centered on the Word, the chief variable texts are: THE ANTIPHONS, THE PSALMS, THE RESPONSORY, THE CANTICLES.

This liturgical selection of texts provides the proper basis for the participation of the choir in varying portions of the worship service participation for which the Lutheran Church Choir is uniquely suited and through which it can make a significant contribution.

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.