The word Lent is derived from a great number of different languages, however all of them point to one definition: Spring.
Practically, Lent also grew as a time of catechumenal training, where the unchurched would prepare for baptism at the Easter Vigil by learning about the faith. Music, being a great memory aid, became part of this preparation. Martin Luther developed a number of “Catechism Hymns” for this purpose. Many of these hymns are included in our hymnal (Lord’s Prayer: ELW746/747, Communion: ELW 499, Nicene Creed: ELW 411) and, although we may not sing them often in worship, they are an amazing resource.
Each of these hymns provides an in-depth look at the central parts of our faith. In his hymn on the Lord’s Prayer, for example, Luther writes a final stanza based entirely upon the final “Amen”:
Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so!
Build up our faith and make it grow;
beset by doubt, help us believe
what here we ask we shall receive.
So, by your promise, in your name,
with loud Amen your Yes we claim!
Such a gloriously full explanation of the final word of this prayer is useful in a great number of places. You can imagine the student of the faith thinking about this catchy tune with these words at the end of every prayer.
Of course, songs and hymns are more than their words. The melodies of these Catechism Hymns may seem odd to us because of their Renaissance roots. Much of the music from this period is based upon dance rhythms and many of these hymns would have proceeded at a rather quick pace.
It’s also worth noting that some of these pieces are written in “bar form.” While the romantic notion that Luther somehow re-purposed songs from local watering holes is entertaining and smacks of his Reformation goals, bar form more likely refers to the actual structure of these pieces of music.
Bar form likely refers to the actual structure of these pieces of music.
Think of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” There is an opening section of music called a Stollen:
A mighty fortress is our god, a sword and shield victorious;
This music is repeated, often with different words:
he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.
These two sections are followed by a third, often longer, section called the Abgesang (literally: thing sung after):
The old satanic foe has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might he arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal.
If you pay close attention, you may discover this is a common form for many of the songs we sing! How many can you spot?