Tuesday, March 27, 2007


If you don't recognize what "TLH" stands for, then you probably didn't grow up as a member of the Wisconsin Evanglical Lutheran Synod. It stands for "The Lutheran Hymnal", the very simple name of the book of worship used from the early 1940s until, I understand, a few years ago when a new hymnal took its place. As I left the WELS when I was about 20, I haven't kept up with what's in the pews there these days.

But just recently, I did purchase a used copy of TLH. I had two others (they both belonged to my grandparents), but one I lost while planning my wedding (STILL hitting myself over the head about that one) and the other, well, I believe it to be in the house somewhere, I just have no idea where.

So, what would a Catholic need with a Lutheran hymnal, you may ask.

There are lots of reasons I picked it up. Strong sentimental reasons, for one. Maybe I was a weird kid, but I was deeply attached to my hymnal growing up. I spent most sermons looking through it, studying over the pages we never used during services. I practiced piano by playing all the hymns, and singing, for hours on end.

My early prayer life was developed using the more obscure (per my WELS experience) prayers, which included Matins, Vespers, chanted psalms, the Sufferages (the prayers Catholics use on Good Friday), and Scripture readings geared toward every day of the year, by the liturgical year. It doesn't take a whole lot of thinking to realize that the hidden liturgical stuff in that hymnal all feels extremely Catholic.

There are some great hymns in it. And I mean GREAT! One of my favorites (now) is Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. (Sung to the tune of All Creatures of our God and King -- sing it with me!)

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out dominions, princedoms, powers
Virtues, archangels, angel choirs
O higher than the cherubim
More glorious than the seraphim
Lead their praises, Alleluia
Thou Bearer of th' eternal Word
Most gracious, magnify the Lord
There are two more verses (of course), about the rest of the saints in heaven, but if you haven't figured it out, verse two is directed at Mary. I don't remember singing this particular hymn often in church, but there is it, right in a Lutheran hymnal!
Sure, there are other hymns that basically bemoan the evil Catholics who are trying to supress the Word of God and all that. If nothing else, they make for an interesting historical study.
Many of the hymns I now sing at Mass I learned from this hymnal as a kid. Although I do instinctively sing them with the "original" King Jamesish wording...
My absolute favorite thing of all time is the version of the Te Deum this hymnal has. It is a pity that I have never used this chant in any liturgical setting as a Catholic. There is much about Catholic liturgical music that is at a low point, and that is said by someone who enjoys guitar Masses and the like.

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