Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Mighty Fortress

As I sat and listened to an exceptional guest organist introduce a rousing setting of “Ein Feste Burg” last weekend, I couldn’t help but muse at the irony of using such a flamboyant Hymn of the Day for Invocavit, the first Sunday in Lent. After all, Lent is usually marked by a somber tenor, urging us to repentance and feelings of solemnity. In spite of this, the traditional use of "A Mighty Fortress" for Lent 1 is immensely fitting for a number of reasons. First, Lent comes on the heels of Gesimatide, which is a sort of extended commemoration of the Reformation, since the Gospel readings for each of the three Sundays highlight one of the three “Solas” (Gratia, Scriptura, and Fide, respectively). This made concluding with the great hymn of the Lutheran Reformation especially fitting.
In addition, and more importantly, the hymn fit exceptionally well with the theme of the day. The opening line, “a mighty Fortress is our God, a trusty Shield and Buckler,” which is taken from Psalm 91:2, 4, is repeated throughout the Proper of the Mass (it’s in over half of the chants: Tract, Offertory, and Communio!). Plus, the epic struggle between Christ the Valiant One and the old evil foe, which is played out throughout the verses of the hymn, also comes to a head in the Holy Gospel for the day, which records the temptation of our Lord and His victory over that ancient serpent where the first Adam had failed. The evil one’s twisting of God’s Word (of Psalm 91, no less, almost the entirety of which is found in the Proper of the Mass for the day), that old trick he used on Eve - “Did God really say?” - didn’t work so well this time around. In fact, if the devil had cared to pay attention to what he was misquoting and what God really DID say, he would have noted in the very next verse a recapitulation of the first Messianic Prophecy recorded in Scripture: “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot” (which is part of the Tract!).  But we can hardly blame the roaring lion and ancient serpent for being hesitant to speak about his own demise.

All that to say, the selection of this hymn for the first Sunday in Lent is a good one. But using “A Mighty Fortress” for Invocavit of A.D. 2013 had an even greater significance when I realized that the following day was the commemoration of the Blessed Reformer’s birth to eternal life. Obviously this doesn’t happen every year, since the dates of Lent are fluid, based on the vernal Equinox as they are, and the Reformer’s feast day is unmoveable. Still, since I personally had never used the traditional Hymn of the Day for Invocavit on Invocavit, the fact that it fell so close to his heavenly birthday this year was extremely poignant.  

I have a few thoughts to offer on the entire concept of feast days and the commemorations of the saints, but we will save that for another post.  In the mean time, I hope you find the interconnectedness of this one small part of the Liturgy as meaningful as I do.  

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