Christian Worship in the Reformation


Table of Contents

Weekly Writing Assignments

  1. Due by the start of the first class each week
  2. 1–2 pp. double-spaced
  3. Summarize key points from previous week, answer question (if given) or write free reflection on music and readings for coming week
  4. Consider questions like these:
    1. What did you learn this week that most challenged your prior conceptions or added the most to your understanding?
    2. What did you read or listen to that you found most interesting and which you most want help understanding?
    3. How do you think the reading, music, and class sessions fit together?
    4. Are there any nagging questions or intellectual problems that are bothering you?



Information on Blackboard

Final Exam

Take-home essay due via Blackboard at start of final exam period

Hymn Project

Group grade for presentation and handout with bibliography

Due in class, Thursday, April 4

You will be assigned a group and a hymn text. Research the history of this hymn until you can trace it from its earliest known sources through today. Find out the author and find the text in its original form and language. Identify any earlier sources the text and/or tune may be based on. Trace the text and the different tunes connected to it through a variety of hymn books from different places and traditions. Find pieces of music such as organ preludes, cantatas, motets, anthems, etc., based on the hymn text and/or tune.

Give a group presentation in which you

There is a large assortment of old hymn books on reserve in the Art/Music Library, primarily from 1800-1900. Use these as your primary sources, in addition to other sources you may be able to find. On the presentation day we will have these sources in the classroom so you can use them in your presentation.

Your presentation must include a handout. Actually this will be a PDF that you will submit via Blackboard (by the start of class on presentation day) and we will view digitally. The handout must include a bibliography of at least three scholarly sources. You should also include the most important names and examples you will discuss in your presentation.

Every member of the group must be present and participate in the presentation. Live singing or playing is highly encouraged but not required. You will receive both a group and individual score, which will be combined to result in your grade. You must make clear in your written submission what each person contributed to the project.

Hymn Texts

  • Team Luther: Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her
  • Team Gerhardt: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
  • Team Watts: Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

Analysis/Interpretation Paper

Individual grade

Choose one short selection of music from the syllabus. I recommend that you choose an aria from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion but you have freedom to pursue your own interest. Analyze the relationship between musical structure and style on the one hand, and theological beliefs in the tradition relevant to this piece, on the other. How does this music contribute to worship as understood in a particular tradition?

Write a short paper, 2.5 to 4 pages in length, in which you focus on a few analytical details of the music and connect them to specific and relevant theological sources.

You do not need to do a technical music-theory-class type analysis (unless you can, in which case you probably should exercise your skills!). Base this on what you hear. How do the movements and patterns of the music line up with the words? Does the music sound like other music (e.g., Palestrina-style counterpoint or operatic music)? How do the structures of the music fit with other kinds of structures (e.g., ritual forms, social structures like church governance)?

You are welcome to do additional research, especially in primary sources (e.g., sermons or commentaries of Luther), but you may do the whole paper perfectly well just based on material already assigned on the syllabus. The purpose of the paper is analysis (take apart the thing and see how it works) and interpretation (what do you think it means? what do you think the creators meant by it? what do you think the original hearers thought it meant? what did they do with it spiritually speaking, or what did it enable them to do?).

Ethnography in Historical Context

Individual grade; Due on the last day of class

Visit a local Christian church for a worship service. Carefully observe and make notes, then write an ethnographic essay of 4 to 6 pages in length (double-spaced). The goal of the essay is to connect your observations of worship practices with their historical and theological background in one of the Reformation traditions.

Recommended Churches

Roman Catholic Lutheran Reformed/Presbyterian Episcopal (Anglican)

Observational questions to consider

  • When does the service start? Is everyone there at the beginning or do people come late or leave early? Can people come and go? Are there multiple activities going on or does everyone do the same thing?
  • What are the demographics and style of the community? How are people dressed? What kind of people are present? Does the group appear to be homogeneous in ethnic background, social class, economic position, education level, etc.? If there is diversity, what kind is there? Is it mentioned or dealt with explicitly in any way?
  • Who calls the service to order, or how does the service start? Do people seem to know what to do already? Does someone explain things or do they just happen? How are transitions handled? How are guests, visitors, non-members treated? How do members/participants treat each other? Who seems to be in charge? Is it the same person that the bulletin/website says is in charge? (e.g., is the pastor leading the service or the musicians?)
  • What is the shape and structure of the service? Does it seem planned in advance? Is there a printed program? Do people use books like a prayer book, book of liturgical readings, hymnal, etc.? Do people bring Bibles with them to church? Rosaries? Even if there is no explicit plan, can you discern one?


Does the service include any of these elements?

  • a time of praise, worship, glorification, exalted singing or speaking about God, naming the positive attributes of God, thanking God for present and past favors
  • a time of confession, penitence, acknowledgment of sin, brokenness, etc. (and is there absolution or reminder of forgiveness/grace)
  • a time for meditation, contemplation, reflection, personal/private prayer, silence
  • readings from Scripture (which parts? how are they read? who reads them?)
  • psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs (see below)
  • a sermon or homily
  • a time focused on the community, such as announcements, greeting, passing of the peace, sharing of prayer concerns, children’s moment
  • sacramental rituals: Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion/Sacrament of the Altar (the thing with bread and wine), baptism (the thing with water), others
  • if there is a Eucharistic celebration, does it follow a structured, pre-written text? Who leads it? What physical actions accompany the words that are used? How are the elements (bread and wine) treated? Are there other elements (e.g., water) used? Does the ceremony feel solemn, festive, jubilant, sorrowful, dutiful, perfunctory, confused, a time for coming together or a time for individual reflection, etc.?
  • How is the space organized? Is there an area that is reserved as especially sacred, e.g., where only clergy can go, or objects that only clergy can touch? Are there wires and cables everywhere? Is there a choir? Do they sit in a separate area to themselves? In front or behind? What relationships can you discern between the architectural style and the style of worship and community interaction?

Observational questions about music in worship

  • When is there singing? Who sings? What do they sing? Who leads it? How?
  • When is there music without singing? When, if at all, is there music not connected in any way to words (e.g., based on a hymn tune)? What instruments are used? Where are they?
  • Do people introduce songs verbally or just start singing them? Do they practice parts of the song (e.g., Let’s try that part again) as they do it? Does everyone seem to know the music? Do people actually sing along? Heartily? Does anyone sing harmony? Do people embellish the melody or sing it straight along with the leader? Does the leader embellish the melody?
  • What range of styles and moods is represented? What kinds of topics and themes (theologically) are presented in the words and in the music? Do they seem related to each other, to the day, to the theme of the sermon or the festival being celebrated?
  • If there is an ensemble of musicians, do they all play together? Are they at equal skill levels? Do they stay in time strictly or do they ebb and flow? How do they interact with the rest of the people? Are they reading from music? Can you see what kind they are using (fully notated, lead sheets, just words and chords, etc.)

Historical/theological questions to connect to the Reformation

  • Is there a denomational affiliation in the church’s name? On the church’s website? In the church’s building and on their printed materials? Is it mentioned explicitly in the service?
  • Does what you see and hear on the day match up with the official presentations of that denomination you can find on, e.g., the church’s website, denominational websites?
  • Do the church’s practices seem most closely related to Lutheran, Reformed/Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, or Roman Catholic traditions? Do you think the people at the church know this?
  • Which tradition do the church’s beliefs as articulated in the service seem to fit best with?
  • Are there specific links to historical practices, texts, or structures? (E.g., use of the Book of Common Prayer, the Roman Rite, reading out loud from a Calvinist confession) Are denominational distinctives like predestination, transubstantiation, salvation by grace, etc., explicitly emphasized? How?

Additional Information

How to find an article using RILM

  1. Go to UR library website.
  2. Search for RILM (database of literature about music); under Database Recommendations click on RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
  3. Log in if necessary. on the EBSCOhost page, search the page for RILM, then click (again!) on RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text
  4. Search by author, title, etc.
  5. Click on the title. On the detailed info page with the title and abstract, at the bottom there is a red rectangular link that says FindText@UR. Click on this and it will take you to the library’s Full Text page for this article.
  6. Next to Available full text, click Open in New Window to access the PDF.