German: O Lamm Gottes unschuldig
1 O Lamb of God most holy! Who on the cross didst suffer, And patient still and lowly, Yourself to scorn did offer; Our sins by You were taken, Or hope had us forsaken: Have mercy on us, Jesus!
2 O Lamb of God most holy! Who on the cross didst suffer, And patient still and lowly, Yourself to scorn did offer; Our sins by You were taken, Or hope had us forsaken: Have mercy on us, Jesus!
3 O Lamb of God most holy! Who on the cross didst suffer, And patient still and lowly, Yourself to scorn did offer; Our sins by You were taken, Or hope had us forsaken: Your peace be with us, Jesus!
During this time of Lent and Holy Week, the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God becomes more persistent. This hymn is from what is called the Ordinary of the Mass, one of five pieces expected in most every celebration of the Lord’s Supper. All the liturgical churches use it: the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and the dismissal. Lutherans of the Norwegian sort always said or sang the Lord’s Prayer, which is not part of the ordinary, but always said, before the Words of Institution, but that changed after the Liturgical revival of Vatican II and Lutheran liturgical scholars pressed successfully for it to be consistent with the Roman rite and used after the Words of Institution. Only since the 2013 Norwegian hymnal has the Lord’s Prayer come after the words of institution.
When Luther was asked to provide a common liturgy in German for his followers he resisted for some time, not wanting to intrude on the freedom of congregations to fashion their own. He came to see the need for a standard German service for evangelical reasons, So in 1523 he prepared a German version of the Latin Mass, the Formula Missae. It was still some in Latin, but mostly German words, with chant music. It excluded the Canon of the Mass which he opposed because it made the mass a sacrifice.
Finally in 1526, he relented and provided a service we now call the Deutsche Messe, German Mass, or Chorale service. Here he also used the traditional order but versified the Ordinary of the mass into German hymns. His Kyrie, Gott Vater; The Creed (We All Believe in One True God); The German Sanctus (Isaiah in a Vision did Behold) and then the Agnus Dei—O Lamb of God most holy. He provided his own version of the song.
Decius, a monk, had been convinced by Luther’s theology and began teaching it. A musician and poet, he began creating his own version of a German service and this hymn along with "All Glory be to God on High" came to be considered appropriate for the Deutsche Messe as it developed. He had been the Probst of the cloister in Steterburg, and then became a master in Braunschweig. He wrote this hymn while he was pastor of St. Nicolas in Stettin shortly before his death which many suspected was caused by poisoning.
In Luther's time the congregation received the bread in one procession while or after the Sanctus was sung, and then come back for the wine while or after the Agnus Dei was sung—a new thing since the laity had not received the cup before and it was one of the most obvious differences to the laity from the Catholic mass which they knew from childhood.
The Agnus Dei is rich with biblical references—especially John the Baptist’s cry, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. Sung as people go up to receive the sacrament at the altar, it teaches and reminds them of what their receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus is all about.
F. Melius Christiansen set the Decius hymn into an anthem that still attracts choirs. He was well aware of its place in the piety of his audience and composed this short version of it, still being sung with affection by choirs.
It remains a vital part of the Lutheran tradition. Bach used the text and tune in significant pieces, most specifically as the cantus firmus at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Passion. As well as several chorale preludes on it.
This is a time to contemplate what it meant for Jesus to give himself for us on the cross during Passover at the time the lambs were being slaughtered for Passover. It is almost unfathomable. But it is true!
National Lutheran Choir
Bach's Chorale Prelude BWV 656
Bach's choral instrumental version BWV 1095
NB Here is the way I am going to make the hymnblogs from last year available. You will have to return to this email to click on the links each day. Looping them will take more work and expertise than I have. This seemed to be the best way for now.
HYMNFORTHEDAY for this week
Trust in God’s Promise
How Lovely Shines the Morning Star
Shall We Gather at the River
Children of the Heavenly Father
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Great is thy Faithfulness
When Peace Like a River