Why hymnals?

Why hymnals?
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Todd Alexander Todd Alexander is Chief musician at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.
23 May, 2023 4 min read

The people of God have always sung their faith. Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper before leaving for the Mount of Olives. The church sang hymns throughout the Apostolic age (Colossians 3:16), and continued to do so for many centuries afterward.

Yet particularly during the Renaissance, congregational song in the church’s corporate worship began to disappear.

Pre-Reformation church music was dominated by beautiful yet complex polyphony. The difficult rhythms, melodies, and harmonies could be mastered only by choirs of well-rehearsed singers, confining congregations to passive observation.

A major intervention was required to recover congregational singing. This occurred during the Reformation by means of the written notation of the hymnal.

Reformation hymnals

Martin Luther gave the German church two books in the vernacular: the Bible and the hymnal. Luther published the first hymnal, known as the Achtliederbuch, in 1524.

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