Persecution of Jews and Christians: Executive Orders Censor a 3,000-Year-Old Religious Ritual

The Book of Psalms (ca. 1000 B.C.) was the hymnal of the Jewish people in biblical times and remains so today. Christians, too, have sung and prayed the Psalter since the first century. Not only does each Sunday and feast day have a designated Psalm to be chanted between the Old Testament and Epistle readings, but several liturgies that are used regularly throughout the church year feature the Psalms. For example, the Office of Matins (dating back to the early medieval period) sets Psalm 95 to music, chanted by pastor and congregants alike.

Known as the Venite (literally, “Come!” in Latin), Psalm 95 begins:

O come, let us sing to the Lord:

Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving

and make a joyful noise to Him with psalms.

The phrase “come before His presence” refers to a corporate gathering in the sanctuary, around the altar, from which God’s Word will be read and preached. At this altar, the Lord’s Supper also is administered.

The Hebrew word translated “sing” is not the usual Hebrew word that denotes singing in general. Rather, it is a more specific term that means singing out or shouting for joy. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament regards the basic meaning to be “call out shrilly, rejoice” and suggests for Psalm 95 in particular a translation of “proclaim jubilantly.”

The Hebrew word translated “make a joyful noise” means “rejoice, cheer, shout in triumph.” Some Old Testament contexts convey the notion of raising a battle cry or blowing a trumpet in jubilation. In Psalm 95, God’s people boisterously exclaim their praise and thanksgiving to God. Silent worship is not their kind of ritual. Among Christians, Lutherans in particular have developed a rich tradition of both choral and congregational singing, meriting the moniker “the singing church.”

Recent executive orders by various American governors have declared it unlawful for a congregation to gather in person. Even when phased reopening orders have permitted gathering (in reduced numbers and with social distancing), sometimes congregational singing has been prohibited. In Minnesota, the current policy is only slightly more lenient, with guidelines urging that at most one designated cantor should sing, but only when wearing a face mask and remaining at double the standard social distance (that is, 12 feet away).

In effect, the governor has censored congregations from performing an age-old ritual known as the Venite; the Office of Matins is now beyond the pale of public decency. Even the cantor, if he were to perform what should be a corporate ritual as a soloist, cannot do so in fidelity to the meaning of the lyrics: singing out, shouting for joy—muzzled behind a mask?

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Eating Out, Getting a Facial, Going to Church—Here Are the New Regulations for Minnesota

Yesterday Minnesota Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20–63 (or try revised link here), which generally maintains the prior limit of gatherings to ten people but now permits restaurants, hair salons, churches, and a few other operations to reopen—in a narrowly prescribed manner.

Each business must follow a Minnesota Employer Preparedness Plan Requirements Checklist specific to its industry.

Going Out to Eat—Small Families Only, Please!

Can your family go out to eat? Mine cannot legally sit together at the same table, since we are a household of eight—a demographic reality that also caused us disproportionate hardship when the stores rationed toilet paper on a per household, rather than per person, basis.

➤A limit of two customers may be seated together at the counter for service at any one time.

➤A limit of four customers may be seated together at a table at any one time, unless the customers are a household, then the limit is six customers. (Restaurants and Bars, p. 5; or try revised link here

Hmm. What if my wife and I sit at the counter, max two, and our six children sit socially distanced from us at a table? For my wife and me, it would be like a date. For the six children and the waiting staff, it would be quite an adventure!

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MN "Opens" Churches Like Never Before

Today Minnesota Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20-63 (or try revised link here), which generally maintains the prior limit of gatherings to 10 people but now permits churches to gather up to 250 people or 25% building capacity, whichever is less.

The order requires churches to follow a special Minnesota Employer Preparedness Plan Requirements Checklist for places of worship. Here are some highlights.

(Note: On May 28, 2020, the government website altered the URLs for both the EO and the checklist, and also modified checklist. This blog was written on the basis of a May 27 version, which has slightly different content and consequently different pagination.)

Bibles, Hymnals, and Bulletins (p. 4, pt. 6)

Shared hymnals and religious texts should be removed as they cannot be effectively cleaned. Consider the following options:
➤Use projectors to guide participants through the order, prayers, and texts of the service.
➤Distribute paper copies in a way that minimizes contact by anyone but the service participant, and do not reuse.
➤Provide electronic copies of text used for services to participants to access on their personal devices prior to the service

Singing (p. 5, pt. 10)

Singing is a higher-risk activity as it more forcefully expels respiratory droplets than speaking. And the act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols. Congregations should refrain from singing. Congregations are strongly encouraged to offer pre-recorded music or only one cantor singing at a distance of at least 12 feet from anyone else during the service, while wearing a facemask.

Holy Communion (p. 5, pt. 12)

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Respecting God’s Order: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata on Romans 13:1–7

J.S. BachBack in the days when churches were permitted to sing aloud, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a cantata to mark the “election” (we might say “appointment”) of a town council, entitled “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn” (“Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem,” BWV 119). As a church musician, Bach keenly appreciated the instructional value of both the lyrics and the accompaniment. The following excerpts served as Bach’s commentary, indeed, his sermon, on Romans 13:1–7. (The actual identity of the lyricist is unknown; for simplicity, I’ll refer to Bach since he composed the music that completed the project.)

Gott durch kluge Obrigkeit
Und durch ihr weises Regiment geschehn
God, is present through prudent authority
and through its wise governance
Die Obrigkeit ist Gottes Gabe,
Ja selber Gottes Ebenbild.
Wer ihre Macht nicht will ermessen,
Der muß auch Gottes gar vergessen:
Wie würde sonst sein Wort erfüllt?
Authority is God’s gift,
yes, even the very image of God.
Whoever will not submit to its power
must also forget God completely:
how else would His word be fulfilled?

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"For the First Time in Forever" Quarantine Parody

That restaurant's open!

So's that store!

I didn't know they did that anymore!

Who knew we were allowed to leave our homes?

For weeks I've roamed these empty streets--

Why have a city with only essentials?

Finally, they're opening up the state!

There'll be actual real live people!

It'll be totally strange.

But, wow! I am so ready for this change!

'Cause for the first time in forever

We won't go to church online!

For the first time in forever

Seeing friends won't be a crime!

Don't know if I'm congested or achy

But I'm somewhere in that zone!

'Cause for the first time in forever,

I won't be together alone!


You might also enjoy "Let It Go" Lutheran Parody.