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Johann Sebastian Bach completed what came to be known as the Mass in B minor in 1749, near the end of the his life, though he had worked on various sections of it for twenty-five years. Why the Lutheran Bach wrote what his son Carl Philipp Emanuel later catalogued as “the Great Catholic Mass” (it uses the Latin text of the Roman service) remains a riddle. Nevertheless, the Mass in B minor is considered one of the greatest works of Western music; below is the beautiful Laudamus Te from this masterpiece. –Editor

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2 replies to this post
  1. It’s not as much of a riddle as it seems. Bach wrote the Mass for a patron who was Catholic. The Kyrie and Gloria were in fact traditionally used in the Lutheran service.

  2. To second Michael De Sapio, this comes from Article XXIV. Of the Mass in the Defense of the Augsburg Confession:

    “At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

    2] The adversaries have a long declamation concerning the use of the Latin language in the Mass, in which they absurdly trifle as to how it profits [what a great merit is achieved by] an unlearned hearer to hear in the faith of the Church a Mass which he does not understand. They evidently imagine that the mere work of hearing is a service, that it profits without being understood. 3] We are unwilling to malignantly pursue these things, but we leave them to the judgment of the reader. We mention them only for the purpose of stating, in passing, that also among us the Latin lessons and prayers are retained.

    Since ceremonies, however, ought to be observed both to teach men Scripture, and that those admonished by the Word may conceive faith and fear [of God, and obtain comfort], and thus also may pray (for these are the designs of ceremonies), we retain the Latin language on account of those who are learning and understand Latin, and we mingle with it German hymns, in order that the people also may have something to learn, and by which faith and fear 4] may be called forth. This custom has always existed in the churches. For although some more frequently, and others more rarely, introduced German hymns, nevertheless the people almost everywhere sang something in their own 5] tongue. [Therefore, this is not such a new departure.] It has, however, nowhere been written or represented that the act of hearing lessons not understood profits men, or that ceremonies profit, not because they teach or admonish, but ex opere operato, because they are thus performed or are looked upon. Away with such pharisaic opinions! [Ye sophists ought to be heartily ashamed of such dreams!]

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