Childhood memories of Lenten services

Ray Spitzenberger

A PK (preacher’s kid) is always a little different from the rest of the kids in a congregation (my kids were PKs). Although a preacher, I was never a PK myself – I was an OK (organist’s kid), different from a PK and from some of the other kids in the church.

The difference was in how much OKs knew about the music and worship service of the church. We knew, for instance, that those little black dots in the hymnal were not fly specks, but notes. And we knew how to read those notes.

And being a Lutheran OK, and having a mother who had pegged me to play the organ when she retired, I knew more about the worship liturgy than most of the other kids on the pew. And I knew how to pronounce the funny Latin terms designating the sections of the service, saying the German pronunciation of the Latin terms.

I knew that on Wednesday nights during Lent our pastor used Vespers (evening prayer service) in our hymnal, and that the Vespers Service included the Magnificat (Latin for “magnifies” as Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord”), or the option of the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “Lettest thou depart,” Simeon’s song, pronounced “noonk di-mit’ us”). I could also sing the Kyrie (short liturgical prayer, “Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy”) as well as pronounce “kir’ee-ay.”

I did not learn the Latin names of the Sundays in Lent, but, because I thought they were fun to say together, I learned the names of the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays after Easter – Jubilate (Joo’bI-lah-tay, meaning joy, Cantate (kahn’tah-tay, meaning sing, and Rogate (row-gah’tay), meaning pray. I made a little song out of the three words, walking around the house singing, “Jubilate, Cantate, Rogate,” over and over.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful of our Lenten worship services by recalling these light-hearted childhood memories, because, even as a child I took Lent and Lenten worship services very seriously.

In fact, as a retired pastor and homebound, Wednesday nights during Lent open up a flow of sacred childhood memories for me. Such images as Lutheran Vespers Services by the otherworldly light of gasoline lanterns … my mother the organist playing those touching old Lenten hymns on the pump organ … singing them often in German; the crucifix casting a shadow on the altar, feeling the emotions of O Sacred Head Now Wounded, watching the June bugs leaping in through the open church window, hearing the powerful story of Christ on his way to the cross.

Some nights I would watch a tear roll down my grandmother’s cheek, sitting with Grandma, Mama at the organ, too young to sit on the men’s side, feeling the presence of God and a great sense of being wrapped in loving kindness.

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of three books, It Must Be the Noodles, Open Prairies, and Tanka Schoen.

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