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The Psalter (2): Wittenberg Hymnal 

Before the Reformation, singing in church was often done by a group of performers instead of the whole congregation. The Reformers believed that the whole congregation should sing to give praise to God together and be an active part of worship.  

By 1524, only seven years after the Reformation began, Martin Luther, working with a few others, put together a hymnal of eight songs, most of them based on the Psalms. This small pamphlet of songs became so popular, it was reprinted later that same year with even more songs. While not all of the songs in either of these collections were based on the Psalms, there was an emphasis on singing songs based on scripture passages, even if those passages weren’t the Psalms. While these songs could be sung in church, they were mostly intended for singing in the home or in small gatherings.  

The demand for psalters and spiritual songs continued to grow, and the First Wittenberg Hymnal was also published in 1524, now with 32 songs, with 24 written by Martin Luther. This hymnal has sometimes been called the “root of all Protestant song music.” It was the beginning attempt at creating a songbook for worship in Protestant churches.  

This hymnal was intended for use both in church and outside of it, written with a fourpart harmony for singing by the whole congregation. Martin Luther wrote in the preface that he wanted to provide the young people specifically with spiritual songs they could sing instead of worldly songs. Even at the very beginning, the psalter numbers were intended not just for the adults in the church, but the children and young people as well.  

Many of the psalter numbers Martin Luther wrote are still in use in German psalters and hymnals today. In the Psalter we use in the Protestant Reformed Churches, we use one psalter number from the ones Martin Luther wrote. This is his melody and versification of Psalm 46, Psalter #128, though the version we sing has been translated into English and the words have been reworked to fit better with the wording of the Psalm.