Sunday, December 18, 2011

communion hymns

I suggest that for the "communion hymns," ie., the hymns sung by the congregation during the Holy Communion at Mass, that it would be appropriate and make the most sense to sing hymns that are actually communion hymns, ie., hymns about and in praise of the Blessed Sacrament.  Seems logical enough.  And it's not as though we suffer from a lack of such hymns in our language.  There is even a whole section of hymns in Lutheran Service Book devoted specifically to this subject.  Several of them are actually worthy of being used in the Church.

And yet, in my experience in Lutheran churches it is virtually never the case that the hymns during Communion are reserved for singing about the venerable Eucharist.  It seems far more common for the communion time to be peppered with hymns directed or loosely about the sermon theme of the day, or hymns of praise, or hymns on the doctrine of justification, or a combination of the above.  Pastors who are slightly more eucharistically conscious will throw in maybe one eucharistic hymn, maybe two, usually just one.  At my own parish it seems to be usually the second hymn at communion.  I attended Mass recently at another church where there was not one eucharistic hymn; all the hymns during Communion dealt with the theme of the day.  This is not to pick on any one congregation or pastor, for it seems to be a matter, rather, of the current culture of our church. 

I challenge the reader, both lay and clergy, to take this as an opportunity to think on this issue.  And then think some more.  I know it is longstanding custom to sing a very limited number of eucharistic hymns, if any, during the celebration of the Eucharist.  But ponder what is going on.  Meditate upon the holy mystery that is taking place during that time.  The tradition of the Church has given us some great hymns for this purpose.  If we end up singing them more often than we have been accustomed to singing them, the awful consequence will be that we will actually get to know them better.  They will come to occupy a deeper place in our hearts.  And they will prove to be a great aid to our devotion and worship.  They would help make of that moment more than the utilitarian "distribution" time, for we might actually, as a church, come to see that time as a Holy Communion with Christ our Immanuel, our Eucharistic Lord.

6 comments:

Rev. Shane R. Cota said...

Communion hymns are probably repeated more frequently in my congregations than any other category of hymns. I generally pick three hymns to be sung during the distribution. At least two of them are almost always specifically communion hymns (including the first one). I might pick one hymn that is either a "leftover" fitting the "theme" of the day, or that, frankly, is a hymn my congregation might like to sing, but I do not. If I don't like it, I don't have to sing it if it's sung during the distribution. But, yes, hyms sung during communion, should generally be true *communion* hymns.

Phillip said...

What would be your thoughts on Baptismal or Absolutional hymns during Communion? Can we sing about all three Sacraments?

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Fr. Shane:

That's outstanding. Of course I would have expected no less from you.

Phillip:

We can, but I don't know what the rationale for this would be.

Daniel Baker said...

We usually sing a Communion hymn at my home parish; there is typically a "theme" hymn as well, but it is almost always secondary.

Incidentally, at the parish I played for last week, "Soul Adorn [Thyself] with Gladness" was both a Communion and "theme" hymn at the same time! That was certainly refreshing.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Daniel:

That's definitely one of the great hymns of the Church, and I wish I got to sing it more often in church.

Anonymous said...

At my church (WELS - CW) we normally sing communion hymns. The two we normally sing are "Jesus Christ Our Blessed Savior" and "Lord Jesus Christ You Have Prepared." Typically three hymns are chosen, and only one or two get sung. I'm not sure why but for a while they (and I really mean they, not I) would sing that dreadful Vatican II hymn "Sent Forth By God's Blessing." (It's sad that Vatican II hymns [e.g. "Sent Forth..."] are worse than Vatican II pop tunes [e.g. Marty Haugen psalms, "On Eagles' Wings, etc.]...at least of what I know. Except for the Vatican II reworking of John Denver's "My Sweet Lady"...that was just creepy... )