Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Most of the hymns in a congregation's repertoire are sung a few times a year.  That's the way it should be, I think, especially in an age when most folks don't read music and only hear our hymn tunes when they come to church.   But there are some hymns that most every congregation sings well that they only sing once a year - such as "For All the Saints" every All Saints' Day.   Oh, sure, it is sung at funerals, too, so some folks get an extra chance to sing it now and then, but it is basically a once-a-year event.  Another hymn like this is "On Jordan's Bank", which most Lutherans sing every Second Sunday in Advent.   That one goes pretty well, too. 

This past Sunday we sang the "every Third Sunday of Easter" standard, "With High Delight Let Us Unite".  This one doesn't soar quite as well with the assembly, but our congregation has learned to sing it.  And I think they are enjoying it as much now as the choir, as it is a wonderful hymn.  So it's a keeper.  And this Sunday we'll sing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is", another once-a-year favorite.   I bring this up so we can consider both the wisdom and the limitations of the "Hymn of the Day".   Sometimes it really works, and a congregation's worship is strengthened with traditions like singing "My Song Is Love Unknown" each year on the 5th Sunday in Lent.   And sometimes the "hymn of the day" that works is not necessarily the appointed one.  At Bethany, for example, we have really embraced "No Tramp of Soldiers' Marching Feet" for Palm/Passion Sunday.   So it has become a sort of parochially-appointed Hymn of the Day, for lack of a better term. But other times, the appointed hymn just doesn't take root.  "Christ is the World's Redeemer" for Seventh Sunday of Easter comes to mind.  There are others. 

What are your thoughts?  Which hymns are strongly associated with particular days of the church year in your congregation?  Which of the appointed ones, on the other hand, are not so successful.  Are there any you've replaced and found greater success with?   And are there some that work better at other times of the year or other parts of the service? 

Whatever your thoughts, if you haven't considered these questions as part of your craft of worship planning, I humbly suggest your congregation would benefit from this kind of conversation about hymnody.  I do hope to get a few responses - but I hope even more you'll talk to your people about how hymnody accompanies are walk with Christ through the Church Year.  


Phillip said...

Another HOD that really has taken root among most our churches is "Savior of the Nations, Come" for 1st Sunday in Advent. Speaking of Advent, it is becoming increasingly popular in our churches to sing "Gabriel's Message" on Advent 4.

And I always pick "Wake, Awake!" for the last Sunday of the Church Year even though the new lectionary has that Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins a week (or two?) earlier in Year A. So, for me, the plus side on that change in the lectionary means we get to sing WACHET AUF more often! :)

Certainly Feast Days like Baptism of Our Lord, Epiphany, Ascension, Transfiguration all have their great hymns. Can we think of some other "ordinary Sundays" that have beloved hymns for them as well?

Pastor Peters said...

I am conflicted by the Hymn of the Day choices in LSB. Often they are seem to be peripheral to the lessons in theme and content -- good and salutary hymns but not what I would have chosen. So when that occurs, we use one of our parochial hymns of the day in its place but generally try to use the appointed one at some other location in the liturgy.

We sing 6 hymns on Sunday. 6 times 52 is 312 (Tennessee math). We try to sing some of the greater hymns of the day more than once (such as the King of Love My Shepherd Is - when the 23rd Psalm or the theme of shepherd or lamb is introduced by the pericopes). This means that we have a few hymns we sing more regularly and others that we might hit only every third year or so and a few we will not use (though the choir may sing).

The hymn of the day should tie directly into the lesson being used as the preaching text (usually the Gospel) so that means that there are often better hymns than the appointed one (such as the Sundays after Easter Year B and "Long Before the World Is Waking" or "Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow").

Singing some 300 hymns/year, we will cover most of the book in a couple of years. When we retired LW, I found that we had only failed to sing 12 of the total 508 hymns (not counting canticles). Sadly, too many parishes use the same small subset of hymns and repeat them overly often so the wide variety of riches is lost to them.

Phillip said...

I agree, Pastor Peters. The LSB HOD choices sometimes are a bit "peripheral", as you say. Perhaps a good ongoing discussion might be which "substitutes" people find useful when they are, for example, preaching on the Epistle or, frankly, when they are looking for a better match.

When we do this, we follow the same practice you do: we sing the appointed HOD elsewhere (95% of the time). To add clarity and to help retain the people's appreciation of both liturgical fidelity and liturgical flexibility, I keep it labled as "The Hymn of the Day", and then retitle our choice for the parochial "de temporum" hymn "Sermon Hymn".

Pretty cool that you all wound up singing 496 out of 508 hymns in LW. Way to go! :)