Presentation: Music of the Great Fast

On Thursday, February 11, I gave a presentation on the music for the Great Fast at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, PA; it was also live-streamed over the Internet.  For those who missed it, here is a recording:

We used the green Divine Liturgies book and the 2010 Presanctified books, along with these handouts:

Two questions keep coming up:

  1. What should we sing at Holy Communion at the Presanctified?
  2. What sort of non-liturgical hymns should be be singing in the Great Fast?

The two questions are connected. For centuries, very few Christians (East or West) received Holy Communion frequently. So in the Divine Liturgy, there was no real need for a great deal of singing at Communion time.

With the reforms of Pope Pius X and an increased emphasis on regular reception of the Eucharist, the situation changed. Some of the hymns sung at Communion made sense; others didn’t. With the promulgation of our new Divine Liturgy books in 2007, our bishops directed that (following the older  traditions of the Byzantine Rite), the liturgical Communion Hymn(s) of the day should be sung, and extended as necessary with verses from the psalm(s) the Communion Hymns are taken from, with the congregational refrain, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”  AFTER this psalm or psalms, other hymns may be sung, but they must be taken from Sacred Scripture or our liturgical books.

So at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, whose Communion Hymn quotes Psalm 33: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, that psalm should be given pride of place. The complete text of the psalm can be found in the Cantor’s Companion. It can be sung to the Lenten melody used for the Communion Hymn itself. In most parishes, this psalm is long enough to allow everyone to receive communion.  If you need more musical options, please ask here!

In the talk on February 11, I also talked about our paraliturgical Lenten hymns. Of these hymns, the ones that focus primarily or solely on the physical sufferings of our Lord are only really appropriate during Holy Week, and even during Holy Week one might be better off singing hymns that connect our Lord’s sufferings with his love for us and our response, such as:

But some hymns focus more particularly on our repentance, and are worth singing throughout the Great Fast:

Finally, our most ancient hymn to the Theotokos is sung during the Great Fast at the dismissal of Vespers, and should be learned by the faithful.  It can be found in two different versions at the back of the green Divine Liturgies book:

Many of the articles on these individual hymns include recordings to help you learn them.

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