Singing at Holy Communion

The Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy is followed immediately by Holy Communion. This article explains how to lead the singing during the preparation for Communion as well as during Communion itself, and covers pages 63-83 of our Divine Liturgies book.

The litany before Communion

The responses to this litany are the usual ones. Pay attention to see whether the deacon (or priest) intones the optional petitions beginning with "That we be delivered from all affliction, wrath, and need...." There are six petitions to which the response is not, "Lord, have mercy," but "Grant this, O Lord." These petitions are easy to recognize, since they all end with the words ".... let us beseech the Lord."

The Lord's Prayer

Normally a litany ends with a prayer chanted by the priest, and the people's "Amen." But the litany just before Holy Communion is special: the priest asks God that we we may be made worthy to call God "Father," at which point the clergy and people together do just that, by singing the Lord's Prayer. Then at the end of this prayer, the priest chants a doxology ("For thine is the kingdom.... Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...") and the people respond, "Amen."

The Divine Liturgies book provides TEN different melodies for the Lord's Prayer:

Cantors should learn all ten melodies by heart; this also provides a good grounding in the eight samohlasen tones which are used at Vespers. Some parishes sing the Our Father on Sundays in the tone of the week, on feast days to the podoiben melody, and on ordinary weekdays to the recitative melody. HOWEVER, if you introduce a new melody in your parish, do not use it once only; sing it for several weeks in a row until the congregation had has a chance to learn it well.

The congregation's singing of the Our Father (followed closely by the community recitation of the pre-Communion prayer) is a high point of the Divine Liturgy; be sure to give it the attention is deserves, making it a true act of prayer.

Since there will almost always be a page skip after the Our Father to the doxology at the top of page 76, you may want to keep a card or sticky note between pages 76 and 77. There is also a notation at the foot of each setting of the Lord's Prayer telling the faithful to turn to page 76:

The Prayer over Bowed Heads

The Lord's Prayer is followed by a prayer in which the priest asks God to bless the faithful during the remainder of the day; this was originally a blessing for those who were not able to receive Holy Communion, and would be dismissed at this point in the service, but now the entire congregation is prayer over. The usual simple responses are sung.

The "Amen" at the end of the prayer, however, uses the long melody:

Long Amen

This is because the priest must break the consecrated bread (the "lamb") and put a portion in the chalice, while the deacon adds hot water to it to signify the life and action of the Holy Spirit. So the cantor should sing this Amen solemnly and somewhat slowly, without dragging. This moment in the Liturgy is one of expectation; this should be clear in your singing. Then wait in silence (if necessary) for the deacon and priest.

Holy Communion

The deacon calls for the people's attention, and the priest intones, "Holy gifts to holy people!" The people's response is sung using the long Amen melody, twice:

Listen

This response should NOT have a noticeable break in the middle, since it a single thought; however, like the Amen at the end of the Prayer over Bowed Heads, it should be sung slowly and solemnly, without dragging, while the deacon and then the priest each receive a portion of the consecrated Mysteries.

Note: if there are several priests, especially in a very large celebration, this may take some time. The Metropolitan Cantor Institute recommends the "One is Holy" be sung repeatedly if necessary, perhaps in several languages. In some places, the Communion Hymn of the day is sung in these circumstances, but this hymn should really wait until after the Communion Prayer, when the clergy consume the Gifts they hold in their hands.

When the clergy each have a portion of the consecrated Bread, they say the Communion Prayer together with the faithful: "O Lord, I believe and profess..." This is the only part of the Divine Liturgy (other than the homily) which is commonly said in a normal speaking voice.

In some parishes, the priest will begin the prayer; in others, this is the responsibility of the cantor. If the priest does not begin the prayer, be ready to start it yourself. The prayer should be read in a reverent, thoughtful fashion; it is customary to make the sign of the Cross over oneself at the three petitions, "Remember me..." and the three petitions "be merciful to me.... cleanse me of my sins... forgive me."

Now the Communion Hymn of the day is sung, as appointed in the Typikon; you should have this ready in advance, and begin singing at the end of the Communion prayer.

For Sundays, the Communion Hymn is "Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the highest. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" The Divine Liturgies book provides seven settings of this Communion Hymn (A-F), corresponding to the A-F settings of the Cherubic Hymn.

Why no G setting of the Sunday Communion Hymn? Because Cherubic Hymn G is for the faithful departed — and we never sing the melodies for the dead on Sunday, since it is the day of Resurrection.

On feastdays, the Communion Hymn for the feast day is sung. You can use the melody found in the feast day materials, or use the table in the Cantor's Companion to find other melodies to match a different Cherubic Hymn.

On ordinary weekdays, the Communion Hymn for the saint of the day, the day of the week, or Liturgy for a special intention may be used; it should be the one that matches the other hymns (troparion, kontakion, prokeimenon, and Alleluia) that are sung at that particular Divine Liturgy.

If there are several Communion Hymns, they are sung right after the other, or the second may be kept for the people's Communion (below). It is laudable but not necessary to use the same melody for all the Communion Hymns.

The people's Communion

When the clergy have received Communion, the deacon exclaims, "Approach with the fear of God and with faith," and the faithful respond:

Invitation to Communion

Listen

(Note that along with "Mercy, peace" before the anaphora, this is one of the only simple responses that goes all the way up to sol, making it particularly festive.)

Then the faithful come forward to receive Holy Communion. In general, the cantor should receive Communion first (or among the first), so that he or she can lead the singing during the Communion procession. Note than at some special services, such as the baptismal and wedding rites when celebrated with Divine Liturgy, the recipient of baptism or the newly-married couple receive Communion first.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, most Eastern Catholics (and Orthodox) received Holy Communion infrequently, so that singing the Communion Hymn(s) of the day a second time provided enough music to "cover" the Communion procession. But with more frequent Communion, it became necessary to allow for more singing at Holy Communion.

With the 2006 Divine Liturgy book, our bishops directed that the ancient practice of singing an entire Psalm, with the refrain, "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!", should be restored. So at the beginning of the people's Communion, the cantor leads the faithful in singing the Communion Hymn, and then either the he or another singer chants the first verse of the psalm from which the Communion Hymn is taken; the cantor and faithful then sing the "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" refrain from the Communion Hymn.

This is repeated for each verse of the Psalm, concluding with the doxology (Glory... now and ever...) and one more singing of the refrain. The entire psalm need not be sung; if all have received Communion, then the singing can end with the next refrain.

The text of the Communion psalm

Whenever a Communion Hymn is given in the Divine Liturgy book, the number of the Psalm from which it was taken is also provided. The Cantor's Companion (found on the Publications page) contains the text of those psalms which are used at Holy Communion. In particular, Psalm 148 is sung on Sundays, and Psalm 33 is the ancient Communion psalm in Constantinople.

If there are two Communion Hymns, it is permissible to choose the psalm that goes with either one. For example, when there are two Communion Hymns on a particular Sunday, it is usually preferable to skip Psalm 148 and use the psalm from the other Communion Hymn.

The music for the Communion Psalm

There are at least three ways to sing the verses of the Communion Psalm:

  1. To the Cherubic Hymn melody that is used for the Communion Psalm itself. The cantor must be a skilled enough singer to apply this melody to each verse of the Psalm.
  2. To a psalm tone. In some cases, however, this does not match up well with the "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!" refrain, which is always sung to the melody used for these words in the Communion Hymn itself.
  3. To a set of melodies which were composed for this purpose by Professor Michael Thompson, former director of the MCI. There is one such psalm verse melody, in two parts, for each Cherubic Hymn melody, leading easily into the triple Alleluia refrain in that melody. These melodies can be found in this handout, and used with a specially "pointed" collection of the Communion Psalms.

The cantor should choose a method in advance, and practice it.

If you reach the end of the Communion psalm and a significant number of the faithful are still waiting to receive Holy Communion, you can:

In general, texts which are not taken from Sacred Scripture or from the liturgical books should NOT be sung during the Divine Liturgy itself.

The conclusion of Holy Communion

When all have received Communion, the priest exclaims, "Save your people, O God, and bless your inheritance," and the faithful respond by singing "We have seen the true light", a sticheron from the feast of Pentecost in Tone 2. The Divine Liturgies book provides two settings for this hymn:

The first setting uses the Tone 2 samohlasen melody:

We have seen the true light (samohlasen)

Listen

and the second uses the Tone 2 Bolhar ("Bulgarian") melody:

We have seen the true light (samohlasen)

Listen

Either may be chosen. After a brief blessing, to which the faithful respond, "Amen", the Divine Liturgy continues with the thanksgiving and dismissal.  See Singing the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.