Hymns to the Holy Spirit

This is the third and final set of hymns “to God” which are not connected with a particular feast – or at least, not always connected to a particular feast.

In this installment, we are looking at hymns to the Holy Spirit, of which three are well known in our parishes:

They illustrate a range of issues we face in finalizing the new hymnal.

Heavenly King, Comforter

This is a acually a liturgical piece: a sticheron or Vespers hymn from the feast of Pentecost, which was eventually sung before the Divine Liturgy on Pentecost Monday before moving to its present postion in many parishes, on Pentecost Sunday itself.  (See page 203 of our Divine Liturgies book, where it is titled Special Hymn.)

It is sung to the Tone 6 samohlasen melody, and is very often used as a general invocation of the Holy Spirit, before meals, at the start of meetings and so on.

So why include it in the hymnal if it is already in the Divine Liturgies book?

  1. To make it clear that it can be sung on any day, not just Pentecost, and not just at the Divine Liturgy.
  2. To provide the setting in Slavonic, in which it is sometimes also sung.
  3. Because for us, it is used not just liturgically (when the services call for it), but at other times as well.
  4. Because we don’t have many separate hymns to the Holy Spirit!

As we saw with Hymns to Our Lord Jesus Christ, there IS a small problem with titling it.  Do we label it HOLY SPIRIT?  Or PENTECOST? (That is, by the subject of the hymn or when it is used.)  Overall I think it would be easier to label it as a Hymn to the Holy Spirit, and put a note in the liturgical year section of the hymnal noting that it is particular appropriate on Pentecost.

O Holy Spirit, mighty defender

This IS a paraliturgical hymn;  sung to a regular metered melody, it used rhyme and pacing to provide for very strong congregational participation.

In Slavonic, the first two words are exactly that same as for the liturgical hymn looked at above, which is why in both English and Slavonic, I am titling many hymns by the entire first line rather than just the first few words.

Like some of the other hymns “to God”, it ended up appearing in collections of hymns for singing during Holy Communion.  Hymns like these, directed to other Persons of the Trinity, or hymns to Christ which have nothing to do with Holy Communion, would be much better sung before or after the Divine Liturgy, rather than as “communion hymns.”

The Holy Spirit shall come upon you

This very short piece is a THIRD kind of hymn in honor of the Holy Spirit: it consists of the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:35), which are also used in the Divine Liturgy (said by the deacon to the celebrant) as an invocation or calling-down of the Holy Spirit.

In our church, this was long used as a hymn “before the sermon”, asking God’s grace to rest upon the preacher. Because it is a scriptural text, it IS something allowed by our bishops’ guidelines for the singing of paraliturgical hymns during services – but consult your pastor first!

The melody is a simple one that should also sound familar: it is also used for the A settings of the hymn after Holy Communion (“May our mouth be filled with your praise”) and the invocation of the divine Name (“Blessed be the name of the Lord”).

I am still looking for a few more GOOD hymns to the Holy Spirit. Please post your thoughts below!

Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ

Within the sacred liturgy (Vespers, Matins, the Divine Liturgies, and so on), our prayers are usually directed to God the Father – through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit – while most of our liturgical hymns are directed to Jesus Christ, our Savior and the visible “face” of the Trinity.

Our paraliturgical hymns, on the other hand, surround the liturgy and meet other needs. Many are directed to the Mother of God, and to particular saints, or are sung within the community to bolster one another’s faith. Of course, many hymns ARE directed to God through the liturgical year, but most of those fall in a particular liturgical season, and so are treated separately in the Hymnal Project.

As we saw in the last post, Hymns to the Holy Trinity, there remain a few frequently sung  hymns to the Trinity and its  Persons which are not tied to a liturgical season.  Today, we will look at the hymns directed to our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.  These fall into three basic categories. Continue reading “Hymns to our Lord Jesus Christ”

Hymns to the Holy Trinity

I’m trying something a little different with this installment of the Hymnal Project: instead of having a discussion article on the MCI website for each hymn, I’m going to create one only for spiritual songs which I know have issues (edit to be considered, or the question of whether to included it in the hymnal or not).  If you have comments, please post them here!

Hymns to the Holy Trinity

So far, we have looked at hymns grouped according to their place in the liturgical year: hymns for Christmas, the Great Fast, and so on.  We will also be looking at hymns to the Mother of God, and for saints and feasts throughout the rest of the year.

Next, I would like to look at hymns directed to God, starting with those we sing to the Holy Trinity, or simply to “God” (which in our tradition can mean God the Father, the source and fountainhead of divinity):

Follow the links for more information about each hymn!

The first is our primary spiritual song which praises the Trinity, and so it is most suitably sung at Pentecost; but it could also be sung before the Divine Liturgy on virtually any occasion.  The Slavonic original has several verses which name each of the groups praising the Trinity (cherubim and seraphim, archangels and angels, apostles and martyrs), and from these verses I had added three to the English text.

The second is known well outside our particular church, and has a long and somewhat checkered past, being used by others primarily on secular occasions. But for US, it remains a “churchly” hymn.  I have added the (English translation) of the second verse of “O Jesus Lord, we ask you to bless us” here, since it fits much better here.  This hymn has no particular “place” in the liturgical year, but could be sung before any Divine Liturgy that does not have a particular theme.

The third hymn is explicitly one of thanksgiving; the words “You have enlightened us” make it particular suitable for singing as a thanksgiving AFTER the Divine Liturgy, where we thank God for our enlightenment in the Eucharist, but it could also be sung on other occasions as well, where these same words become a general thankgiving for revelation, for holy Baptism, and so on. Unlike the other two hymns in this set, this one’s origin is somewhat mysterious  (Edit: FOUND – see comment below!), appearing in our recent collections of paraliturgical hymns without a clear source.

Titles, titles, titles

If you look at the PDFs of these hymns, you will see that each one has a “theme” or “title” in the upper right,  suggesting when it might be most appropriate to sing.  These were relatively easy for feasts like Christmas and Theophany.

Here, “Holy Trinity” is fairly obvious for Hosts of angels on high, but what do we do for So great is God?  Some of our books have simply labelled it as “Hymn to God”; I am included to title it “God the Father,” not meanly to absolutely exclude thought of the other Persons of the Trinity, but because we have so few non-liturgical hymns directed to this Person.

The case is a little different with “We thank you, God Most High.” This hymn could be labelled “Holy Trinity” or “God  the Father”, but it could also be labelled “Thanksgiving” so that cantors might select it for that purpose.

Please post your thoughts and comments below!

Music for Pascha, Part 3

Christ is risen! Christos voskrese!  Christos anesti! Al-Masīḥ qām!

As our final installment of Paschal music in the Hymnal Project, we have THREE spiritual songs:

The first is a bit of a standard, at least in some parishes.  See the discussion page for more about this hymn, AND the process we use for editing songs for the new hymnal.

The second is a lovely minor-key carol for Easter, which I would love to see widely sung.  It has additional verses (not yet translated into English) which praise the Resurrection, and include all the characters in the story of Pascha.

The third is better known as a choir piece, but (with a few flourishes simplified) works well for congregational singing.  It, too, has more verses in Slavonic, but these tell the Easter story in order: the myrrh-bearing women, the stone, the angel, and so on.

For convenience, all three have been added (in both English and Slavonic versions) to the MCI Paschal music supplement, which can also be printed as a booklet on legal size paper.  Please try them out, and post below with your comments and suggestions.

May God bless your celebration of the resurrection of his Son!

Music for Pascha, Part 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, we have very few paraliturgical hymns or “spiritual songs” for the time from Pascha to Pentecost, so I am considering the possibility of including new settings of liturgical hymns for this season in the forthcoming hymnal.

In the last post, we looked at some additional settings of the Paschal troparion (“Christ is risen from the dead”).  We might also want to provide a Paschal setting of the Cherubic Hymn or Cherubikon; here is one based on the Paschal hypakoje (“The women with Mary before the dawn”) which has been used for many years at Saint Elias Byzantine Catholic Church in Munhall, PA:

and after the commemorations:

I have also prepared matching versions of “We praise you, we bless you” and the four Communion Hymns which are always sung in the Paschal season (for Pascha, Thomas Sundays, other Sundays, and Mid-Pentecost).

Now, I think there are certainly some Cherubic Hymn settings out there which are sort of so-so, but there are also some that are quite good, and usable in English.  If you have one of your own, consider sending it in!  Years ago, the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission discussed the possibility of taking such settings, looking them over, perhaps making some tweaks as needed, and adding them gradually to our repertoire.  I am not sure if the new hymal is the best place to publish them, but the hymnal process may be a good place to start.

Similarly, we have one setting of the Our Father for use in the Paschal season, based on the Paschal canon (DL 167-168):

But here is another from St. Elias in Munhall, based on the Paschal hypakoje, “The women with Mary before the dawn):

This, too, is music we could probably use right away in some parishes. Especially if weekday Divine Liturgies are held, there are a lot of opportunities to sing the Lord’s prayer!

I have taken all this music and combined it with the Paschal troparion settings from yesterday into a music supplement for Pascha.  Tomorrow, we will look at our one real Paschal hymn, “Christ is risen!  Joy from heaven” and see how that might fit into the picture.

Please leave your thoughts about this music – or other liturgical settings we might like to have for the Paschal season – in a comment below!

Music for Pascha, Part 1

As we move into the final week of the Great Fast, it’s time to move the Hymnal Project forward and look seriously at music for the Great Fast.

Strangely, we don’t have nearly as many paraliturgical hymns or spiritual songs for Easter as we do for other seasons; instead, we tend to sing the Paschal troparion (Christ is risen from the dead) a LOT, in both chant and choral versions.

We do have one well-known spiritual song for Pascha (“Christ is risen / Joy from heaven”) which I will talk about later this week.  And I had hoped to delve into our choral tradition, such as the music of our Archieparchial choir, and the settings of the Sybertsvile Franciscans. But for better or worse, many of those don’t work nearly as well for ordinary congregational singing. (I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, and will circle back to consider a few next week!)

So instead, I’d like to do something which was discussed by the Inter-Eparchial Music Commission when the new Divine Liturgies book was printed, but never started: the proposal of some new settings for liturgical texts we already have, to supplement our existing official chant settings, choral music, and spiritual songs and hymns.

Check out the following article and tell me what you think!

Alternate melodies for Christ is risen

Later this week I will present some settings of other liturgical music for Pascha, before turning back to our own “spiritual songs” for singing before and after the Liturgy.

Please leave your comments below.  May God bless your Fast!

Have Mercy on Me, O My God

This week, I’m beginning a new series on non-liturgical songs for use before and after church services, as part of the MCI’s contribution toward a new hymnal for the Byzantine Catholic Church.

Singing during the Great Fast

Our first “official” set of spiritual songs for Lent is probably the set in the back of the 1978 Levkulic Divine Liturgy book:

  • The sentence is passed (Uže dekret)
  • Christ our King, who reigns with justice (Christe Carju spravedlivyj)
  • In Gethsemene’s Darkness (Jehda na smert’ hotovilsja)
  • Beneath your cross I stand (Pod krest’ tvoj staju)
  • Come now, all you faithful (Prijd’ite voschvalim)
  • Now do I go to the Cross (Idu nyni ko krestu)
  • Having suffered the passion (Preterp’ivyj)

A later book from Father Levkulic and cantor Jerry Jumba, Hymns of the Great Fast (1984), added music for the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil as well as:

  • At the most holy cross (Krestu tvojemu)
  • Earth and heaven mourn (Nebo, zemlja sotvorinjnja)
  • O my Jesus, suffering in pain (O Isuse poranennj) – two versions
  • Rejoice today (Radujsja zilo) – for Palm or Flowery Sunday
  • Have mercy on me, O my God
  • Do not forsake us (Ne opuskaj nas)
  • O my people, my people (L’udi moji)
  • O my God, you are so merciful (O Bože, moj milostivyj)
  • O soul so sinful (Hljan’ duše hrišna)
  • So boundless is her sorrow (Stala Matia zarmuščenna)
  • The grieving mother Stradaljna Mati)
  • We venerate, O Christ (Poklanjajusja moj Christe)
  • O Son of David – for Palm or Flowery Sunday

I hope to look at each of these over the next three weeks. But what these have in common (for the most part) are that they are not so much Lenten hymns, as hymns of the Passion of Christ.

In our tradition, broadly speaking, the texts and prayers of the liturgical services tell us what we are about. And the forty days of the Great Fast are mostly about repentance and conversion, NOT on the sufferings of Christ.  Those are much more the focus of Holy Week itself, which comes after the forty days of Lent.

But there is one hymn in Hymns for Great Lent that definitely “works” for the entire period of Lent: a versified setting of Psalm 50, King David’s psalm of repentance.

 

 

  • The original was in 2/4 meter, but only fit into that meter with difficult. Instead, I re-barred it in a chant style, still keeping a fairly duple meter.
  • I changed the opening note from G to  E, following an oral tradition in a number of parishes. This has two advantages: it gives a gives the piece a better minor-key sonority, and it allows each verse to begin and end on the same note.
  • In three places an extra note had to be added to put an accent in the right place. Rather  than complicate the music at the top, I marked those places with an asterisk (*) and added just the problematical music at the bottom.

Whoever leads this is still responsible for SINGING the accents correctly, but I think it works, and I plan to add it to the proposed draft hymnal.

There is one spot that doesn’t sing as well as I would like.  In the last verse, “a heart contrite with humbleness” requires work to fit it to the first ten notes of the last phrase. It CAN be done, but it’s awkward. Any suggestions for a text that works better?

Please append your thoughts below!  Do you have any Lenten hymns we should talk about that are not listed above?

Singing and Church Renewal

(Originally published in the September 2017 issue of the Byzantine Catholic World.)

Our church’s tradition of singing – that we ALL participate in chanting entire liturgical services – is a precious spiritual inheritance, one that sets us apart within both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. It has the potential to endow our worship with great beauty and stateliness, but it can also have practical benefits for our parishes. In this series of articles, I’d like to talk about these benefits, and present a challenge to each parish, and each Byzantine Catholic, to help foster this tradition over the coming year.

Our plain chant, developed for Church Slavonic from its origins in Greek music and adapted to English, has a vital property when led by a trained cantor: inevitability.  Its melodies can be learned by heart and applied to a wide variety of hymns such as troparia and kontakia, in such a way that every phrase leads naturally into the next, and each hymn is matched to the one that follows.  “The overall effect,” said musicologist Ivan Garder, who travelled in Eastern Europe in the 1920’s, “is one of extraordinary power.”

Yet many of our parishes no longer  experience this power today, and the reasons are not hard to find. As a whole, we are no longer a culture that sings, at work or at play; instead of making music, we listen to other people make it. Music education in schools is less thorough than it once was, and parishes are fragmented. Liturgical services like Vespers, molebens and the Paraklis have fallen out of use, and while the vast majority of our parishes still sing entire Divine Liturgies, we often do so in a lackluster fashion, using only a small number of the wide range of melodies we once knew by heart.

At this year’s Summer Music School in Pittsburgh, cantors from around the country had a chance to discuss the state of our church singing and prospects for renewal. There was general agreement that there ARE things we can do to recapture and even surpass the kind of congregational singing our parishes have been known for in the past.

– We need to acknowledge that EVERYONE can sing, and good singing can be taught, learned, and practiced.

– Cantors need to be encouraged, AND held to a high standard, since their talents and attitude make a huge difference.

– Singing in harmony, once done by ear in most of our parishes, is a skill that can taught, and harmonized plain chant should become once more a regular part of our liturgical experience.

– School children and young adults, in particular, should have more opportunities to learn and enjoy singing in church.

Most importantly, cantors and faithful need to learn to listen to one another. We sometimes forget that listening is an essential part of living in community, and is just as essential if we want to sing our praises to God with beauty, grace, and joy.

Deacon Jeffrey Mierzejewski is the director of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute.

The Chanted Choral Liturgy

(A guest post by Deacon Timothy Woods)

The purpose of chant in our churches is to invite the people to be actively involved in the prayer. Our chants are simple and repetitious, easy to catch on to. Even when I am tired and I don’t really feel like singing, even if I tell myself NOT to sing, halfway through the liturgy I find myself humming along and then finally singing out loudly from my heart. That is the reason for our chant, to allow the people to worship God from their hearts!

But we also have a beautiful choral tradition. Composers like Bortniansky, Kedroff, and Archangelsky are household names in the Eastern Slavic churches, and there are many others who have graced our liturgies and moved our people. Modern composers are also making fine contributions which should be used. With a well rehearsed choir under the direction of a capable leader, these Holy God’s, Cherubic Hymns and special communion pieces not only move hearts, but attract new parishioners.

It was once described to me that chant is where “the rubber meets the road,” but that the people’s prayer takes wing with choral music. The most effective worship uses both, but in a way which does not cause one to detract from the other.
When I have incorporated choral music into a chant setting, my philosophy has always been thus: The first thing sung MUST be chant, and it MUST be something the people know. If we begin with a choral Liturgy of Peace, we are immediately sending a signal to the people that “we are glad you are here, but we don’t really expect you to sing”. This is precisely the wrong message to give to any parish. Choral music should be saved for the larger liturgical pieces, and the short responses, again, must be chant so as to keep the people engaged in the flow of
the liturgical current.

I offer here an example of a Sunday Divine Liturgy with Cantors and Choir. Note that the choir rarely sings two pieces in a row. In this way the choir is present, but it is never allowed to “take over the liturgy”. The main responsibility of the singing still falls to the cantors and the people. The choir simply allows the worship to “soar” from time to time. Also note that the “Choral Settings” could be harmonized chant, or a through-composed work. This is only a suggested pattern. Many other patterns are possible, as long as the chanting holds a slight sway.

Deacon Timothy Woods

Music before Liturgy:

  • One choral piece
  • Appropriate congregational hymns, sung in unison by cantors or choir (very important there is no harmony yet, unless the people add it themselves)

At the Divine Liturgy

  • Litany of Peace: Chant, again, in unison!
  • First and Second Antiphon: Chant (spontaneous harmonizations could begin)
  • Hymn of Incarnation: Choral setting (all choral settings could be either harmonized chant or composed choral music)
  • Third Antiphon: Chant
  • Entrance Hymn: Choral setting
  • Troparion/Kontakion: Chant
  • Holy God: Choral
  • Prokeimenon: Chant
  • Alleluia: Choral or Chanted
  • Litany of Supplication: Chant
  • Cherubic hymn: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Symbol of Faith: Harmonized chant (led or assisted by choir)
  • Anaphora responses: Chant
  • Hymn of Victory: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • It is truly proper: Choral or chanted (if a 9th ode irmos is called, I would use a choral arrangement or harmonized chant, so it will not seem less festive than the parish’s ordinary hymn at this point)
  • Responses and preparation for Communion: Chant
  • Lord’s Prayer: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Communion hymn of the day: Choral
  • Blessed is he who comes: Chant
  • Communion: Choral music while the cantors receive, then verses of the communion psalm through a chanted or choral refrain
  • We have seen the true light: Chant
  • May our mouth be filled: Choral
  • Responses: Chant
  • Blessed be the name of the Lord: Choral
  • Dismissal: Chant
  • Many Years: Chant or Choral
  • After Liturgy: One choral piece, then congregational hymns as people leave.

Liturgical hymns before the Divine Liturgy – your comments requested!

Recently, as part of the Introduction to the Divine Liturgy course for cantors, I added an article on what to sing before the Divine Liturgy to the MCI website. In particular, I have some real reservations about the practicality of using some of the liturgical hymns in the Divine Liturgies book for this purpose.

Rather than put those observations (which are purely my own!) into the article, I have decided to post them here for comment and discussion. What do you think? (Here is the article itself, without my personal thoughts.)

Continue reading “Liturgical hymns before the Divine Liturgy – your comments requested!”