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?