Choosing Lenten hymns for a Catholic parish is a tough job. Fortunately during ordinary time there is a plethora of hymns available to choose appropriately to coincide with the Sunday readings. During Lent, this poses a problem as you are suddenly limited to the subset of Lenten hymns available in your parish hymnal. At St Patrick’s Albury, one of the parishes I’m organist, they use the Gather Australia hymn book. Of all the choices available in Gather Australia, most are suited for use with a cantor and have non-metrical rhythms that make it difficult for the congregation to actively participate.
So how does an organist combat Lenten music with such little resources? I think back to last year where I attended a workshop on liturgical playing in the Catholic Church by Oliver Brett at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. He highlighted some very interesting techniques and scenarios about accompanying a congregation in the Catholic church:
- When playing an introduction to a hymn, play the tail end of the hymn otherwise the congregation will start singing during the introduction.
- The key to participation is helping the congregation feel the beat. Everyone can feel a beat – even it’s only because their heart is doing it for them.
- Play hymns at an appropriate tempo (not too fast or slow) and register the organ so it can hide “shy” voices but not drown out the entire congregation.
There were probably many other points raised but these were the ones the stuck out the most for me (probably because they made me chuckle!).
The season of Lent is penitential so for that reason the organ must be used sparingly. This means solo music and interludes are not used and the organ is only to support congregational singing. Of course the choice of hymn would really highlight what liturgical season we’re in (definitely no ‘Alleluias’), but I also like to be sparing in registrations – nothing too bright and reeds are a no-no. I’m saving all these for Easter!
I think the key to Lenten music is to keep it simple. Go back to basics and choose hymns that are metrical. You will be pleasantly surprised when your congregation sings!