When choosing hymns for a service, there are several things to consider. Before you do anything else, read the readings carefully and prayerfully, including the appointed psalm. The Lectionary Calendar published by the Church of Ireland is a convenient way to find the readings.
Things to consider when choosing hymns for the Eucharist
Hymns/songs must be appropriate for the season, the readings for that day and their place in the service. “It is not a matter of choice and favourite but rather, design and fit”
Gathering Hymn – exuberant or reflective? is it led by a robed choir as they enter?
Gradual Hymn (between the 2nd Reading and the Gospel) – may be more reflective to ensure attention to the Gospel. (Some churches simply have a Gospel Acclamation /Alleluia here).
At the Offertory – covering action, may be more Eucharistic in theme with a definite emphasis on Jesu Christ. Ensure that there are enough verses to include the preparation of the table and the presentation of gifts of money or be ready fill the gap musically.
Sending Out – can be quiet and reflecting commitment OR a big ‘macho’ hymn to push us out the door OR silence if desired (see BCP, page 220)
Are the hymns known by the congregation? Do not assume that a hymn is well known, if in doubt, ask a regular member of the assembly.
Will all of them be hymns? – do you sing worship songs / Taizé or the like and can they replace a traditional hymn?
Are the hymns addressed to God or about God?
Are they personal (I) or community orientated (We)?
Key signature – avoid having everything in one key. Think about major/minor keys.
Time signature – vary if at all possible.
Syncopated or not – nice to have a balance.
Era – consider this. For example, avoid having four 7th century hymns translated from Latin; having all English 17th century hymns, with little adoration of Jesus Christ; choosing all hymn from the mid-20th century charismatic movement.
Refrains – if every hymn has a refrain it can become tedious (refrains are very accessible to children but not required in every hymn).
Dance tunes/Folk tunes: be aware of how you treat these – keep the rhythm going.
Liturgical Items: Kyrie Eleison, Gloria, Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus – Where do they fit into the scheme?
Should you sing the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer?
Fashions change. The quick answer is ‘no’, unless the local congregation is comfortable about joining in.
TIP: Keep a list of hymns sung each Sunday so that the same hymn is not repeated too frequently.
TIP: Choosing hymns is NOT about you; your favourites are irrelevant.
TIP: It is not mandatory to sing all the verses of a hymn. Judicious omitting of verses is encouraged to avoid endless repetition of the same tune and metre.
CHECK: Can you give a reason for choosing each hymn?
Music for morning/evening prayer ('the office')
Before you do anything else, read the readings carefully and prayerfully, including the Psalm.
Hymns/songs must be appropriate for the season, the readings for that day and their place in the service.
The Gathering of God’s People starts with the liturgical greeting, which precedes an optional hymn (see BCP p. 101). The hymn should be seen as part of the Gathering, not as something that happens before it. Consider whether the hymn should be exuberant or reflective?
Canticles precede the three readings. An opportunity to explore Anglican chant is available here (if not already used) as Canticles at Morning Prayer services may be repeated for a period of time to ensure familiarity.
Other options include metrical versions of the Canticles. These may be found in the Church Hymnal Fifth Edition. New resources will be available with the launch of the supplement to CH5.
A third option is to invite the choir (if one exists) to sing a setting of a Canticle. This gives the congregation an opportunity to reflect on the words.
As before – do include the Psalm set for the day. This may be sung in various ways; said half verse about by minister and congregation; or read by one person or all interspersed with a refrain at appropriate points.
Further hymns may be included at appropriate points, reflecting the scripture readings. See above for points to remember.
Service of the word, family and all age services
Please refer to the BCP, page 165 for guidance regarding the structure of the service. Certain items are mandatory. A Service of the Word offers more choice in the planning of worship and may be used to explore various genres and styles of music, perhaps using different instruments. As before, music should reflect the readings and be appropriate to particular points in the service.
Pastoral services – baptism, confirmation, weddings, funerals
The Book of Common Prayer offers guidance for the inclusion of music at particular points. Hymns with a theme appropriate to the service are available.
Music for weddings and funerals tend to be at the behest of the families involved but guidance may be accepted according to local custom.