Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hymns for Maundy Thursday?

As a child, I don't recall spending a lot of time in Church during Holy Week: after we left Palm Sunday, we didn’t return until Easter morn. (Of course, back then I needed my parents to drive the 11 miles to church and back).

As an adult, I’ve made a point to attend church at the beginning and end of Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday and ending with Good Friday. Due to work and travel schedule, this year I attended Maundy Thursday instead of Good Friday.

By its nature, Good Friday has always seemed like a no-music Holy Day. The liturgical index in the Hymnal 1940 lists hymns for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Eastern Even and Easter Day. For Thursday, it likes hymns for Holy Communion but not morning or evening prayer (but then there’s no morning prayer setting for Christmas Eve or Easter Even).

Singing hymns seems particularly appropriate for Maundy Thursday, given the final line of Mark’s account of the Last Supper (Mark 14:26):
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Hymnal 1940 does not list any hymns between “Passiontide” and “Eastern Even,” but in the liturgical index it lists five possible hymns — 189, 193, 194, 195, 199 — all from the Holy Communion section. I recognize only one of these hymns — “Father, we thank the who hast planted” (#195) — because of the wonderful 16th century Louis Bourgeois tune. But none of these communion hymns seem explicitly tied to Holy Thursday.

Hymnal 1982 has a large collection (#158-173) labelled “Holy Week,” but most of these seem mostly Lenten, Passiontide or Good Friday type hymns. This includes #168 (“O sacred Head, sore wounded”) and #172 (“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”) which are also in H40 (#75, #80). Still, none of these are specifically about the Last Supper, nor are the Holy Communion hymns in H40 (#189 - #213).

Tonight I attended Maundy Thursday at an LCMS church — something I’ve often done since leaving fancy ECUSA churches with nice buildings for struggling Schism I or II refugees without buildings. And despite the chronic habit of Concordia Publishing House towards planned obsolescence as a way to make money, it seems like they’ve gone further than most in filling this gap, with two Last Supper hymns in the Lutheran Service Book.

The one we sung tonight was #445, “When You woke that Thursday morning”. The text was written by (LCMS) Lutheran pastor Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008) for CPH, while the music was written by Marty Haugen (b. 1950) for  GIA, a rival publisher. Despite its contemporary bonafides, the tune seemed quite singable and the text reads more like a modernized version of a 19th century text than a traditional sappy praise song. (However, as part of an obnoxious trend of modern hymnals to sell a separate book to organists, the hymn is harmony-free).

The other one, #446 (“Jesus, greatest at the table”), also combines two contemporary compositions: a  text sold by CPH with a tune (“New Malden”) from the British Methodists (that appears to have been composed in 1971). I didn’t hear it so I can’t speak to its singability.

Interesting, our pastor chose a slightly different Holy Thursday hymn (#436) for communion, one that is certainly familiar to Anglicans:
Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
The same hymn is in H40 (#70) as a Passiontide hymn; there the tune is called “Petra” (vs. “Gethsemane” in LSB) but it’s the same 1853 tune by Richard Redhead. H40 has the same 1825 text by James Montgomery as in the 1876 Hymns Ancient & Modernbut not that tune.

Both H40 and A&M have 3 verses: about the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Our Lord. The Hymnal 1940 Companion notes that Montgomery had both 1820 and 1825 versions of the text, that the hymn first entered the American hymnal in 1874. It also notes that the Americans dropped the 4th verse (“Early hasten to the tomb”) — a verse that is in the LSB but one we did not sing tonight.

The LCMS pastor’s choices reminds us that the day did not end for Jesus or the Apostles with the Last Supper, but continued on from the Mount of Olives in the inevitable road to Calvary. Even with these Lutheran options, it seems like there are more opportunities to craft hymns for one of the holiest feasts of the year.

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