A hymn by William Irons (1812–1883) begins by calling us to “Sing with all the saints in glory.” We typically think of singing this and similar hymns on All Saints Day, but Evangelical Lutheran Worship contains a number of hymns under the topic heading, “Festivals and Commemorations.” What is a commemoration and how can our worship and music planning include them?
A commemoration provides the opportunity to recognize the faithful witness of a fellow member of the body of Christ. A brief listing of commemorations can be found in the front of ELW (pp. 15-17). Further information can be found in the ELW companion resource Keeping Time and at sundaysandseasons.com. You can also consult the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the ELCA website for more about commemorations.
How can we as church musicians mark these observances. Below are some suggestions to spark your planning.
October includes the commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4). Consider singing the hymn attributed to him, “All Creatures, Worship God Most High” (ELW 835). A hymn with numerous stanzas works well in alternation between different voices (men/women and children) or between different portions of the room (left side/ride side). Could the choir sing a choral stanza or descant? What about a festival arrangement? Note the especially visual metaphors of the hymn. Could an artist or a children’s Sunday school visually represent these images in some way?
The church commemorates Teresa of Avila on October 15; 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of her death. Did she create any hymns of the church? An excellent resource to consult for this and similar questions would be the hymnary website. This is an extensive research tool for hymns and songs in numerous hymnals. A search on Teresa reveals that the song ”Nothing can trouble” is based on her writing. This short Taizé chorus could surround prayer or be sung during communion. It is included in the Augsburg Fortress collection Holden Prayer Around the Cross and is also available on Prelude.
Fitting commemorations for church musicians to recognize are those of hymn writers. October 26 is the commemoration of Philip Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. A quick search in the Sources index of ELW (p. 1189) or on Prelude will let you know which hymns the assembly knows by these writers. You can then decide if one or more of them might be a fitting addition to worship on the Sunday nearest their commemoration date. On Lectionary 30/Year B, Heerman’s “O Christ Our Light, O Radiance True” echoes nicely the prayer of the day: “Eternal light, shine in our hearts.” Evangelical Lutheran Worship includes nine hymns by Paul Gerhardt. “Evening and Morning” is a robust hymn that would be a fitting gathering or sending hymn this time of year. Philip Nicolai’s hymn “O Holy Spirit, Enter In” would serve as an excellent hymn on Reformation, particularly if confirmation takes place in your congregation on that day. A study of the text would be very fitting to those praying to learn God’s wisdom in all things.
When choosing a piece of music to coincide with a commemoration, consider educational materials in the bulletin or electronic media. Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship provides insightful background information on writers and composers.
Take note: the Church’s list of commemorations is not the final word. In your context, you will often be recognizing others for whom their faith has been a witness to Christ’s spirit moving in and among us. You as church musician have the gift and opportunity to sing with saints of all times and places.