How many verses?

How many verses of a hymn should we sing?

In planning music for Mass, one of the items I have to consider is how long a hymn is. Most usually, there is a liturgical action taking place at the same time as the music, so I need to figure out if the music is too long, too short, or just right for the time that the liturgical action takes. If the action goes faster than I expect, will the hymn still make sense if we leave out the last verse? Just as our lectionary will skip certain verses in the readings from the Bible, sometimes we can skip verses in the hymns and still have a coherent story, but sometimes we need to finish the hymn in order to not leave Jesus in the tomb or not leave the Holy Spirit out of the Trinity.

The text for our entrance hymn this weekend was written by Jean Tisserand in the 15th century. Tisserand was a Franciscan monk, founded an order for penitent women, and possibly served as confessor to King Charles VIII of France. With nine verses, there is rarely time for us to sing all of O filii et filiae at Mass, though there certainly would have been plenty of time at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on Easter Sunday, the liturgical moment when the French Missals placed the hymn.

With a hymn like this that has a refrain and many verses, another option might have been to sing it during the Communion procession. Would we be able to sing all the verses then? Would anyone besides the cantor actually sing the verses then? There would be time to sing all the verses if it were the Recessional hymn, but how many people would actually stay to sing them all? The Offertory is definitely too short for a long hymn like this, so that leaves us the Entrance as the best option. Because our Gospel reading today focuses on Thomas, we will skip verses two through four in order to sing the verses that tie in more closely to our celebration of the Second Sunday of Easter. Hopefully this will provide a match between the sensibility of the hymn and the liturgical action and keeps the music a partner in our celebration of Mass.


Bulletin Notes for the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen, April 12, 2015

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One Comment

  1. Well written. I typically have the congregation sing verses one thru three as a prelude, then begin verse four as the opening hymn. Blessed octave.

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