On an intermittent but regular basis, women alone perform a portion of our Sacrament blessing.
All Mormon congregations partake of the Sacrament weekly. We sing a Sacrament hymn, bless the bread and water, and partake. It is well known that only Priesthood-holding men bless the Sacrament in prayer.
But what about song?
There are twenty-nine Sacrament hymns in the current (1985) hymnal. The purpose of these hymns is clear. The song of the righteous is a prayer unto God, we are told — and Sacrament hymns tend to explicitly ask for God to bless the Sacrament. They are a sung Sacramental prayer.
This makes especially significant the omissions in the hymns O Lord of Hosts (178), Reverently and Meekly Now (185), Again We Meet Around the Board (186), and He Died! The Great Redeemer Died (192). [As well as, to a lesser degree, In Remembrance of Thy Suff’ring (183) and Behold the Great Redeemer Die (191).]
What is the omission? Male voices.
For a stretch, each of the four hymns on the list — sung sacramental prayers — is performed by women alone. This is a distinctive feature. These are not the Mens- or Womens-Voices hymn arrangements for the choir. These are hymns of the entire congregation. They are the congregation’s sacramental prayer. And a portion of them is performed by women alone.
This kind of gendered silence is unusual in our congregational hymns. Other hymns sometimes split into parts for lines or for a chorus — Count Your Blessings, or God Be With You Till We Meet Again, or The Day Dawn is Breaking. However, this particular kind of gender silence (stretches of normal verse where one gender alone sings) appears almost exclusively in Sacrament hymns. (Not entirely; see, for example, hymn #11).
In one of the Sacrament hymns — Reverently and Meekly Now — it is women alone who speak in the voice of Christ Himself. Indeed, two of the women-alone lines are intensely intimate and first-person appeals in the voice of Christ. Other powerful and evocative sacramental lines, such as “He shed a thousand drops for you,” are also reserved for women alone.
As a child, I was puzzled by these lines. What was I supposed to do with them? Sing along in squeaky falsetto? (I tried a few times; the results were not promising.) Should I ignore them? Without the omitted lines, the text was incomplete. How much sense did it make to sing, “. . . even thee,” without the previous lines that made that fragment complete?
Since then, I’ve slowly come to understand. And so today, I smile during these hymns, and (to the eternal gratitude of those in nearby pews), I don’t try to sing along.
This portion of the sacramental prayer is for women alone to perform.