Sacrament Hymns

April 9, 2009 | 39 comments
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There are 28 designated sacrament hymns in the current hymnal within the page range of 169 to 197. Given that we sing one per week, for 52 weeks, basic math tells us that sacrament hymns will be repeated almost twice per year — more than six times the average frequency of other hymns.

Two of the 28 Sacrament hymns are duplicate texts with different music. And others (such as 178, O Lord of Hosts, or 189, O Thou Before the World Began) are rarely sung. That leaves an awful lot of weeks each year for I Stand All Amazed, There is a Green Hill, and Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.  With so much repetition, there is a risk that Sacrament becomes auto-pilot.  Part of the music director’s job is arranging hymns to help the congregation reflect on the meeting.  

Are there other options for Sacrament hymns?

The hymn book states that, “the Sacrament hymn should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior.” In addition, Sacrament hymns are traditionally solemn and reverent. Are there other hymns that fit the bill?

A few obvious candidates stand out.  The first is #146, Gently Raise the Sacred Strain.  I was actually surprised to notice that this one isn’t in the sacrament section.  Several wards that I’ve been in have used this one regularly in the rotation.  It’s the only hymn outside of the 169-197 range that is listed under the topic Sacrament in the index.  

Another is #197 itself, O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown, which the hymnal designates primarily as an Easter hymn, but which does double duty very nicely.  

Other choices include #136, I Know that my Redeemer Lives, and #134, I Believe in Christ.  I’ve heard 136 used as a Sacrament hymn before (it worked well, I think).  

Beyond that, we have . . . what?  Clearly, many hymns are out.  Other Easter choices, like Christ the Lord is Risen Today or All Glory, Laud and Honor, are probably too bouncy for Sacrament.  It would never be appropriate to use Scatter Sunshine as a Sacrament hymn.  

A few other, perhaps unorthodox suggestions which might also fit the bill of focusing on the Savior’s sacrifice, and having a reverent tone, include:

#111, Rock of Ages.

#117, Come Unto Jesus.

#100, Nearer, My God, to Thee.

#108, The Lord is my Shepherd.

#308, Love one Another.

What other hymns outside of the normal range might make good Sacrament hymns?

39 Responses to Sacrament Hymns

  1. RC on April 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Great post. By the way, we only sing sacrament hymns 48 weeks of the year. 52 minus 2 stake conferences and 2 general conferences. Also, Love One Another is way to short to be a sacrament hymn.

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 9, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I have to admit that I rather enjoy some of the duplication that occurs. It creates a sense of peace and return.

  3. the narrator on April 9, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    “In addition, Sacrament hymns are traditionally solemn and reverent.”

    What about breaking out of this conception of spirituality. A friend of mine recently told me that his friend (who had just finished serving as a mission president in Africa) said that baptisms and convert retention would drastically increase in Africa if they would allow drums in their sacrament meetings.

    It seems to me that so much of what we consider spirituality (and spiritual music) to be is socially constructed (in our case, largely from New England puritanism). Perhaps we could add to our sacrament services by allowing other forms of music to provide a more vibrant array of spirituality. I don’t see any harm with replacing some of our funeral music with a little gospel life.

  4. EmilyCC on April 9, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Excellent suggestions, Kaimi! My husband types up the program each week and often has to find Sacrament hymns when the bishop realizes the music director didn’t put in a hymn that meets the above requirements. He’ll love this.

  5. Hunter on April 9, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    I love all sorts of variety in church music, but I have to say, when it comes to the Sacrament hymns, I concur with Stephen M (Ethesis), I don’t mind the repetition.

    Of course, Kaimi, now you’ve jinxed me and this will become my next pet peeve.

    Grrr.

  6. Guy W. Murray on April 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Amazing Grace (not even included in the hymnal–but I would like to see it included).

    Come Thou Font of Every Blessing (another not included in the hymnal)

    #29 A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

  7. Wilfried on April 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I wonder if the choices for Sacrament hymns are similar around the world. From what I have noticed elsewhere, it depends on the chorister or the organist, and he or she will decide to broaden the selection. On a related note of comparison: one of the surprising things for members from abroad coming to Utah is the sloooow tempo in which hymns are sung. In my experience from a few European countries they sing them about twice as fast (kind of) and it lifts up enthusiasm and involvement. Louder singing too. Even sacrament hymns are sung faster and louder than in Utah. Perhaps less intimate and less reverent? How about elsewhere in the U.S.? And in Latin America? When I visited a ward in Kinshasa, Congo: no piano nor organ, but a little choir of a dozen sisters that were swinging while singing upbeat. Indeed, only the drum missing.

  8. Blain on April 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    6 — Poor, Wayfaring Man is a bit long for a sacrament hymn if you sing all the verses, and it really shouldn’t be sung if you’re not going to sing all the verses (and it should be sung).

    7 — Mack Wilberg has taken that to an extreme that I find very annoying. This includes slowing down the end of each verse (every verse) of the congregational hymns during stake conference. Messing with the tempo in a congregational setting should be avoided — most folks are too busy following along in the hymnal to take the direction in, and it creates unnecessary confusion — and doing it more than at the end of the whole piece just drags everything out. And slowing the whole piece down when the choir performs it can suck the life out of pretty much anything.

    I finished a rather nice congregational hymn at the one session I was able to attend in a congregational setting, Sunday Morning (which started less than an hour after finishing a double shift, so I was tired and grouchy — admitted) swearing at Bro. Wilberg (quietly enough that none of my gentle brothers and sisters were able to comprehend even one Anglo-saxonism). I hope he gets over this slowing things down so much soon.

  9. Guy W. Murray on April 9, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Blain # 8

    Poor, Wayfaring Man is a bit long for a sacrament hymn.

    Is there a time limit?

  10. Amira on April 9, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Sometimes I just wish we’d sing some of the less familiar sacrament songs more often. I don’t think I sing all 28 of those songs in a year, unless the chorister works through all the songs numerically. Some of my favorites are the less commonly sung hymns, at least in the wards I’ve been in.

    And I agree about the speed. I like to sing the more upbeat version of Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love, but it often seems that someone decides that it’s a bit too lively for the sacrament.

    I’d like to sing On This Day of Joy and Gladness for the sacrament sometime.

  11. Alison Moore Smith on April 9, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    What about breaking out of this conception of spirituality.

    Oh, narrator, I owe you one big platter of brownies!

    In January, when I was first asked to guest blog, I wrote down a number of possibly topics. Of course, I didn’t use any of them, but the first idea I wrote down was about music in church. This post compelled me, finally, to write it out: Lift Up Your Voice and Sing!

    Suffice it to say that I think the hymnbook needs a wake-up call.

  12. Alison Moore Smith on April 9, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Sometimes I just wish we’d sing some of the less familiar sacrament songs more often.

    Congregations are picky. Back in the day I was the chorister for EVER in Florida. And I had a list of the pieces that had been sung for five years, straight. I tried to mix it up, just adding, say, ONE hymn a month that wasn’t utterly familiar. EVERY SINGLE TIME someone complained, either to me or to the bishopric.

    I kept trying to remind people who wanted only “familiar hymns” that the “familiar hymns” were only familiar because they had sung them even BEFORE they were “familiar.” It didn’t work.

    In addition to the banning of anything ANYONE deemed “unfamiliar,” I was told that we couldn’t sing anything about pioneers because “we don’t live in Utah” and we couldn’t sing anything that referred to mountains because “we don’t have mountains like they do in Utah.”

    And I didn’t even try to sing “God Save the Queen.”

  13. Remembering on April 10, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Thank you for this Kaimi. I have not been to a Sacrament Meeting for over 20 years. The last time was when I lived in New York and was studying at Columbia. (I only mention this because I read that Kaimi also went there, and the Manhattan Ward was a special place, at least then and for me. I hope so for Kaimi as well.) I miss some things, most profoundly the music. After I visited no more, my kind mother sent me a copy of the new Hymnal and a yearly subscription to the Ensign. I do miss the music. Especially in that Manhattan Ward. I think of my mother when I think of the hymns.

  14. MCQ on April 10, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Alison, with all due respect to that congregation from the great state of Florida, you should have told them, in the nicest possible way, to shove it up their collective colons.

    In a calling, any calling, it’s your job to make the judgment calls that are the province of that calling. That’s your stewardship, and no one, not even the bishop, should be interfering in that stewardship. Sometimes bishops need to be reminded of this. You need to say, “This is my calling and my stewardship and I’ll decide how to perform it, with the aid of the Spirit. If you disagree with how I’m performing it, you can release me from my calling, but you can’t tell me how to perform it.”

    Most bishops, when confronted with this, will back off. Some will even support you. Some few will release you, but then that might be the best outcome anyway, if they won’t let you perform your calling the way you see fit.

  15. Hans in California on April 10, 2009 at 7:39 am

    The solution to slow tempi can be solved quite easily: have the organist increase the speed of the hymns and play them loudly. I’ve been a ward organist for 42 years and am also a professional musician. The first thing I do when they call a new ward chorister/music director is train them to lead the hymns faster. There was only one exception over the years: the late Brother Hansel Rayner, conductor of the Burbank Symphony Orchestra and Professor of Music at Pepperdine University, was called as Ward Music Director and you didn’t mess around with him. He had exceptionally fast tempi, took every verse of a hymn at a different tempo, and commanded the organist (me) and the congregation to follow his dynamics. Anyway, the tempi can be set by the organist and the congregation will follow. No more funeral dirges in church. I’ve often been amazed with Utah wards; how they can sing so slow at a high altitude and still maintain some concept of musical phrasing!

  16. document on April 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

    When I was ward organist in my last ward we didn’t have a called conductor or music chairperson, so I had to pick the hymns every week. I actually just started at 169 and went through the hymns one by one until 197 (skipping over one of the duplicated text). Then I would start back at #146 and go through again (picking the alternate songs this time around of the duplicated text)

    They never seemed to get old when we did it that way.

    Plus, as an organist, I’ve noticed that many times song-pickers only choose from around 50 – 70 songs in the hymnbook anyway (including sacrament hymns).

    For the wealth of music that is in our hymnbook (and also in the primary hymnbook) very little of it is actually sung. We hear “Come, Come Ye Saints” all the time, but rarely do we hear “For All The Saints”.

  17. Kevin Barney on April 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Bless you, Hans. I don’t know much about music, but I’ve long thought that the solution would be for the organist to play faster, since realistically most in the congregation are going to follow the tempo of the organist accompaniment. Your practice makes tremendous sense to me.

  18. Kim Siever on April 10, 2009 at 9:42 am

    I am completely comfortable repeating hymns more frequently. I think members need to become more familiar with the hymns, and this is just one way.

  19. CS Eric on April 10, 2009 at 10:46 am

    As our ward organist, the main limit I use for how fast to play a hymn is how fast the congregation can sing it. Granted, it isn’t a race between the organist and the congregation, but more often than not, I am pulling them on to a faster tempo. We recently got a new conductor, and luckily, she prefers a faster tempo, too. She also picks songs that are unfamiliar. One week, I had somebody come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the “new” hymn–“Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise,” which was in Emma’s first hymnbook.

    And thank you, Andrew Price, for your comment. I enjoyed the laugh. You weren’t serious, were you?

  20. Alison Moore Smith on April 10, 2009 at 10:47 am

    LOL MCQ. In defense of the bishopric at the time, they didn’t dictate my choices to me, just passed on what was said by congregants. I listened to the criticism, but still chose what I felt was best. And we still sang about pioneers and mountains on occasion, etc.

    Speaking about pioneers was also frowned upon in general. Even on Pioneer Day, it was considered the height of arrogance to mention any original pioneer ancestry. And, for heaven’s sake, I married a Smith.

    Hans, great stuff. In defense of Utahns, however, I’ve had just as many slow hymns outside of it. Sometimes dictated by the lack of any really adept organists.

    document, I think we’d be singing a lot more of the Primary songs if the general leaders didn’t dictate so much of it via the annual Primary program. There isn’t a lot of time left after learning those pieces.

  21. queuno on April 10, 2009 at 11:43 am

    In addition to the banning of anything ANYONE deemed “unfamiliar,” I was told that we couldn’t sing anything about pioneers because “we don’t live in Utah” and we couldn’t sing anything that referred to mountains because “we don’t have mountains like they do in Utah.”

    Living in North Texas, I can testify that this is a common sentiment, especially among those who originated in Utah.

    Speaking about pioneers was also frowned upon in general. Even on Pioneer Day, it was considered the height of arrogance to mention any original pioneer ancestry. And, for heaven’s sake, I married a Smith.

    Many stakes outside Utah, especially those in culturally self-sufficient areas like North Texas, don’t even recognize Pioneer Day, except perhaps in a primary lesson.

    I find that pioneer ancestry is respected generally, but where it breaks down is when pioneer ancestry is trumpted as “I’m-an-nth-generation-Mormon” (and so I’m more knowledgeable/experienced/faithful than you).

  22. queuno on April 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

    “culturally self-sufficient areas” — I wasn’t trying to be offensive here. Just pointing out that there are some areas where members are raised without Utah heritage, don’t go to Utah for college, don’t meet/marry other members from Utah. Having spent almost equal amounts of my life in North Texas and Northeast Ohio, there’s a distinct difference. Youth in one place can’t wait to get out; youth in the other place — if they do leave — can’t wait to come back.

    NE Ohio, growing up, couldn’t survive without a healthy dose of Pioneer Day and Utah. NTexas, generally, ignores it all.

  23. aloysiusmiller on April 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I have heard of drumming reprobates out of the Church but drumming them in? No thanks.

  24. Steve Evans on April 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Kaimi now that Adam’s outed your persona, you don’t have to assail us with him any more. Seriously, Prudence got old with Aaron — learn that lesson.

  25. Margaret Young on April 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    The closing hymn at my father-in-law’s funeral was “Abide With Me.” I conducted it, and found that the words brought tears so quickly that I couldn’t sing. In the context of a funeral (one setting where we appreciate the implications of the atonement in deeply personal ways), the hymn is rich and comforting–and would be as preparation for the sacrament.
    “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

  26. Keith on April 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Having been in meetings where other hymns were chosen (this happened a number times in our ward for a while), it struck me that we were singing more about us and our living the gospel in general or God’s love in general, and not the specific loving, atoning sacrifice mentioned in the traditional sacrament hymns and commemorated in the sacrament itself. The experience distracted from the central focus of the ordinance.

    Because of this, I don’t mind sticking with the basic ones at all.

  27. Alison Moore Smith on April 10, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I find that pioneer ancestry is respected generally, but where it breaks down is when pioneer ancestry is trumpted as “I’m-an-nth-generation-Mormon” (and so I’m more knowledgeable/experienced/faithful than you).

    I find this more in the eye of the beholder than the descendent. While I’ve heard rumor of a particular GA’s daughter being consumed with stressing her maiden name whenever introducing herself, I can honestly say I’ve never personally witnessed anyone presenting themselves as superior due to either pioneer or authoritative connections.

    I happen to be a seventh-generation Mormon (my husband “only” a fifth–harrumph). It’s a fact and I had nothing to do with it. IMO it’s just as interesting as, say, being a seventh-generation American or seventh-generation plumber or seventh-generation medieval reenactment specialist. I can’t imagine how it could possibly make me more righteous or more faithful. But neither can I imagine how it would be automatically deemed inappropriate for discussion–or as having some deeper meaning like, “I’m obviously better than you.”

    My husband (Samuel M. Smith) is on the board for the Samuel Harrison Smith Foundation—under the umbrella of the Joseph Smith, Senior Foundation. (We commissioned the SHS statue that was placed at the MTC a couple of years ago and worked on that recent Ensign article, etc. I am the webmaster.) In that capacity, we interact with GA’s, the other Smith family foundation boards, and tons of pioneer descendants. I don’t see it there, either. (I suppose Joseph and Hyrum descendants are superior to those of Samuel and Sophronia?)

    From a “married in” point of view, I don’t see this group as being any more proud of their heritage than any other family reunion I’ve been to from my less-famous pioneer and non-pioneer ancestors (Knights, Moores, Empeys, Taylors, Gillmans, etc.). We are interested in where we came from and how we got here just like anybody else.

  28. Bored in Vernal on April 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    To get back to Kaimi’s question, here are my suggestions:

    #69 All Glory, Laud, and Honor (Savior, Redeemer, praise, love, hosannas, and the passion all mentioned)

    #90 From All that Dwell Below the Skies (praise, Redeemer, salvation, Savior)

    #101 Guide me to Thee (Savior, do thy will, redeeming power, mercy, enduring love)

    #103 Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer (Savor, Redeemer, conviction, stay the tide of sin and wrong)

    #112 Savior, Redeemer of my Soul (Savior, Redeemer, life reflect thy will)

    #141 Jesus the Very Thought of Thee (Jesus, contrite heart)

    #236 Lord Accept into thy Kingdom (repentant, humbled, born of water and the spirit, Beloved Son, salvation)

    #80 God of our Fathers, Known of Old (for gospel mature wards–the God of the OT is Christ, humble and contrite heart, lest we forget) I like this one.

  29. CJ Douglass on April 10, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Kaimi,

    Nice little puff piece to assert your “orthodoxy”. Do you really expect us to believe you care about sacrament hymns?

  30. Margaret Young on April 10, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    CJ Douglass–I’m guessing you intend your comment to be humorous. Please remember that the internet does not allow us to see the slight smiles of the commenters. I’m certain you did not intend to be rude. I think T&S has had its share of rude behavior lately, and I’d guess you agree. I know that Kaimi lives up to his name. You might want to ask him what his name means. It’s actually quite beautiful.

  31. CJ Douglass on April 10, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Fair enough Margaret. I realize now that my humor was a little dry and might be misunderstood. (it often is)

    Please accept my belated ;) (seriously)

  32. Jones on April 11, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I second the suggestion made by “bored in vernal” of “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee”. It is perfect for a Sacrament hymn (and my favorite hymn in our hymn book).

  33. queuno on April 11, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I find this more in the eye of the beholder than the descendent. While I’ve heard rumor of a particular GA’s daughter being consumed with stressing her maiden name whenever introducing herself, I can honestly say I’ve never personally witnessed anyone presenting themselves as superior due to either pioneer or authoritative connections.

    Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder. But I’ve lived in areas where this has been the extreme, and hundreds of beholders can’t *all* be wrong… Generally this is more of a problem in wards with stagnant growth.

    Anyway. Living in North Texas, I still view Pioneer Day and mountain songs as alien things, and I’d prefer we not sing them. Harrumph. :)

    “Jesus, The Very Thought of Me” and “Abide with Me” are two hymns that work well in almost any context, in my opinion, especially in the sacrament.

  34. Hans Hansen in California on April 11, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Years ago I moved into a ward in the Los Angeles area. An older couple wanted to know “if I was related to the Salt Lake Hansens” (like “Hansen” is the equivalent of “Smith” among Scandinavians!). When I told them I wasn’t related (they were Danish Hansens and I am a Norwegian Hansen from the San Francisco Bay Area, plus my father joined the church after I did) they didn’t associate with me and my family the 5 years we lived in the ward!

    And I didn’t bother to mention to them that I was of sixth-generation pioneer stock on my mother’s side of the family.

  35. Ardis Parshall on April 11, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Anyway. Living in North Texas, I still view Pioneer Day and mountain songs as alien things, and I’d prefer we not sing them. Harrumph. :)

    Anyway. Living in North America, I still view commemoration of events of middle eastern origin such as Easter and Christmas songs as alien things, and I’d prefer we not sing them. Harrumph. :)

  36. Alison Moore Smith on April 12, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Hans, I guess that’s what you get from those Los Anglicans.

    queno, I figure that as church members we owe honor to the pioneers whether we descended directly from them or not. Just like I think owe respect to our founding fathers even though I don’t have any in my ancestral line. (And I’m still happy to hear about those who do.)

    Sorry for the threadjack, Kaimi.

    I’ll vote for “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown” and “Come Unto Jesus.” My favorite hymns are probably “Called to Serve” (back from the Primary days) and “Carry On” (from the finale of the very first road show I was in–watch for those nasty Utecentric references). Neither of which would pass the bouncy test, I’m afraid.

  37. Hans Hansen in California on April 12, 2009 at 2:12 am

    “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown” (otherwise known as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” aka “The Passion Chorale”) and “Come Unto Jesus” are good Sacrament hymns. “Carry On” aka “The Vulture Song” (“Carrion, Carrion”), I’ve never particularly cared for.

    /derail/

    Why are there so few Easter hymns in the LDS hymnal?

  38. Researcher on April 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Why are there so few Easter hymns in the hymnbook? Probably to ensure that “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” is sung, without fail, every Easter.

    I’m not complaining; I love it! I love playing the organ on Easter Sunday because the congregation is larger and sings louder than on any other Sunday in the year, so I can crank up the organ and add a horn to the mixture and play fast and the singing never drags. Today we had “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” for opening, “O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown” for the sacrament (which turned out very lovely), and after a beautiful program by the choir and narrator, a choir arrangement of “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth” with the congregation joining in for a couple of verses. Have you ever seen a sacrament hymn being used elsewhere in the program? It worked today. Next week I see that “I Stand All Amazed” is being used for the intermediate hymn. Why not?

  39. Blain on April 12, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    9 — Yes. it’s in the manual.

    15 — Please share this wisdom with Bro. Wilberg. Before somebody (me) snaps and beats him to death with his baton (which could take a long time — almost long enough for him to need to wave it to mark the beat).

    28 — There may be some dry humor in this comment. Especially if, otherwise, someone might be offended.

    “O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown” is one of the best reasons to sing bass in the hymnal. It’s great for sacrament.