Hymns for Lent

I’ve found that Lent has comparatively few hymns for such a lengthy season. In the past I’ve posted drafts of several new ones of my own attempting, and I thought I might gather the links here in case anyone is looking for something different.

From time to time I try on a minor revision, and any comments are welcome below. (You won’t be able to leave a comment on the original posts, as I close comments after 30 days.)

Praying for the health service

As part of a diocesan resource to help people pray this St Luke’s tide for the health service, I’ve written these propers for a eucharist (although some of them can obviously be used outside the context of eucharistic worship). I thought I’d post below a slightly edited version here for others also to use as they wish. The full resource is available from our diocesan website. I’m assuming people will use the collect of St Luke’s day. Continue reading “Praying for the health service”

Desert song: hymning the temptation

With Lent just about to arrive, it’s time to offer a retrieval from a past blog. Here is a hymn on the theme of the temptations of Christ. The tune I had in mind when I wrote it was Picardy. But I was seriously flattered when Kathryn Rose (@artsyhonker) wrote a tune for it: her recording of Harringey is here.

Just in case you’re still struggling to find hymns (and indeed ideas) for Lent this year: here is a slightly edited version of my earlier work. A couple of months back I also had the experience of reading it aloud as a poem, during a time of reflection in the Judaean desert (pictured), which helped me rethink my own words, as well as reaffirming my hope that there’s some helpful theology in it.

From the Jordan to the desert,
from the crowd to barren place,
Spirit-driven, devil-tempted,
Lord, you sought the Father’s grace
show us now your pow’r, in weakness,
presence in the empty space.

Out of Egypt with God’s people,
freedom brings its testing stress:
what is right and what is truthful,
how the name of God confess?
Jesus, lead us on our journey,
guide us through the wilderness.

Lack of food for empty stomach,
offered only cold hard stone;
scripture used to tempt and strengthen;
easy route to grasp the throne:
Bread of life, and Word incarnate
help us worship God alone.

In the search for loving justice,
in the quest for truth and right,
Jesus walk beside, before us,
hold your Cross of love in sight;
keep us in your Father’s presence,
guide us to your risen light.

Creative Commons License(This hymn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence, so you can use it freely in your liturgy and worship)

Liturgy: words for speaking, not for reading

The Christmas issue of the Church Times included an article in favour of applying readability testing to the Church’s liturgy. It’s a summary of the author’s own thesis. The article wasn’t helped by some dodgy subbing. In the text, he explains that he “isolated a small core of 33 words that will be difficult to avoid in worship”. (A rather odd selection in any case – family? forgives?) Unfortunately the boxout captioned them “Complex words that might be avoided”. Perhaps his text wasn’t as readable as the sub-editor needed it to be! Continue reading “Liturgy: words for speaking, not for reading”

How important is literacy for liturgy?

Crib Service
Photo courtesy of James Atkinson / Diocese of Worcester

Having read this morning’s post, a friend and colleague left this comment on Facebook:

Can’t help but wonder how much of church language is actually intelligible. Readability tests on our liturgy shows it presumes a literacy level well beyond many people.

Obviously readability tests on Cranmer’s liturgy presume even more! But perhaps there’s a clue in that, since that liturgy became loved and used in a society with far lower levels of literacy than today. Then again, the only word most people got to say was “Amen”. They didn’t need a high level of literacy, just a priest and a clerk who could read for them.

I’m not saying that’s a desirable state of affairs we should seek to replicate; I am suggesting that beauty and memorability may count for more than readability.

I recall a family who attended a church where I ministered. They came under protest out of a sense that God wanted them to go to the only church on the estate where they lived, and were deeply upset to find it was Anglican, and middle-to-high Anglican at that. Their youngest child had some learning difficulties, and that also made them think ill of liturgical worship. Then the day came, when said child joined in singing: not a chorus, not a children’s song, but the Gloria. The same words to the same tune every week made it accessible and memorable in a way the changing repertoire of other music was not, whether traditional or contemporary.

Another illustration of the same point comes from one of the more linguistically complex modern prayers: the president’s post-communion prayer written by David Frost that begins, “Father of all, we give you thanks and praise”. Yet the combination of metaphor, assonance, euphony, and almost metrical phrasing led to it being adopted as a congregational prayer by popular demand, and as such it is largely often said from memory.

Both examples suggest that liturgy works when it’s not being read, but when it’s being inhabited. For the translation of scripture (which was written for oral performance) and for the writing of liturgy alike, perhaps we have valued readability too highly, and paid insufficient attention to what is pleasing to the ear, and sinks into the heart.

It is the high literacy culture of the liturgists and translators which creates the problem, and not the low literacy culture of the receiver. It is thinking that liturgy is about the reading of written texts, rather than the performing of them with participation. We have become like a generation of actors who wander round the stage with our noses glued to the scripts. No wonder people find the performance unengaging.

A prayer for Dementia Awareness week

dementiaDementia Awareness week begins on Sunday. Do take a look at the material on the Alzheimer’s Society site. (The picture above comes from them.)

If anyone’s still looking for resources, here’s a prayer you can use.

God of hope and resurrection,
you know us better than we know ourselves,
and draw us to peace and wholeness in your love.
We remember before you
those who are unable to remember their own lives.
Guard and treasure their lost memories for them,
and hold their past in your safe hands,
that when the death of the body comes,
you may bring them to the full life of the resurrection,
restore and heal the memories of their lives,
and give them back to themselves,
that we with them may rejoice in your love,
and find the fullness of life in your presence,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Praying with the Prodigal Son



The below is a suitably Lenten preface for Eucharistic prayers that takes up the story of the prodigal son / indulgent father as its basic narrative of forgiveness and celebration. (The illustration above is a painting from 1872 by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

This preface may be particularly suitable for Lent 4, when that provides the gospel story in churches following the Roman Catholic / Revised Common Lectionary.

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise,
most gracious and long-suffering God,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

From the time you brought humanity into being,
you have always patiently attended to us,
yet we, unwilling to accept your gifts of love,
sought our own way and wandered far from you.

In Jesus Christ you have come to meet us,
to bring us to our selves, that we might return to you,
and know you as our Father once again.

In these forty days you call us to prepare our hearts and minds,
that we may know the joy of being your children,
and delight in the feast which you have prepared
for all who come to the table of your kingdom.

And so we bless you for your mercy,
and join with saints and angels,
for ever praising you and singing (saying):

(And here’s a reminder that – like most of the rest of this blog – this preface is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence, so you can use it freely in your liturgy and worship)

St Augustine’s Hymn

There are a limited number of hymns suitable for Lent. The other day I posted a metrical version of Psalm 51. Some months back I reposted an earlier hymn, based on the temptation narratives, with a link to Kathryn Rose’s fine new tune written especially for it.

Here’s another (appropriate to, but not just for Lent) which I once published on another blog. It’s based on a famous prayer section from St Augustine’s Confessions (X.xxvii). The  tune I had in mind when writing was Gerontius.

Late have I loved you, O my Lord,
before whom beauty pales,
whose glory shines in Christ the Word,
whose splendour never fails.

I searched for you in all you made,
in all my eye discerned.
I failed to look within, afraid
to know what passion burned.

You walked with me unseen, unloved,
I trod as one alone,
I seized your gifts, though my use proved
the Giver was unknown.

Yet still you called, to me you spoke
your powerful words of love,
and my long-practiced deafness broke
by thunder from above.

Your flashing lightning cleared my sight,
your storm winds conquered me,
and now I see love shining bright,
I breathe air pure and free.

Your love, your life, is now my meat,
I hunger still for more;
your breath of life is true and sweet,
your touch of peace is sure.

Late though I loved you, O my Lord,
beauty both new and old,
now my heart welcomes Christ the Word,
my priceless pearl, my gold.

Creative Commons License(This hymn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence, so you can use it freely in your liturgy and worship)

Have mercy, Lord: a psalm for Ash Wednesday

I thought I would offer this metrical version of Psalm 51, both as a meditation for the day, and for those who want to use it in Lent. I had in mind the Passion Chorale as the tune, when writing it. No doubt I shall continue to develop this draft further, but I think it’s usable as is.

Have mercy, Lord, have mercy,
in your abundant love,
and from my sin now cleanse me,
my trespasses remove.
My shame is overpowering,
it will not let me go:
great wrath above is towering,
your sentence to bestow.

From birth have I offended,
and long been mired in sin,
yet you my heart have tended,
and sought a way within.
O cleanse my inner being,
and wash away my shame,
that I no longer fleeing
may glorify your name.

Look not on my transgression,
but take away my sin,
acknowledge my confession,
and give me life within.
Create in me a clean heart,
your spirit now renew,
your saving joy be my part,
my life be one with you.

Contrition my oblation,
and tears my sacrifice,
no ritual immolation,
for love has paid the price.
O God of my salvation,
open my lips and raise
the song of new creation,
restored in grace for praise.

Creative Commons License(This psalm is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence, so you can use it freely in your liturgy and worship)

Prayers for Global and Economic Justice

We’ve had a year in our diocese of focussing on issues of tax and economic justice, which concluded with a service of repentance, prayer and celebration earlier this week. This has been done in partnership with Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty.

I was asked if I’d share the prayers I wrote as part of the liturgy. I apologise in advance to whoever I pinched the idea from (and others from whom I’ve probably borrowed phrases here and there). I do recollect seeing and using a set of prayers in the past based on Matthew’s beatitudes, and I acknowledge that while I have very much made these – based on Luke’s beatitudes – my own, I’ve borrowed ideas and phrases from others I can no longer identify. Others, in turn are free to use and adapt these.

Christian Aid Week is coming up here (10-16 May), and these may be particularly helpful then.

On the evening we used as a response between each section of prayer, the Taizé chant “Jesus, remember me”. This can of course, also be adapted as “Jesus, remember them”. Other chants or spoken responses are equally suitable.

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

God of the poor,
you call us to be attentive to the things we would rather not see,
the people we would rather not hear.
The goodness of your creation, the generosity of your provision,
has been obscured, twisted out of shape by human greed and fear.
Creation groans, knowing it is not the kingdom it will be.
The voice of the poor and oppressed comes to your ears,
even when, especially when, it is ignored by ours.
Teach us to seek your kingdom urgently,
that we may share its blessing with those to whom it is promised.


Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.

God of the hungry,
in the world economy, and in our own economy,
many brothers and sisters struggle with less food,
worse health, and lower life expectancy.
Your blessings are taken away from the poor
by those who have seized them for themselves.
We give you thanks for the generosity and energy
of all those who staff and provision food banks,
and who work for international development,
yet we pray to you for the grace to fight for a world
in which aid and charity are not needed,
and in which all flourish and are filled.


Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

God of the desolate,
our economy grows rich on cheap labour,
we clothe ourselves in cheerful garments
made by the sweat of the poor,
delight in music played on machines
made by those on subsistence labour.
Our lives are full of luxuries
carved out of the tears of the poor.
Help us to work for a world
in which the poor have equal dignity with the rich,
and enjoy a fair share of the fruits of their labour.
Help us to weep today with those who weep,
that we might laugh with them when they rejoice in your kingdom.


Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude you, revile you,
and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

God of the persecuted and marginalised,
we have cared so much for our peace
that we have supported tyranny in far away places
to keep our homes safe and secure.
We have failed to invest in the education,
rights, and protections of others,
failed to hear the cries of the prisoners,
or the words of the truth-tellers.
Help us to find a fearless voice
that speaks truth to power,
that rebukes the torturer and abuser,
brings the oppressed out of prison,
and takes a place beside the persecuted,
that in standing with them,
we might find ourselves standing beside you.


Silent prayer may follow, and the prayers may conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, a collect or some other prayer.

Jesus our brother,
suffering servant and righteous judge,
so mould our minds in the patterns of justice
and shape our hearts with the contours of love,
that we may secure the rights of the poor and oppressed,
challenge the consciences of the rich and powerful,
and draw the hearts of all humankind
to follow you in the way
which leads to the liberation of the whole creation
and the glorious freedom of all our Father’s children,
in the love and glory of his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.