My friend Darin asked for suggestions for songs to use during communion.
But before we get into specific songs, let’s talk about music during communion.
Live vs. Recorded Music
I was taught that live music is always best. Perhaps that used to be true, but I want to make the case that recorded music can be as good, or sometimes better.
I did pulpit supply for a small church that had a dear older woman playing the organ. She’d been playing it for years, but she didn’t have much rhythm. The first time I preached I thought I had chosen a hymn the congregation didn’t know because it didn’t go very well. I learned the next time it wasn’t the hymns I’d chosen. The church had started singing contemporary praise songs to CDs at the beginning of the service. It was a better choice for them than the organ, especially for newer songs with more syncopation.
Technology needs to be invisible. Technology shouldn’t distract us from worshipping God. Whether we have live or recorded music, it needs to flow. If a CD doesn’t start right away or the wrong song comes up, that gets in the way of worshipping. But technology has gotten better over the years so it’s easier to use recorded music in worship. And it sounds better.
Instrumental vs. Words
I grew up with the organist playing instrumental music during communion. The first time I remember singing during communion was at seminary. We sang simple songs like Let Us Break Bread Together. I’ve come to appreciate singing during communion. When the songs are simple and the words are printed in the bulletin, people can drop in and out as they receive the elements.
If the organist plays, he or she could play a song that the congregation will sing later in the service, or one that the congregation knows. When I hear an instrumental version of a song I know, the words are in my mind without having to sing them out loud.
Another option is to have the choir sing during communion. Some songs have a refrain where the congregation can join in.
You could play recorded music of instruments you don’t usually have in worship, like the harp or violin. I have a CD of hymns played with an acoustic guitar. Or you could have special music where an instrument or group of instruments is played during communion.
Another option is to receive the elements in silence. Our world is so loud we need silence. Even if we don’t realize it, I think we crave silence. If I were using silence during communion, I would introduce it and warn people that it might be uncomfortable at first.
Now, on to the music suggestions.
I use short songs with the words printed in the bulletin. I used to lead a Taize service where we would sing short, contemplative songs over and over. I would always sing to provide a guiding voice. One day, the fourth time through one of the songs, I dropped out and listened to everyone else singing. Listening to others sing was just as nourishing as singing myself.
Here’s a list of songs I would suggest. I’ve provided links so you can hear the song, but I encourage you to find a recorded version you like, or use written music.
Church of the Apostles, an emerging church in Seattle, Washington, has a song, You Are the Bread of Life, on their Ordo CD. They don’t have a sample of it online, but you can buy the album here or listen to their morning and evening prayers here.
David Haas, an author and composer of contemporary Catholic liturgical music, has two CDs of communion songs that might be worth checking out:
Table Songs: Music for Communion
Table Songs 2: Music for Communion
As I was checking out resources online, someone said his favorite communion song was “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” I know it as an advent carol. I love the song. It’s from a 4th century communion prayer. I’d love to have someone singing it a cappella during communion. Or perhaps like this.
If you do choose to play a recorded song, make sure you let your organist know. I forgot to once, and he was a bit upset with me, but he forgave me because he liked the song, God Has Chosen Me.
What are your favorite communion songs?