Communion Settings

This article was written for the July 2021 issue of our parish magazine. You can read it again here.

The term “Communion Setting” is used to cover the musical arrangements for the congregational responses throughout the eucharistic prayer. Communion setting suites have six separate movements:

  • Kyrie – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Sung during Advent and Lent
  • Gloria – Glory to God – sung when the Kyrie isn’t
  • Sanctus and Benedictus – Holy, holy, holy Lord, Hosanna in the highest
  • Acclamation – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again
  • Great Amen – Amen
  • Agnus Dei – Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, grant us peace

There are quite literally thousands of communion settings available for churches and worshippers to choose from. The setting used at St Margaret’s for the past twenty years was written by Anthony Greening. It was introduced to the congregation during my first visit to St Margaret’s. At the time Thomas, Jennifer and I were regular attenders at St George’s, but Thomas had recently joined the Beaver Scouts, and that auspicious day was the first of a decade’s worth of monthly church parades for him at St Margaret’s. Fr Martin was the incumbent, Anton was the organist, and the choir sang the Gloria for us – twice. Then we joined in, and that was that. Since then, we have had a priest-in-charge, at least four curates, two interregnums, a vicar and at least three other organists. We have stuck with the Greening communion setting throughout.

Does that matter?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Greening setting. However, during discussions in the recent “Inspiring Music in Worship” course, it seemed that where words or tunes are too familiar, they cease to register in our brains. Sometimes we need to shake things up a little in order to pay attention properly again and bring ourselves fully to worship. This healthy desire for change is balanced by the need for familiarity. Too much change can be disconcerting and off-putting.

“Inspiring Music in Worship” also taught us the word “contrafactum”. That is, putting new words to well-known tunes. There are many examples of this, such as the hymn “Fill your Hearts with Joy and Gladness” to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, “Spirit of God, Unseen as the Wind” to “Skye Boat Song”, and “God is our Strength and Refuge” to “Dambusters”. Contrafactum allows us to explore new, interesting and thought-provoking words within the context of familiar tunes.

Have you noticed that during June and into July Maggie’s Music Makers treated you to several instances of communion setting contrafactum? All were taken from “Hymns Old and New” (HON) – our trusty orange hymn book:

            Glorias

            Sanctus

  • Holy, most holy (Lord of all Hopefulness – Slane – HON972)
  • O Holy, most holy (The Ash Grove HON973)
  • Holy, holy, holy (Schubert HON969) Not yet recorded by Maggie’s Music Makers, but here’s the Westminster Chancel Choir to be going on with). 

Agnus Dei

  • O Lamb of God (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind – Repton – HON 978)

Of course, BBC Radio 4 listeners will recognise contrafactum as One Song to the Tune of Another – a game played in I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HvXotKhYvw, or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXkTHI79T-U. Here at St Margaret’s we promise to be rather more sympathetic with our combinations of new words for old tunes!

Carol P


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