Lent has begun, and with it a time of repentance and preparation for liturgical Christians around the world. During Lent many churches emphasize the penitential nature of the season, focusing on the sinner’s need for confession and forgiveness, and the suffering and death Jesus endured to gain that forgiveness. The music of Lent is typically more somber and reflective in tone, as the church restrains its joy by saying farewell to alleluias and turning to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that aid in showing sinners their need for a savior.
If you are observing Lent this year, here is a suggested listening list to assist you in your spiritual journey. The texts of the following selections are dripping with scripture, and the music appropriately dignified and reflective of the subject matter. You can’t go wrong making these selections a part of your Lenten preparation this season.
1. ‘My Song Is Love Unknown’
With text by Samuel Crossman and tune by John N. Ireland, this hymn speaks powerfully of the sinner’s awe at what God has done. “Oh, who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?”
2. ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’
This setting was arranged by Gilbert Martin and conducted by Westin Noble.
3. ‘Call to Remembrance’
The first of two selections in this list by sixteenth-century English composer Richard Farrant. “O remember not the sins and offences of my youth: but according to Thy mercy think Thou on me, O Lord.”
4. ‘Bless the Lord, O My Soul’
5. ‘God So Loved the World’
Lent in a nutshell, from John Stainer’s “The Crucifixion.”
6. Psalm 130, ‘De profundis’
Chanted by the Choir of Kings College. “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.”
7. ‘From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee’
Another take on Psalm 130, this text by Martin Luther is also known as “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee.” This version melds the traditional hymn with an updated setting featuring solo voice, piano and strings.
8. ‘A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth’
By the incomparable Paul Gerhardt. “O Love, how strong you are to save! You lay the One into the grave Who built the earth’s foundation.”
9. ‘Go to Dark Gethsemane’
Text by James Montgomery, tune by Richard Redhead. This intimate guitar version sets a properly reflective mood.
10. ‘Penitential Litany’
“You who shared the sinner’s table . . . hold us in your mercy.”
11. ‘Lord Jesus, Think on Me’
This ancient text is by Synesius of Cyrene. Recorded at the 2015 Ash Wednesday service at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
12. ‘O Merveilleux Amour’
“What Wondrous Love Is This.” This version, sung by Lutherans in Brazzaville, Congo, is a reminder to our Western ears of the universality of the Lenten message.
13. ‘My Worth Is Not in What I Own’
From modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty. “My worth is not in what I own Not in the strength of flesh and bone But in the costly wounds of love At the cross.”
14. ‘Lord, for Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake’
Another from Richard Farrant. “Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake, lay not our sins to our charge, but forgive that is past, and give us grace to amend our sinful lives.”
15. ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’
Cantata BWV 80 by J. S. Bach. You may not have previously connected Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” with Lent, but it is typically sung during Lent in conjunction with the story of Christ’s temptation by Satan. Based on Psalm 46, it reminds Christians where their strength is to be found, even in the darkest of hours. Enjoy Bach’s cantata on the hymn in its entirety.
Finally, here is a playlist where you can listen to all the above pieces in sequence. Wishing a blessed and reflective Lenten season to you and yours.