Lenten Hymns as Spiritual Nourishment

By now, you may have started “giving something up” for Lent. Maybe you started an activity, such as daily Mass, mental prayer, or an act of service, to bring you closer to Our Lord. In looking for new ways to live a fruitful Lent, I came across a novel idea: meditating on Lenten hymns.

Every year, when I sing with my parish choir on Good Friday, I feel I am present at Jesus’ Passion and death. The Lenten hymns give me the fullest glimpse I’ve ever had of Jesus’ love for us as revealed by His Crucifixion. It was the loss of not singing at the Good Friday service last year that led me to value these hymns all the more. I hope it will enrich our Lent 2021 to meditate on the lyrics of a few Lenten hymns.

Were You There?

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

When you hear the sopranos soar on the heartfelt “Oh!”, the song begs you to empathize with Jesus’ pain, and when the chorus sings “tremble,” the bass voices actually tremble with grief. This hymn startled me with how vividly it brought me to Calvary, since its narrator suggests that we too can be there for Jesus as we would be there for a friend undergoing a difficulty. Then we realize it is our sins which He takes to the cross, and we find ourselves trembling with wonder at His great love for us.

The Glory of These Forty Days

This hymn is at once a marching tune and a calm, meditative chant. Musically and lyrically, it encompasses our Lenten journey. It stills your spirit, asking you to examine yourself truthfully in prayer, and to then go out and act. It encourages us to follow the example of Jesus and certain saints by answering the call to embrace sacrifice for God.

Stabat Mater

The staccato notes and dramatic changes in intervals make the Latin choral arrangement cut right to your heart. The English translation stopped me in my tracks. The words, one I understood them, explained to me why this hymn needed to be so dramatic. “The Mother Stands,” states the title, referring to Mary standing at the foot of the cross. This hymn awakens us to Mary’s pain as she observes her Son’s death. It demands that we take our Lenten journey seriously because we realize what Good Friday cost Our Lady, and perhaps to initiate a devotion to Mary this Lent.

Lord of the Dance

Many a Montrosian will smile remembering this tune from pre-pandemic Montrose Mass. This one can be our anthem in Ordinary Time or Lent or Easter. It follows Jesus’ life from His birth to His Resurrection. The pattern of its lyrics remind us to follow Him in all things, from our ordinary tasks of the everyday to our suffering, which, when done with Christ, can offer us victory.

What Wondrous Love Is This?

“What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”

The soothing yet mysterious melody fits with the questioning tone of the lyrics. This song provokes our sense of awe at Jesus’ act of love, and calls us to meditate on it, asking ourselves, “Is it really possible that we are loved this much?” Each verse reveals the awe-inspiring nature of Jesus’ love, and the song culminates with a call to action which can fuel any Lenten struggle.

These are just a few hymns to meditate on this Lent. You, like me, may find that the lyrics spark your imagination. The somber hymns flood your heart as you aim to empty it of world attachments during Lent, readying it to receive Jesus. We live our Lent humbled by reliving his Passion through these lyrics.

Perhaps, as you read these lyrics, you will also find yourself walking up Calvary with Jesus. Perhaps you will find yourself in solidarity with His suffering and death, and then maybe carrying your daily crosses will truly become more of an act of love than a bleak struggle.


Anna Sheehan ‘21