Updated: Feb 9
Lent is an interesting season to try something creative as it is a good length for new songs (or new ways of using songs) to become familiar and meaningful but not so long that this becomes boring. You might also want to consider varying the musical forces you use during this season. For example, some organists will avoid using larger reed stops while bands can go for more of an acoustic feel. This can then make a huge impact for your congregation on Easter Sunday when the musicians pull out all the stops once more.
You can find a YouTube playlist here with many of the songs suggested below.
As this is the beginning of Lent you might want to begin with a hymn setting the tone for the season. Forty days and forty nights (CH 337 / MP 160) would be the classic hymn for this while Jesus, lover of my soul (CH 490 / MP 372) and Come thou fount of every blessing (Hymnary) are some other well known options, with Come thou fount (I will sing) (CCLI) and Come thou fount (above all else) (CCLI) alternative versions of the latter. To link in with themes from the readings you could consider songs which are about opening our hearts to God’s love despite our failings such as Great God, your love has called us here (CH 484), I give you my heart (CCLI) and Heart of God (CCLI)
For congregations who don’t sing a full setting of the mass every week, one good way to distinguish Lent as a season is to sing a Kyrie as a response to the prayer of confession. This may be unfamiliar liturgically in some traditions but fits the readings well as Psalm 51 sets the tone for the season. CH4 offers three contrasting options which are all easy to pick up with James MacMillan’s Lord, have mercy (CH 648), the Ukranian Orthodox Kyrie eleison (CH 776) and John Bell’s call and response Kyrie eleison (CH 777). This is also a great chance to learn a song from other parts of the world and Khudaayaa, raeham kar (WGRG / PFAS 51G) Ya Tuhanke (WGRG) are from Pakistan and Indonesia, places we rarely sing songs from. Both can be sung in English but try to imitate the slides on the recording of the first which is an important part of the style. Kyrie eleison, have mercy (MP 1321 / Townend) is more suited to worship bands and can be used either just as a chorus or else the verses can help set the context while Lord have mercy (Resound) would suit a variety of instrumentations. Create in me a clean heart O God (PFAS 51F) isn’t a Kyrie but is also from Psalm 51 and could also be an appropriate response to prayers of confession and Hear the song of our lament (Resound) would be an interesting song to use if you wanted to intentionally bring a whole of creation perspective.
All of the Kyries suggested above could also be used for a responsorial reading of Psalm 51. If you would like to sing a full metrical setting then consider either O God, be gracious to me in your love (CH 40) or God be merciful to me (Grace). There are also a number of songs which pick up particularly on v10 such as Create in me a clean heart O God (PFAS 51F) mentioned above, Create in me (CCLI) and Change my heart, O God (PFAS 51A / CCLI).
If you are including the Imposition of Ashes as part of your service then you might want a song which links to it even if you do the act itself in silence. Songs which have specific references include Lord, you have always been our home (CH 54), a beautiful setting of Psalm 90 (“From dust we came, to dust return”), Beautiful things (CCLI) (“You make beautiful things out of the dust”), Merciful God (GIA) (“Sign us with ashes, merciful God”) and Ashes (CCLI) (“From the ashes you call my heart to life”). You can also consider more general songs about penitence and grace such as Father of heaven, whose love profound (CH 483 / MP 827), Your grace is enough (MP 1383 / CCLI) and Come, O Lord, and set us free (WGRG).
For songs to respond directly to the scripture readings then O Lord the clouds are gathering (CH 708 / MP 509) probably has the strongest resonance with Joel. The Epistle links well to the Prayer of St Francis and Make me a channel of your peace (CH 528 / MP 456) while Lord, make us servants of your peace (CH 527) is a good alternative if the former is oversung. The Gospel passage has a focus on how to practice your faith and you could consider using Lord, teach us how to pray aright (CH 545), Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire (CH 546 / MP 567) or God our Father (Resound).
Either Throughout these Lenten days and nights (Hymnary) or Lord, who throughout these forty days (Hymnary) would explicitly send you on the way for the forty days of Lent ahead while Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (CH 167 / MP 201) is less explicit but better known and has strong Lenten themes. You could also use a song which praises God for saving us such as Yes and Amen (CCLI) (“You pulled me from the ashes”) or You alone can rescue (CCLI) (“You alone can lift us from the grave”). Before the throne of God above (CH 466 / MP 975) or What a friend we have in Jesus (CH 547 / MP 746) focus more on Jesus as our Saviour and the latter also links well into the theme of how to pray which we find in the Gospel.