Lutherans have been known for singing together when they gather for worship and other meetings. Nowadays other Christians also do that, but even so the number of hymns we use in a worship service is sometimes a surprise to visitors. A Sunday service includes at least five hymns and often more, eight or nine is not unusual. Hymns are also sung when a baptism or blessing of a home or a funeral takes place and in many kinds of meetings. Some people sing them at home. Many hymns are like prayers made into songs; other hymns include encouragement and teaching.
A hymn (virsi in Finnish, psalm in Swedish) is a song that is included in the church hymnal – in many cases there is no other difference between a hymn and some other religious song. Our church hymnal (Virsikirja in Finnish, Psalmbok in Swedish) includes music and lyrics of many styles, some hymns are old and others more recent. A few hymns are older than the Lutheran church itself, but most have been made between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Many hymns originate from other churches – Lutherans have taken nice songs from other denominations just as others have started to use some of ours. Lyrics have been translated from many languages, but there are also many hymns that originate in Finland.
Music can unite people who do not speak each others' languages. Even if you do not speak Finnish or Swedish, you can try to sing along with us – the spelling and pronunciation of our languages is quite simple, although it can otherwise be difficult to learn them. If you don't have your own hymnal when you come to church, you can take one from a shelf near the door and return it there when you leave. (In our old church make sure you get the right language; books in Finnish are on one side and in Swedish on the other!)
The hymnals we have now in Finnish and Swedish were both approved by the General Synod in 1986, but these books differ in more than just language. The Finnish Virsikirja has 632 hymns and the Psalmbok has 585. Hymns are numbered differently in them, and both have hymns that are not included in the other. (Please note that the English meaning of the word “psalm” differs from Swedish; in English it means one of the 150 poems included in the Old Testament book of Psalms!) The Church of Sweden also has hymnals in Swedish and Finnish but neither of them is the same that we use, although many of the hymns are the same.
In church you may notice hymn numbers bigger than 632 or 585; that is because more songs have been added later to the end of the hymnal. If the edition you use is sufficiently new, you can find these added songs and also other materials like prayers and orders of worship.
Hymns have been grouped in our hymnals according to the topics of their words, so they are not in order alphabetically or according to age or style. Hymns for various festivals of the church year are in the beginning of the hymnal.
Our Finnish-language church hymnal can be searched in the Internet on the page Virsikirja Under the subtitle “Virsihaku” you can select a hymn number from the drop-down menu or search for Finnish words.
Music in the church is not just hymns or liturgical singing. Choir music and organ music have been a tradition for generations, and especially at Christmas we sing many songs that are not in the hymnal. A week or two before Christmas churches are full of people singing the “Most beautiful Christmas songs” using a specially printed booklet. Many kinds of instruments and music groups add to the beat in our congregations. Revival movements have made their own collections of songs, and contemporary gospel music is favored especially by young people.