30 March 2007

I'm in love...

...with an old hymnal, the Pius X Hymnal.

The hymnal was published on the fiftieth anniversary of its namesake's Motu Proprio Tra Le Sollecitudini, in accordance with his wishes that preference be given first to Gregorian Chant, and second, to Polyphony. That being said, it has many hymns also in the vernacular, and more modern by the standards of the time.

It is laid out in clear sections, with titles such as: "Hymns to the Sacred Heart","Hymns To Our Lord", "Hymns to the Blessed Sacrament","Hymns to Our Lady", "Hymns to the Saints" (The first hymn in that section is "Saint Pius X"), and so on. It has compositions from old composer, Viadana, des Pres, Orlando Lassus- it is the only hymnal I have ever seen that has any music at all by Palestrina- and of course, my all time favourite composer is well represented: Anonymous. Some prayers are put to many settings. For example, there are twelve Tantum Ergo settings.

It is an interesting document from interesting times. It tells us about the people who used it, the roles they played, and their faith. There is music in here that is simple and can be followed by any congregation, and there is more challenging material best left for the professionals. The people were not meant to sing everything, nor the choir to sing alone all the time. It is unequivocal in its statements of the faith. The euphemisms and elisions so popular in our modern hymnbooks are utterly absent here. The Body of Christ is the Body of Christ. There are no songs in praise of the congregation. I have yet to see the word "gather".

Its survival is interesting in and of itself. The priests of the past seem to have been pack rats. It was in a storage room for choir materials, and nothing seems to have been tossed. There are materials for a choir more than forty members strong. My mind boggles.

I don't intend to idealize the past, with a "gosh they had it so much better" attitude. I like it for its challenges and its orthodoxy. I can sing anything in this hymnal with a clean conscience. I understand why this book would go out of print, and be consigned to a dusty cupboard, why other hymnals would take its place, but it's still nice that it was hung onto, and is still of some use. I wonder what an updated version would look like. Any thoughts?

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