14 July 2018

The new hymnal

The index of hymns that will be included in CBW IV has been released.  It is, as expected, a mixed bag.  I went over an interview with one of the editors some years back, here, in which the editor said they were going to try and have something for everyone.  I expressed my skepticism, as I have heard that promise before, but said I would wait until I saw the thing before I passed judgement.  

To be as fair to the editors as I can, judging from the titles alone, it seems they made some effort to make good on the promise.  There are some titles here that I can work with.  However, back in the article, the editor also mentioned that they my be tinkering with the words of older hymns to make them more inclusive, or to be in accord with whatever set of endlessly shifting standards are in place now.  As I said back then, if they are tinkering with the words then they should drop any pretence to caring about producing something for everyone.  They are only producing this for one group and one group only.  However, I don't know that they fiddled with the words judging from the titles alone.

In fact, there are several songs missing which were created explicitly by changing the words.  For example, the list includes Faith of Our Fathers, but not the terrible A Living Faith, which kept the first verse of the first hymn, but then created new verses to include mothers, brothers, sisters, etc.  Also the list has The Lord's my Shepherd, but not The Lord My Shepherd Rules My Life sung to the same tune.  Assuming they left these pieces alone, I would like to give them some praise for that.  However, it is not always possible to tell whether or not the words have been rewritten from the title.  For example, among the titles include is Dona Nobis Pacem.  The round setting of these words was attributed to Mozart himself.  But there was a version of this piece included in the Celebrate in Song book that was issued as a stop gap by the CCCB until a new hymnal could be prepared, in which the Mozart round was butchered and tropes were added.  Which version is here?

Another praiseworthy omission: Gather Us In is not on the index.  That song was to the Catholic Mass what the Chicken Dance is to weddings: a tooth grinding inevitability.  Getting rid of it is no small cause for praise.

And now for what I cannot praise.

Back in the '70's, Pope Paul VI, concerned about how chant, the true music of the Catholic Church, was disappearing from the parishes, issued free of charge a small collection of chants under the title of Jubilate Deo.  The chants in this little booklet comprised what he called 'the minimum repertoire of chant.'  It remains the closest thing the Church has to a standard hymn book for the Ordinary Form.  It should, therefore, be the starting point for any hymnal.  Some of Jubilate Deo is in this book, but much of it is not.  Therefore, from the beginning, it does not meet the Church's minimum standards.

Also, it has the same problem that the CBW III has: while it has some chants- it appears to have more than its predecessor- most of these chants are specific to season and some are even specific to the Mass.  Several chants appear to have been translated in English.  Therefore it is very difficult, if not impossible, to do a single Mass in Chant, the official music of the Church, in Latin, the official language of the Church.

Also, some of subject headings are, in my opinion, just plain goofy.  Several of the hymns they have included have been commented on as theologically unsound.

Lastly, the communion section is longer than that of CBW III, which would be good if it were not for the fact that the additional music is not any better than the few that were in the first.  Once again we are singing about bread and wine- no wait, I mean wheat and grapes- er, I really meant seeds and vines.  If we go any further backwards we will be singing hymns about manure.

The time I have spent in music programs of various churches has taught me that music programs are a minefield.  Few things will upset or split a congregation faster.  The editors have tried to navigate this minefield, and I would like to recognize that, even though I have reservations about the end product.  I have praised it mainly for not being as weak as it might have been.  That does not mean I found it to be strong, or, indeed, that I find it to contain any real strength.  It only means it was not as bad as it might otherwise have been.

It is unlikely my perpetually cash strapped parish will be purchasing the new hymnal, however, even if we were, I would not be recommending the purchase of this one. Our diocese has produced another hymnal, With the Angels and Archangels We Sing, which is supposed to be the official hymnal of the diocese.  Given a choice, I would much rather choose it.


It has been pointed out to me that the index is of approved hymns.  The Psalms, for instance, are not included in the list.  There is also a section entitled "Latin Chants" that is left blank, so it may include more chants by the time it is finished.  As such, I will return to my 'wait and see' position.  If they include more chant, and if they do not meddle overmuch with the words of the traditional hymns, nd if the psalms are done sensitively and sensibly, then this may not be altogether bad.


Julian Barkin said...

Thanks for the Honest look at this Brother Bear. Sadly I won’t look forward to this hymnal anywhere when it cons out. Give me Gregorian Chant any day. Really our Archdiocese has an official hymnal of sorts? Wow! Any way you can link to anything surrounding it?

Bear said...

Unfortunately not. The Cathedral has the hymnal. My wife and I made inquiries as to whether or not it would be possible to buy a copy or copies of the hymnal and were told no. There's bound to be a story behind that, but I don't know what it is. But you can go the Cathedral and flip through it sometime, if you are interested.