18 February 2011

On Hymnals

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I was recently asked, casually, what hymnal I would pick if I had my choice. I'm sure that the friend who asked me this had no idea what a can of worms she was opening up. She probably thought I'd just be able to name one. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. There is no Catholic hymnal in existence that would be able to stand on its own for parish use. Any one that you picked would have to be supplemented almost every week by worship aids with lyrics in them. I've yet to come across a Catholic hymnal that isn't plagued by at least one of three things: heresy, poor selection, or really bad music. Here are some examples:

St. Gregory
The organ accompaniments are atrocious, and the original compositions are lackluster at best. Also, since the only available edition is a reprint from 70 years ago, it's out of date; there has actually been good stuff written in that time period that I'd like to include.

Traditional Roman Hymnal
Useful for the SSPX, I suppose, but though I really like the selection they have, I presumably will always be employed in OF or combination EF-OF parishes, and there aren't enough English hymns to make it useful for that.

Worship III
Well, aside from the obvious problems of objectionable '70s and '80s hymnody, it doesn't contain enough hymns in some of its various categories to make it sustainable for year-round use. For instance, there are only nine hymns in the section marked "Eucharist." Now, of course you can use other hymns during Communion, if you're going to sing hymns then, but really? Nine was the best you could do? There are that many in a throwaway missalette! Also, it's really fat and heavy, kind of difficult to hold with one hand.

I'm including this one because, along with Worship III, it's what we currently have in our pews. Do I really need to say why I don't like it? I object to a lot of the music in it on artistic and theological grounds.

Plagued with a combination of the problems of Gather and Worship III. Fat, heavy, and with a lot of pretty awful music.

None of the music in it is objectionable, there just isn't enough of it. It might be useful for a school or for a chapel where they don't have Mass year-round, but in a parish setting its small selection will become boring pretty quickly.

The Parish Book of Chant
Does what it says on the cover. It's not a replacement for an OF hymnal. Also, the selection is pretty small, if those are the only things you expect the congregation to sing. If I expected my parishioners to do a lot of singing in Latin, I'd get a Kyriale and a Liber Cantualis.

I know there are probably others that I've left out. My parish is going to get new hymnals later this year, before Advent. They're getting Gather Comprehensive, the one I really, really don't want, but I'm only a lowly choir member here, wife of the organist, and I have no say. My poor husband--they asked him if he'd rather see a permanent hymnal or throwaway missalettes, and he said hymnal. He had no idea it was going to be that!

The only hymnals I've ever seen that I genuinely liked and thought useful were Anglican. If I were in charge of my own music program and had to get new hymnals, I'd either buy Anglican hymnals and attack them with white-out and scissors (by way of editing), or use a print-on-demand service and make my own. I would not expect the hymnal to also serve as a hand missal.

I'd probably want to have two books in the pews: one would be something like the Gregorian Missal, with all the proper chants, but would leave out most of the feast days and include the readings and a Kyriale. Basically, a hand missal with notated music. The other book would have some (probably seasonal) Simplex Propers and a largish selection of solid hymns in English and Latin. I really think that an arrangement like this, though probably expensive, would be able to provide all of the congregational music for an idealized Ordinary Form-only parish, in which you'd have a sort of Low Mass early in the morning, with all vernacular hymns, a later Mass (or the anticipated Mass) with Simplex Propers and hymns, and a mostly- or all-Latin High Mass in the late morning with the Gregorian Propers.

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