Criteria for selecting hymns
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    In a rather heated debate on another thread, I referred to an article in the most recent Pastoral Music Magazine (the organ, pardon the pun, of the National Pastoral Musicians), in which the columnist Karen Kane assures us that, "Contemporary hymn text writers such as Dolores Dufner, Sylvia Dunstan, Alan Hommerding, Fred Pratt Green, Bernadette Farrell, Mary Louise Bringle, and many others have written texts that are wonderfully poetic , theologically and liturgically sound, and inspiring reminders to the faithful of their responsibility as baptised Christians to be people of the Gospel, people of just living, people missioned to go forth and live as Christ in the world."

    Another member of the forum took exception to my inclusion of Fred Pratt Green in the list.

    My point was that most of these text writers display a decided slant towards the heterodox, or infuse their texts with so much narcissism (texts where we sing love songs to each other, about each other, rather than to God, about God) or are so slanted, preachy-screechy, and politically charged with "social justice" of the feel-good variety that they can hardly pass the tests of being "theologically and liturgically" sound. If you look carefully at any "mainstream" hymnal from the "Big Three" Catholic music publishers (GIA, OCP, WLP/Paluch), you'll see statements in the front that read, "Published with ecclesiastical approval" or similar words. To the best of my knowledge the only way a text can be considered theologically sound (free from doctrinal error, etc.) is if it has received a "nihil obstat" and "imprimatur." Have any of the texts of these writers, including Green, received any such scrutiny and official approval?

    At the core of it, the texts we sing in the liturgy should be from and for the liturgy, not "inspiring reminders to the faithful of their responsibility as baptised Christians to be people of the Gospel, people of just living, people missioned to go forth and live as Christ in the world", to quote the columnist. Those are the fruits of the liturgy, not the purpose of it.

    The difficulty I face is one of intellectual honesty. While I find many of the texts of Pratt Green to be quite beautiful as objects of devotional poetry, and certainly a cut above most of the work of the other writers mentioned, they really aren't appropriate for use in liturgical celebrations. I remember as a Protestant (before my conversion) singing many of Pratt Green's texts. Perhaps his most famous text, and the one most often used (set to a truly beautiful Anglican tune) is, "When In Our Music God is Glorified." However, if we dismiss the work of the others because they are heterodox as well as clumsy or lacking in poetic craftsmanship, but overlook the heterodoxy in Pratt Green's texts in favor of their beauty, are we being intellectually honest?

    So, given the fact that the majority of Catholic DM's are saddled with everything from OCP's "Busting Bread" with so much dross for music to the sober "Worship III" from GIA with its population of hymns and texts drawn from the Protestant tradition and peppered with a small smattering of truly solid, orthodox texts and singable tunes, how do we effectively choose appropriate hymnody week after week for our parishes?
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    Before anything I would have to ask, are the hymns of Pratt Green to which you object genuinely "heterodox," either explicitly or implicitly contradictory to the Faith?
    IME, with the dread "Gather" while lousy, clumsy, unpoetic texts abound, truly heterodox are relatively rare (that they appear in a hymnal purporting to be suitable for Catholic worship at all is a scandal, of course.)
    Do Pratt Green's texts deserved to be lumped in with the crap that claims "you and I are the bread of life," or that it is not the Church's mission to "preach its creed," or boast that we "bring God to birth" or exhort us to create a "new church" by our vocalization or presume that peace or any other good thing can begin other than with God?
    I am not saying they don't, I am asking, as I don't recall off hand any texts of his that are contrary to the Faith.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    THANK GOD someone else realizes "when in our music, God is glorified" is bad! Well.. it shouldn't be consigned to the pits of hell, and I'd program "three blind mice" at Mass if it were set to Stanford's tune. But still, if you want to make a statement about how great music is, why not direct it towards God? Much better is "O God beyond all praising".

    More to the point, I'd propose that we all can roughly agree on what texts are admissible and which aren't. Maybe we'd differ on EXACTLY where the line should be drawn, but is it such a HUGE cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth if I don't mind using "I am the Bread of Life" and David won't touch it? I'm not saying the finer points shouldn't be brought up, but I don't think the difference between "When in Our Music" and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" is as big as that between the latter and "Let there be peace on earth".
  • You don't have to look for a Stanford setting. Josquin set the "3 blind mice" tune as cantus firmus to his Missa L'ami Baudichon! I played sackbut on this once and got to know the tune quite well!
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204

    I hope I didn't give the impression that "When in our music" was a bad text. Quite the contrary, it's one of my favorites. My point was that apart from, say, a votive Mass for musicians is the text really appropriate for a Sunday liturgy?

    I appreciate your recognition that there are degrees of difference. What I'm trying to determine is if there is a clear delineation between texts that are and are not appropriate for use in the liturgy. (I wonder, out of charity and because our exchanges have always been honest and well-reasoned, if you don't want to reconsider your use of "I Am the Bread of Life" as an example, only because there's been quite a bit of ink spilled on the whole "congregation singing as the voice of God" problem. Just a thought . . .)


    While I have not made a thorough study of Pratt Green's texts, I can raise one very clear example where a text he wrote is contradictory to the Faith. First of all, it's important to be clear that Pratt Green never intended for his texts to be used by Catholics, so there is no evil intent in his contribution of these texts. Within the context of Methodist theology, they're quite sound. But within the Catholic paradigm it is easy to miss the subtlety of their inappropriateness.

    In verse two of his text, "God Is Here! As We His People", he writes,

    Here are symbols to remind us
    of our lifelong need of grace.
    Here at table, font and pulpit,
    Here the cross has central place.

    There's a suggestion that the action of the liturgy is embodied in symbols set forth as a reminder, not in the action of the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ, in the person of the priest and the people. Moreover, the "table" is, in Catholic sacramental theology, not just a table but an Altar of Sacrifice. It and the font are central locations for the confecting of sacraments: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrament of baptism. The pulpit on the other hand is the liturgical location for the proclamation of the scriptures, which is not a sacrament. With this text we state that each are co-equal and important, that they are symbols or a reminder of some other reality, and that the liturgy is nothing more than the hackneyed notion of "sharing a meal, sharing a story, sharing a common bond through baptism."

    I've come to realize that the motivation for the serious study of this issue is the fact that so many mainstream "lay ministers", primarily people engaged in formation and catechetical programs, dismiss or underestimate the importance of music as a vehicle for formation. They talk about how this or that "style" of music (typically contemporary, i.e., electric everything overamplified with a rock beat, as against chant, etc.) feeds and nourishes people based on how the music makes them feel, while completely dismissing the importance of the words. I'm on a crusade to reclaim the intricate union between the texts of what we sing and how we as musicians are equally, if not more, responsible for the formation of people's understanding of the Faith through careful selection of not just the melodies but the very words we put in people's mouths through the texts we ask them to sing week after week.

    Now, let's be careful out there. (Anyone else remember "Hill Street Blues"?)

    P.S. Michael- Sackbuts. Sackbuts? Are THEY on the list of "other instruments, legitimately admitted"? ;^)
  • Of course! Next time you pull that "posaune" stop remember the lowly sackbut player in the Renaissance cathedral band. Starting around 1575 almost every major cathedral had a group of cornetts, sackbuts, a curtal or two and maybe shawms. You can't do In eclesiis w/o 'em.

    BTW we had a discussion over at RPInet about VOG texts. There are several of them in the traditional hymn repertoire, but those works usually preface the VOG with an attribution. Also aren't there are a number of antiphons that quote Jesus?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Well, objectively I do enjoy "When in Our Music", but you're right that it's inappropriate for the Mass (I'd go so far as to say for all worship) I suppose I don't fret so much about hymn texts because I take a bit of a stance that if something doesn't jump out at ME, someone obsessive about theology, it won't do a thing for someone in the congregation. There have been some hymns where I've looked at the text during Mass and thought "ouch, won't do this one again" but those are few and far between.

    Even with "God is Here", I wouldn't really say the use of "table" (or "bread and wine") is inappropriate. "Altar" would be more accurate, but there is still the meal aspect to the Mass, being fed with the Body and Blood as with bread and wine. Now texts that explicitly say "it's just bread and wine", and there's plenty out there, should be avoided, but so long as the Body and Blood being symbols of food doesn't overshadow the reality of the form, it's pastorally defensible. I solved that problem by just not using Eucharistic hymns 99% of the time, and when I do only using those that explicitly say "body and blood".

    I should add that perhaps deciding texts should be the pastor's call. I've gone to mine quite a few times to ask if a text I want to use is acceptable or not.

    I share your frustration over hymns ABOUT liturgy (When in Our Music, God is Here, anything by The Duo Which Shall Not Be Named) rather than liturgical hymns. Although I'd suggest that such hymns could be appropriate for the closing hymn, since it does not supplant any of the propers. Then again, "G****r u* *n" wouldn't be appropriate for the closing! But no huge loss.

    And the "vox dei" issue is a good point of why I don't think we can just all agree on criteria for hymnody. I really don't see the problem with it at all. I would challenge anyone objecting to those texts to go find ANYONE, of any age, who sings "I am the Bread of Life" who can't tell you who the Bread of Life is. No one screams at Midnight Mass when the schola sings "The Lord said to me: you are my Son" thinking that the schola thinks they're either God the Father or God the Son. Admittedly, in some songs such as "Here I am Lord" it can be confusing (is the chorus Christ's response to the Father or ours?) but those can be evaluated on their other shortcomings and eliminated.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    As typically happens with wonderfully lively exchanges, we've kind of moved the target a bit, but that suits me fine. I'm willing to admit that perhaps I take this stuff entirely too seriously! At any rate, I find this to be a great dialectic exercise.

    Gavin, there's an article I found entitled, "Ritus Narcissus" by Fr. Paul Scalia over at Adoremus (Online Edition, vol. 5 no. 1, March 1999) that goes into much better detail on the issue of "vox dei" or VOG texts. It's a short article, well articulated and a great read. Scalia's premise in a nutshell is that VOG texts derail the dialogic nature of the liturgy (between us, the creation and God, the creator) and transform it into a participation in the congregation's introspection.

    The "meal" paradigm has become all too common, and often replaces a more firmly rooted eucharistic grounding in concepts like the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the Real Presence. Too, I think it is in part to blame for the nonchalance (sp?) or even irreverence that the typical suburban Catholic demonstrates when receiving communion. A colleague of mine asserts that some of the Protestant Victorian eucharistic hymn texts are more orthodox than much of what is found in present day Catholic hymnals. I'll have to take his word for it right now, but I have no reason not to trust his assertion.

    Michael, I'm not sure how the antiphons you're referring to square with Scalia's premise regarding VOG texts being sung by the congregation. I'm more comfortable living in the question at this point.

    When I made the "sackbut" comment, my tongue was planted squarely in my cheek! Did you know, by the way, that the Ceremoniale Parisiense (again, sp?) of the early 1700's is one of the few legislative documents on the liturgy of the period that spells out specifically which instruments were and were not legitimately admitted to use in the liturgies celebrated in Paris? It also gave specific instructions on how alternatim organ Masses were to be executed. I've only read secondary sources on it, as my french was too clumsy when I studied the subject for my Master's degree. If only we had documents like that now! "Zut, allor!"
  • @MOC

    "Also aren't there are a number of antiphons that quote Jesus?"

    A fair number of antiphons for the Mass use the words "dicit Dominus" when quoting Jesus, but the most prominent antiphon that doesn't use that attribution is the Easter Introit "Resurrexi". There may be others like it, but none off the top of my head.
  • Cantor
    Posts: 84
    Um, there are LOTS of Gregorian chant texts that quote Jesus and do not have a “dicit Dominus” or anything to the effect.

    Two examples off the top of my head are the communions for Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. 2nd Sunday of Lent as well, IIRC.

    ISTM that no one before the XXc would have considered the congregation’s role to concern the singing of the proper. In that sense, the poo-pooing of vox Dei texts could still be valid for congregational singing - in which case, we would have to conclude that the encouragement for congregational singing of the proper found in Musicam sacram and, now, SttL is misguided.
  • Gavin scribbles:
    "I really don't see the problem with it at all. I would challenge anyone objecting to those texts to go find ANYONE, of any age, who sings "I am the Bread of Life" who can't tell you who the Bread of Life is."

    BMP scribbles back:
    Good point. However, could you say the same for the other one - "I myself am the Bread of life, YOU AND I are the Bread of life?" Not me.
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 1,038
    True, no one (I hope) thinks that he is the "Lord of sea and sky" (to quote an all-too-popular hymn) but I still find the entire congregation singing it as rather creepy.

    Sam Schmitt
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204
    Thanks to all for the comments.

    I'd like to get this train back on the rails, if I may, and ask the question again: how do we effectively choose appropriate hymnody week after week for our parishes, especially if we've got nothing other than Gather, Worship or "Breaking Bread" to select from? I'm looking for the practical considerations moreso than the philosophical.

    Could those who enter into this discussion spell out the process they go through in selecting hymns? I realize that some of you may be in quite advanced parishes that don't even use hymnody, or are in the process of making the migration from congregational hymns/songs to using the appointed chants in the Gregorian Missal, etc. For those of you who fall into this category, how did you go about making that transition? For those of us who are dealing with a music program still stuck in the "hymn sandwich" paradigm, any advice would be welcomed!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I base it on the propers. For example, this Sunday the introit is "The Lord and ruler is coming; kingship is his, and government and power." I'm using "Joy to the World" as an entrance hymn. It may sound looney, but recall the text: "the Lord is come," "He rules the world". Furthermore, a lot of the hymn focuses on "the world" - this of course is relevant to Christ's being shown to the Gentiles at Epiphany.

    Offertory - "The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him." I have "As with Gladness Men of Old". 'Nuff said. This would probably work with the communion as well, but communion hymns were the first to go for us since no one sings them.

    The communion is "We have seen his star in the east, and have come with gifts to adore the Lord." "We Three Kings" for the closing. I think the closing hymn should, if possible, reflect the communion of the day.

    So, to rehash, I take into account the propers first as I can, then how the hymns match the theme of the day.

    Then there's the pastoral judgment. Look, no matter how appropriate "Joy to the World" might be for an offertory (just as a hypothetical example), it's just wrong to try to have a congregation do that octave jump in it while sitting down. In fact, I find offertory is the most difficult part of the Mass to plan for since everyone's seated, so any hymn singing will be diminished by that. New music will of course never come at the offertory. Furthermore, I avoid anything too taxing at the Entrance. For most anyone, it's the first time they've sang all day, so keep that in mind. Of course, old favorites can be sung well in any key, so don't fret those at the Entrance. My boss has dictated that there is to be no "sad" music at the Entrance - he was referring specifically to "Have Mercy, Lord, on Us" which uses the tune SOUTHWELL (it fit withe the introit). I don't necessarily agree with him, but you might take that into consideration.

    And, when there's simply nothing else to use, have a list of "praise" hymns handy for the Entrance or closing, and consider a Eucharistic hymn for offertory.

    So there's the 4 principles I use: Matching the propers, hymns which fit the day, pastoral concern, and hymns which fit the action.
  • Good catch on Gavin's part for the introit. The middle verses of "The First Noel" would also make a good Communio match, btw.

    I'm closing with "Joy to the World" doing some substitute work tomorrow morning on my first Aeolian-Skinner in about 10-1/2 years (I didn't pick the hymns, though).
  • Does the Ceremoniale Parisiense mention the serpent? It probably does since French chant was accompanied by it. Berlioz was able to tap into that connection by using the serpent on the Dies irae of the first scoring of the Symphonie fantastique.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204

    Unfortunately my research notes are in storage, so I can't give you an immediate answer. Next time I'm in my storage unit, I'll dig them out. I rather doubt I was too specific about instruments, as my focus was on the alternatim organ Mass during the time of Couperin "Le Grand". I have to wonder how long a Solemn High Mass must have lasted, if all of the alternatim options were exercised. I realize that there was considerable overlap between what the priest celebrant did and the music, but still, I wonder if a Solemn High Mass lasted at least 1-1/2 hours with all of the music.

    For those who may not be familiar with the serpent, it's a really unusual instrument. It has a large "S"-shaped body made of wood wrapped in leather, with the end opposite the mouthpiece typically capped with a highly decorated brass collar. It has six finger holes on the curved portions, and I think there were at least two keyed notes as well, utilizing "forked" fingerings similar to the krumhorn. It was played with a large mouthpiece similar to that of a trombone or tuba mounted at the end of a metal neck (bockal - sp?), similar to a bassoon, making it both woodwind and brass. My familiarity with it comes from my experience as a military musician in the field of interpretive ("living") history for the War of 1812 period in the United States (I served as a field, that is, battlefield, musician for the 2nd U.S. Artilery Regiment, playing the fife and the drum). The serpent was used as a military band instrument in both the U.S. and Europe through the 1800's. It was replaced by the bass bugle in U.S. military bands during the Civil War period.

    (See, friends, I'm not just an obsessive church musician!)
  • Small world. I currently play baritone with the Federal City Brass Band, which is one of the better recreated Civil War brass bands. We play actual period instruments from the 1850s-70s--one of our guys, btw, plays fife in the Old Guard Fifes and Drums (3rd U.S. Infantry). Anyway, you are partially correct about the bass bugle since the Eb bass of the 1860s was conical in design, but I probably wouldn't call it a bugle at that point. A real bass bugle would be an ophicleide (another one of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique instruments).

    In any case I would love to hear a French choir chanting with serpent!
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    David Andrew - Does your interpretive band have a website? I'm currently writing a book on the War of 1812 and would love to include references to contemporary American music and the providers thereof. (also multi-faceted obsessive here)
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,204

    I've put my e-mail address up on the member list. Could you send me an e-mail, and I'll put you in contact with a colleague from my re-enacting days who has better connections than I do on this subject.

    I'm also curious about the content of your book.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Gavin's comments were quite useful, and not all that different to the way I select music. The other dimensions I include are:

    Latin vs. English

    Familiar vs. New

    At the beginning of the year, I went through every song in Breaking Bread and evaluated its "familiarity" (a rough guess, of course, given that I'm not a Cradle Catholic), language, being "traditional" (over 100 years old :-), and being "chant-like." I ended up with a list which is useful to call upon, and of course over the years people start becoming more familiar with some of our music. I'd be happy to share the list with you, David:

    This year, I was given the opportunity to add an insert to our Breaking Bread which contains not only chant propers in English and Latin, but also a few simple songs. It's been really nice to be able to call on that to expand the repertoire, as I don't want TOO much that people don't have the music for.