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A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“More and more as we grow older, we find that the people we see most of are recent acquaintances; not (perhaps) very congenial to us, but chance has thrown them in our way. Meanwhile, the people we used to know so well—for whom we once entertained such warm feelings—are now remembered by a card at Christmas (if we can succeed in finding the address). How good we are at making friends, when we are young; how bad at keeping them! How eagerly, as we grow older, do we treasure up the friendships that are left to us, like beasts that creep together for warmth!”
— Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957)

2015 Review • “American Catholic Hymnbook”
published 25 September 2018 by Jeff Ostrowski
This article first appeared in 2015. |We publish it again at the request of a reader.

746 American Catholic Hymnbook COVER HE AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNBOOK does something remarkable and unique. In the Introduction, the editors clearly articulate the “progressive” approach to hymnbooks chosen by so many since the Second Vatican Council:

    * *  Introduction • AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNBOOK

As someone who has edited many hymnals, I know very well the choices necessary. Carefully examining many post-conciliar hymnals, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what was going on; yet if I had attempted to articulate their principles, I would have been laughed at as some kind of conspiracy theorist. That’s the value of this remarkable Introduction.

Now I must focus on DECEPTION.

THIS BOOK DEMONSTRATES something any hymnal editor knows: many hymnbooks give false information in their introductory material. They claim their book does such-and-such—and most people don’t carefully examine the actual pages of the book—but they are not truthful. For instance, they talk about being faithful to the reforms of Vatican II. Yet, everyone knows Vatican II promoted a “more is better” approach with regard to liturgical options and Sacred Scripture. Look what they admit regarding Lauds & Vespers:

    * *  Lauds & Vespers • American Catholic Hymnbook “Options”

What they’ve included is not the Divine Office of the post-conciliar Church!

The primary editor, Fr. Michael Gilligan, has gone through 1 and changed a whole bunch of traditional lyrics, but you wouldn’t know unless you look for a tiny little “a” on the bottom:

    * *  Deception • Sneaky Alterations To Hymn Texts

In the Introduction, they stress how important it is to adhere to the Church’s official liturgy. However, there’s not one word in this entire book about the official texts, which are found in the Missal & Gradual. Instead, this book mainly consists of poetry and music by Fr. Michael Gilligan. If readers examine this, they will agree that Fr. Gilligan’s text & melody are of a poor quality. We should not be replacing the official texts with his compositions.

Their Introduction specifically denigrates the traditional texts of the 18th and 19th century. Yet, this hymnal consists almost entirely of traditional tunes paired with contemporary texts. These contemporary texts strike me as quite forced—eminently forgettable:

    * *  Example • 19th-Century Tune With Lyrics By Fr. Gilligan

As I said earlier, almost none of the lyrics in this book come from the “official” reformed liturgy, and not many from the Bible—yet one would have gotten the opposite impression from the Introduction! Moreover, I’m surprised lyrics like these received the Nihil Obstat (Fr. Theodore Stone) and Imprimatur (Bishop John R. Gorman).

“For not by codes or creeds, | by nothing that we give,
And not by noble, selfless deeds, | by grace alone we live.”

(Daniel H. Graham)

“Once in human form he suffered, Now his form is but a sign.”
(text altered by Fr. Gilligan)

“Here we can live by our own designs.”
(Fr. Michael Gilligan)

“Forms His Church in bread & wine.”
(text by a Mormon)

An abundance of what Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth once called “The We Songs” can be found, such as this one. Moreover, the Introduction spoke at great length of recovering the true & authentic liturgy of the Catholic Church—but if that is the case, why were songs like this one included? It is also confusing that—having stressed how corrupt the old liturgy was and how amazing the new liturgy is—we discover a notice at the beginning of #268 saying not to use the official text of the reformed liturgy!

IF I WERE FORCED to choose one hymn from the AMERICAN CATHOLIC HYMNBOOK to encapsulate their approach, I would choose this one. The poetry, by Fr. Gilligan, strikes me as bland; it does not come from the liturgy, the Bible, or tradition; it uses a melody from the 19th-century, in spite of what was asserted in their Introduction; the message of the song is confusing. I cannot choose just one sentence from their Introduction, because there are too many—and almost all are contradictory. I was particularly bothered and/or confused by these:

“It will be a case, not of condemning the past, but of going to something better.”

Holy Father is a good Communion hymn precisely because it is not in adoration of Christ…”

“Hymns directed to the Trinity should not be used, no matter how familiar they may be; they are not in accord with the spirit of the liturgy.”

“In some hymns, Christ was described as a sacred person to be worshipped. […] Instead, in the oldest sources of the liturgy, Christ—as a priest—is primarily a mediator…”

Do they want the ancient liturgy? Or do they wish to go onto something better? Which is it?

In conclusion, the editorial committee for this hymnal should have followed a principle expressed by Andre Motyka:



1   They also copyrighted these versions, although the alterations strike me as incredibly forced and tacky.