OWN THROUGH THE CENTURIES, folks have debated how best to print hymns. Printing “words only” like the Germans used to—and the English still do—has tremendous advantages. For example, it facilitates having multiple tunes for the same text. It also furthers comprehension of the poetry, especially when it comes to “eye rhymes.” It’s also 100 times easier for the typesetter, and looks gorgeous on the page.
This method, however, is problematic for complicated melodies:
I’ve sung that melody for two decades, and know it well. Indeed, it’s always been one of my favorites. 1 Nevertheless, I would greatly struggle to place the correct syllable under the correct neume the way it’s shown here.
For the record, they included this hymn melody in MR3, but the translation is one of the worst I’ve ever come across. I discuss that translation here, and find myself in agreement with composer Paul Inwood. (I never thought I would type those words!) In a nutshell, the editors of MR3 decided they would never use “thee” or “thy,” so they had to find a translation without those words. They feel that congregations cannot comprehend words like “thee” and “thy.” However, their argument doesn’t make sense, because “thy” is used in the Lord’s Prayer at every Mass—yet nobody struggles to understand it.
In conclusion, if the hymn tune is extremely complicated, the words should probably appear under the notes.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 I know this variant, as well as the Editio Vaticana version (which is more commonly encountered).