Editor’s Note: Each contributor is reflecting upon Comparison of 15 Traditional Catholic Hymnals. Rather than rehashing Mr. Craig’s article, they were given freedom to “expand upon” this vast subject. Click here to read all the installments that have appeared so far.
ANIEL CRAIG does such a thorough and admirable job of reviewing fifteen Catholic hymnals that I find myself walking in the footsteps of giants in my attempt to contribute to the conversation. Keeping in mind Saint Therese of Liseux’s exhortation to “do little things with great love,” I shall be content to be that little flower which (hopefully) gladdens the Lord’s eyes. I found a little church hymnal that is still in occasional use at the Saint Ignatius Church in Singapore—some 30 years after its publication—and decided to review of its contents. This particular hymnal is somewhat like what Mr. Daniel Craig speaks of when he talks about the Saint Michael Hymnal, because it could also be considered a “check the box collection”—whereby the editors chose to include certain hymns that checked the boxes on traditional hymns, Mass part settings, Taizé verses, popular songs posing as liturgically appropriate hymns, cultural favorites, and so forth. It seems to take the approach, as Mr. Daniel Craig says, of: “being responsive to a realistic assessment of the present state of liturgical music.”
Growing up in Singapore, each church within the sole Catholic archdiocese seemed to have its own hymnal, compiled for the particular use of each parish. Numerous churches used the ‘Sing to the Lord’ hymnal, a vinyl covered small hymnal with the ‘Sing to the Lord’ title and the drawing of a man with hands stretched up high in praise. These were the days before the paperback OCP hymnals became more commonplace in the pews. In fact, I think it is only within the past ten years that the OCP paper hymn books became more commonplace in various parishes in Singapore. In many of the older parishes like Blessed Sacrament parish in Queenstown, Singapore, one can still find the old vinyl-covered ‘Sing to the Lord’ hymnals in use. There are also those compiled by the church communities—sort of do-it-yourself hymnals with photocopied and bound lyric sheets. The songs contained within this particular ‘Hymnal of Saint Ignatius Church, Singapore’—not to be confused with a completely different HOSANNA hymnal published in St. Louis, Missouri in 1914—are mostly songs familiar to Catholics of my generation, growing up in the 1970s and 1980s: the wake of the post-conciliar liturgical changes. I managed to borrow one of these hymnals (still occasionally in use at Saint Ignatius Church, a Jesuit parish in Singapore). I searched through the pages and could not find any reference vis-à-vis who put this particular collection of songs and hymns together, although it seems that it was compiled almost 30 years ago, in 1991.
A Hymnal with Lyrics Only
Flipping through this hymnal, I noticed that—apart from some written music for the various Mass parts and several musical notations for sung parts for the Liturgy of the Hours—the rest of the hymns are printed with just the lyrics and no written melody or chordal accompaniment. This lyric-based approach is pretty common in the church hymnals I’ve seen here in Singapore’s churches. Most do not have written music or chords in these hymnals. Despite the lack of written music, it’s been my experience that over the course of time the congregation generally picks up these melodies and sings them with gusto. I suppose it is also because a majority of the parishioners are not musically literate and so the lack of written music is not as much of an impediment to their learning the hymn/song. Of course, the drawback of such a lyric-dependent hymnal, is that—without the written melodies—there is no way to learn a hymn that one has never heard before unless one learns it in the course of attending Mass or being a part of the choir.
Growing up, I never really questioned the appropriateness of any particular songs or hymns that were chosen to be sung. One just dutifully looked at the lyric and followed along with the choir or the cantor. Now, re-examining the hymnal with a more critical eye, I realized that this smorgasbord of a hymnal left me with mixed feelings. There are songs in this hymnal that were first used in ‘folk Masses’ back in the 1960s following Vatican II. Songs like Here We Are by ‘Mass for Young Americans’ composer Ray Repp who was one of the earliest proponents of the ‘guitar-Mass’ are within the pages of this hymnal as are songs such as Sons of God from the same era, written by James Thiem, who I discovered (from a search on Google) was a former Benedictine priest.
I still hear these songs being sung in congregations in churches in Malaysia. Though not heavyweight Catholic hymns in themselves, these folky songs with their simple melodies and elementary-school friendly simple lyrics—Ray Repp reportedly wrote Here We Are while teaching a 4th grade cathechism class—seem to provide an easy entry point for the congregation to sing along and quite frankly, the whole church does sing along in many Singapore and Malaysia congregations.
American Congregational Singing
I remember being surprised at the realization, when I first moved to Los Angeles, that in churches in many parts of Los Angeles, the choir sings but the congregation hardly does. Even during my 12 years as a church pianist in a Catholic parish in the San Fernando Valley, it was rare to hear the congregation singing along whole-heartedly with the music that was often chosen by the music directors from OCP or GIA music hymnals, unless they were well known songs such as ‘On Eagles Wings’ (which were often chosen by various music directors for Mass songs at least several times a month). So, I do agree with Jeff Ostrowski’s recommendation, that common tunes are eminently helpful in getting the congregation to sing along. Once they are familiar with a hymn and its tune, it’s easier to get them to sing along. Hence the Saint Jean De Brébeuf Hymnal is so well thought through and put together. In this particular hymnal that I examined, there is no metrical index of the songs, so there is essentially no way to take advantage of the ‘common melody’ approach used to great effect in the Brébeuf hymnal.
Songs for a Soloist?
This is also because, as I realized, this ‘hymnal’ is not so much a hymnal, as a compilation of popular church songs and hymns recommended for the congregation to use within the Mass. Quite a number of the ‘hymns’ in this hymnal such as Come, Lord Jesus by Sr. Miriam Therese Winter (another early proponent of folk-music in Catholic liturgy) seem to be, more often than not, popular folk songs and not hymns. For as Dr. Gregory Hamilton mentions in his fantastic article within this series:
“Hymnody is NOT soloist music. It is truly a genre which was created and intended for ‘participatio’ and evolved from this necessity (form follows function).”
This difference, though crucial in ascertaining good hymns, is often not given much thought. I suppose the difference is perhaps not easily discerned. Most people do assume that if a song is popular and sung by many people, that it is therefore a ‘good hymn’. Lyrics often take a backseat to a pleasant melody.
A Mixture of Styles
There seems to be a mixture of tunes and melodies from different traditions in this hymnal. Surprisingly, I found a Filipino Christmas song titled ‘Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit’ whose tagalog lyrics I had to google. I don’t remember singing this and wonder if perhaps the congregation of Saint Ignatius Church at that time back in 1991 when this particular hymnal was published, had a bigger population of Filipino Catholics…
A Mixture of Theology
Then there are more Methodist hymns such as ‘Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus’ written by Charles Wesley, a hymn which also appears in ‘The Catholic Hymn Book’, compiled and edited by the London Oratory. Also in the collection is a song called ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ written in 1913 by Methodist Evangelist George Bennard which has, over the years, become quite a popular country gospel song.
Within the lyrics of this song (hymn?) is the line ‘for ‘twas on that old cross / Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me’. This, as I see it, is the problem of having a hymnal or rather in this case, a songbook, whereby the songs within it are not essentially Catholic. For the way that Methodists understand justification and sanctification is very different from the way that Catholics do and I feel that this difference is the reason why I would not have chosen to put this song ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ within a Catholic hymnal. (I admit that it’s possible to interpret or explain this line in an orthodox way.) In short, Catholics do not believe in Sola Fide, ie. that we are justified by faith alone, which seems to me to underlie the sentiments of the highlighted lyric from ‘The Old Rugged Cross’.
For an excellent explanation of this difference, and why Catholics and Protestants differ on their views with regards to Sola Fide, I implore you to read this wonderful transcript of the debate between Dr. Scott Hahn, Catholic convert and former Presbyterian minister, and Dr. Robert Knudson of Westminster Theological Seminary:
Another song I found in the hymnal is ‘Fill My Cup, Lord’, a song written by Methodist pastor Richard Blanchard. It is a song that I’d often sung in my youth without much analysis of the lyric. In fact, it is only because of the writing of this article that I took a closer look at the lyrics for this song and I found that it expressed more of the Protestant perspective than that of the Catholic teachings in this particular stanza of the song :
So, my brother, if the things this world gave you
Leave hungers that won’t pass away,
My blessed Lord will come and save you,
If you kneel to him and humbly pray.
To me, the last two lines of the stanza speak more of the Protestant view that one can be saved simply by professing faith in Jesus: another example of Sola Fide expressed in song. It’s difficult for me to understand how Protestants can seem to ignore or downplay the clear teachings of Jesus Christ, such as Matthew 19:17, when Our Lord is asked: “What good must I do to win eternal life?” Our Lord answered: “If thou hast a mind to enter into life, keep the commandments.” And of course the New Testament has many other verses which make Sola Fide impossible. Funny thing that I never looked closely at this lyric and song until this point in time!
Why This Actually Matters
I feel that all this underscores how important it is to have a truly Catholic hymnal for the congregation. The use of liturgical music should help to cathechise the faithful in the Truth of their Catholic faith and teaching. Yes, there are popular songs that sound as if they would work in bringing the faithful together in communal song and prayer. But there is a huge difference in liturgical music from a Catholic perspective, and popular Christian songs used in a liturgical setting. Some songs just don’t seem to carry the weight of Catholic theology the way that good, well-written Catholic hymns do.
Some Excellent Hymns
This hymnal does include some gems through. There are a couple of songs/hymns in here that I still remember from the time that I sang them in my childhood. Amongst them are the songs ‘On The Paten’ whose composer and lyricist are stated as ‘unknown’.
On the paten with the Host
I offer up my lowly heart:
All my life, my deeds, my thoughts
Thine shall be as mine Thou art.
In the chalice let me be
A drop of water mingled there.
Lost O Jesus in Thy Love
Thy great sacrifice I share.
All today and ev’ry day
O Jesus let me live in thee,
So that I no longer live
But that thou may’st live through me.
It is a song that I have heard sung within the Church of the Visitation in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, located in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well. Whilst visiting my husband’s family in Seremban, I went to the Church of the Visitation for Sunday Mass, and the familiar strains of this song, accompanied by the musician playing the Yamaha Electone organ, brought back memories of childhood. Many of these songs have been committed to memory by the congregation and sung for years. I must admit that I am pretty fond of this particular offertory hymn ‘On the Paten’ because of its child-like melody and the sentiments expressed in the song. I especially like the lyrics of ‘In the chalice let me be | A drop of water mingled there | Lost O Jesus in Thy Love | Thy great sacrifice I share’. I like it because the lyrics place in simple, visual form, the liturgical reality taking place at this point in the Mass where the Priest pours that little drop of water into the chalice, signifying that little drop of our humanity, of ourselves, mingled in the great ocean of His mercy and love and how this signifies our mystical union with Christ, one in which we can never be separated from His love, just as the water cannot be taken out from the wine after it is commingled.
I was also glad to see, in the midst of this mixture of songs and hymns spanning different cultures, eras and composers, the hymn ‘Hail, Queen of Heaven’ written by Fr. John Lingard, an English Roman Catholic priest who lived from 1771-1851. The hymn, based on the Ave Maris Stella, is melodically taken from the common tune ‘Stella’ first heard as a folk tune in Northern England, adapted by Henri Friedrich Hemy and first published in the book Easy Hymn Tunes for Catholic Schools (1851). This is one hymn I am truly fond of which I do consider a wonderful Catholic Hymn. I don’t often hear it sung in the churches these days in Singapore and I do hope more congregations discover this beautiful hymn.
Another hymn I love—which isn’t used very often either these days—is ‘Jesus My Lord, My God, My All’ written by Fr. Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). From Hymnary.org, we read that:
“Influenced by the teaching of John Henry Newman, Faber followed Newman into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 and served under Newman’s supervision in the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.”
Fr. Faber, wanting to provide hymns that were true to the Catholic Faith, wrote around 150 hymns. I do hope that more people discover the beauty of his hymns.
Lastly, the hymn ‘Soul of My Savior’ is also contained within this hymnal. Based on the Anima Christi sanctifica me and translated into the English language by Edward Caswall (1814-1878). The tune is ascribed to Jesuit priest (1823-1877), Fr. William J. Maher. It is a most appropriate Eucharistic hymn, one which I hope will be used more often.