Noel Jones has published a rather solid hymnbook at a very competitive price. Drawing on the wealth of freely available public domain hymns, he has assembled a great collection in a compact paperback or hardback pew book with matching editions for choir and organist.
I don’t want to say that the price of the hymnal should be the chief determining factor. Buying the cheapest hymnal can be hazardous, as I’m sure many readers will agree. In my local parish, there is a misconception that the cheaper approved hymnals are more down to earth, practical and accessible. I say this is a misconception as the music contained in these little books is synthetic, mass manufactured imitation pop music which contributes to the absence of reverence for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. There are cheap hymnals which contain ideas like termites eating away at any residual Catholic devotion in the hearts of the faithful. However, A Catholic Book of Hymns sticks to tried and true, old hymns which are also clear of copyright restrictions.
But, on a practical level, price is a factor when choosing a hymnbook for your parish.
|A Catholic |
Book of Hymns
But even with this comparison, the amazing thing with A Catholic Book of Hymns is that you can buy the PDF and it is cleared for printing to your heart’s content. A $5 PDF could be all you need!
If, on the other hand, your parish prefers more durable, hardback pew books, these are also available ($18.95).
In most respects this is a fairly normal hymnbook. The hymns are arranged alphabetically. There are three indices in the pew book: by first lines, by tune name and by meter. The Choir Director’s edition adds three more indices: liturgical, topical and scriptural. If these were not enough, they have also reproduced the indices online for easy searching. The one index they lack is one by author, translator or composer.
A really interesting feature is the Simple Organ edition, which reduces the usual four parts down to three. Generally this is based on deleting the tenor line with some alterations. Repeated notes are often elided to simplify the rhythm. It has opened up many more tunes for me. Sometimes I have struggled with playing the full SATB tune, turned to the simplified three part version, then returned to the full version. Amazing things happen when you practise.
I’ve mentioned a few of the different editions here. The complete list as of writing this article is:
- Pew paperback
- Pew hardback
- Organ edition
- Simple organ edition
- Choral edition
- Organist and Choir Director
- Chords (simple organ + chord names above the staff)
- Prayer Book of Hymns without Music
- Organ Preludes – Noel Jones’ arrangements
Browsing the Catholic Book of Hymns Webpage, you can find a few different sample PDF documents. Here is a link to the basic one:
A couple of years ago Views from the Choir Loft ran a series on “Comparison” • 15 Traditional Catholic Hymnals which criticised some hymnbooks for preferring Protestant hymns and translators.
I’m reminded of certain people who give to the poor items they no longer have any use for: “Here’s something I don’t want, so you can have it.” Can’t we do better than ‘leftovers’ from Protestantism?
The article doesn’t say we should never use Protestant hymns, but rather that a Catholic hymnbook should somehow reorient the reader from the prevailing mindset towards one informed by the older patrimony of hymns from the golden age of Chant. The main drawback with this approach is that the history of English speaking countries has favored Protestants, so as English speaking people we are immersed in references to these famous Protestant hymns. And there are some great tunes there.
If the Adoremus 50 lists were to add in a column for A Catholic Book of Hymns, this is how it would look:
- Alleluia! Sing to Jesus – Protestant
- All Glory, Laud, and Honor – Catholic text, Protestant translation
- All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – Protestant
- All People That on Earth Do Dwell – Protestant
- All You Who Seek a Comfort Sure – Catholic
- Angels We Have Heard on High – Catholic
- As With Gladness Men of Old – Protestant
- At the Cross Her Station Keeping – Catholic
- At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing – Catholic
- Away in a Manger – Protestant
So, A Catholic Book of Hymns would probably be classed as another Adoremus 50 hymnbook. I would argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Latin hymns are few and far between, but they are there, including:
- Panis Angelicus
- Tantum Ergo (2 tunes)
- O Salutaris Hostia (2 tunes)
- O Sanctissima
A parish might look into other books for Gregorian chant resources.
There are some unusual and very Catholic titles in the list:
- Long live the Pope!
- O Queen of the Holy Rosary
- O Godhead Hid, Devoutly I Adore Thee (The Gerard Manley Hopkins translation “Godhead here in hiding” is not included)
- Michael, Prince of Highest Heaven
Many much-loved Catholic authors are included: Fr Faber, Fr Caswall, Fr Ronald Knox, and Blessed Cardinal Newman.
Right now the current threats to Church music do not come from hymns like All People That On Earth Do Dwell but rather new music like Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees, and All Are Welcome. The more robust, triumphal hymns of Westminster Abbey would be a welcome change from the dribble in some hymnbooks.
Some hymnbooks take the liberty of “updating” the texts. This book, however, faithfully sticks to the earliest versions, including in the music.
Many parishes use financial strain as an excuse to invest in substandard music. Noel Jones’ book, especially the PDF availability, undercuts them all. There is no excuse now to fall back on cheap folk music. There’s even a chord edition for the guitarists and autochord keyboardists.