by James E. Frazier

Since its publication in 1986, Worship–Third Edition [W3] has sold three-quarters of a million copies, according to Alec Harris, the president and chief operating officer of its publisher, GIA Publications. The company is not sure how many parishes are still using the book, but after a quarter of a century most hymnals need a review. Not only has the composition of new hymn texts and tunes exploded during that time, but the demographics of the American church have evolved, and a new translation of the Roman Missal has just been introduced. The time was right for Worship–Fourth Edition [W4].

The preface for W4 sets forth the rationale for a hymnal that seeks theological substance, ritual integrity and poetic justice, while acknowledging the pastoral realities of twenty-first-century congregations genuinely searching for the music that will best nourish, comfort and challenge their lives in community. What more can we expect from a first-rate hymnal? But are Catholics ready for it?

It is risky to make generalizations, of course, but to paraphrase Thomas Day’s angry screed Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (1990), the general consensus seems to be that fifty years after the start of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics still can’t sing. Or won’t. A colleague of mine recently dropped by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in Los Angeles, and said the congregation didn’t sing at the Mass she attended, despite the wonderful new organ.

Thomas Day barked about the bad people-music (remember Glory and Praise?), the de-ritualization of the liturgy (“Good morning, everyone”), the ego of the priest, the new triumphalism and the overwhelming microphones, among other things. And much of this is still with us.

The Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, a comprehensive survey of Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S., conducted between 1984 and 1989, concluded that

Today, the “liturgical system” in a large number of Roman Catholic parishes and chapels does not work properly, at least not with the same confidence and assurance found in the majority of Orthodox and Protestant churches. ‘The people’ sense this; that is, their instincts tell them that something has gone wrong. Maybe some Catholics express their anxiety about this by not singing.

There is probably still enough truth in this that the kindest thing we can say about the current situation is that it is “uneven.” In those places where the singing is good there was probably some felicitous moment in time when a respected priest, a professional musician, a decent choir and a competent organist came together around a good hymnal and successfully turned a motley assembly into a singing congregation. Some of the finest examples of this are the cathedrals, such as the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. But the middling majority of assemblies still sit dazed before sincere songleaders muddling their way through the material over a microphone.

GIA Publications has contributed to the success of many of the congregations that do sing. The company has provided a more or less stable repertoire in sturdy, attractive hardcover books that make music look like the important thing that it is, in a way that missalettes never will. Indeed, the company takes its congregations seriously, more so than the missalette companies do, or the publishers of strictly “contemporary” songs. GIA believes that Catholics are worthy of decent texts and tunes and that they really can think as well as Protestants do, given the rare opportunity.

The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the group we usually mean when we say “Lutherans”) have house publishers that produce the official hymnals and service materials that are used throughout their denominations, making life fairly simple. Roman Catholics do not. Instead, any savvy entrepreneur can publish anything that will sell to Catholics, as long as it uses the official mass texts. Like its competitors, OCP and WLP, therefore, GIA is market driven.

Of its various hymnal series, especially Worship, Gather and RitualSong, the latter two are more market driven than is Worship. GIA’s Alec Harris believes the Catholic Church is smart to let the free market serve as an engine for innovation, given the fact that it is so diverse that one publisher could not serve the entire market. That is certainly true, but the reason the American church is so musically diverse is that there was never an official publisher of a single hymnal to begin with, and that a slew of entrepreneurs filled the vacuum, each with its favored house composers. The question then is this: Do we have diversity, or is it division?

In any case, GIA gave the editors of W4 a freer hand to collect the finest cutting-edge hymn texts and tunes currently available, aware that the market for such material is smaller than the market for its other hymnals. The company is to be commended for taking a risk like this—a prophetic risk, it is—and a worthy and deliberate attempt to drive the quality of Catholic singing to a higher plane. Most professional musicians would not hesitate to declare GIA’s Worship series the best hymnals available to the American church. At the same time, the company’s decision to publish blended hymnals, having a mix of so-called contemporary and classical hymnody, while certainly market driven, also has the altruistic goal of bringing some semblance of unity to the song of American congregations.

Because worship is incarnational, it should express and form the culture of those who worship. This is easier said than done, of course. But for whom is W4 intended? For the generations of Caucasian immigrants from Europe who settled North America? Yes and no. The American church is culturally more diverse, and particularly more Hispanic, than it was in the 80s when W3 came out. Moreover, North Americans are increasingly familiar with what is today called “world music,” largely because children are learning it in the schools (“Siyahamba,” for example) and because we often hear it on TV. So it makes more sense now for whites to sing the music of Africans and African-Americans, such as “Lead Me, Guide Me” and “Soon and Very Soon,” from the American tradition. Neither song was in W3, but both are in W4. Numerous genres from that broad tradition—especially gospel—have made their way into the majority culture and influenced pop music.

It is a telling reflection of the evolving church that W3 didn’t have a single Spanish title in its hymn index, while W4 has many texts in Spanish and still more in Spanish and English combined—making a significant contribution to bilingual communities. GIA has successfully assessed its market, at least in terms of the ethnic make-up of the U.S. church. W4 will be useful in mixed Anglo-Hispanic congregations, but it will not suffice a totally Hispanic congregation. The company is in the process, however, of compiling a totally bilingual hymnal; everything in English will appear also in Spanish.

Besides Spanish, W4 has snippets of Croatian, Czech, Gaelic, French, German, Italian, Korean (in its graphic characters), Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Shona (a language native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe), Swati (spoken in Swaziland and South Africa), Tagalog, Vietnamese, Xhosa (spoken in south-east South Africa) and Zulu. You won’t need these at the grocery store, but you get the point.

The hymns are the greatest asset of W4. It contains perhaps the largest and best collection of the finest of modern hymn texts of any hymnal produced by any American publisher in recent memory. The list includes Mary Louise Bringle, Carl P. Daw, Jr., Ruth Duck, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Delores Dufner, OSB, Sylvia G. Dunstan, Fred Pratt Green, Sally Ann Morris, Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., and Thomas H. Troeger, among others. Many of these texts are more singable and less didactic than some of their writers’ earlier efforts.

There are several excellent texts that highlight the role of women in the history of salvation, including “For All the Faithful Women” which features particular stanzas for Miriam, Hannah, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of Jesus.

As for metered paraphrases of psalms, W4 provides a very generous sampling of about 157 hymns whose texts are at least partially derived from the psalter. In many instances these texts feature only one or two verses of a given psalm, but many others are exclusively paraphrases—a commendable feature of this hymnal.

Unlike W4, the new volume also contains a selection of now-classic offerings from the contemporary realm, including Be Not Afraid (Dufford), City of God (Haas), Eye Has Not Seen (Haugen), On Eagle’s Wings (Joncas), Here I Am, Lord (Schutte), and even One Bread, One Body (Foley)—veritable icons of American Catholicism. W4 even revives Keep in Mind by Lucien Deiss, CSSp (Remember the People’s Mass Book?).

W4’s hymn tunes vary in quality, but a high percentage of them are newly composed melodies, authentic folk songs (Irish, English and French, for instance), and new tunes that “feel” like folk song, along with a solid body of classic melodies, including lots of harmonizations by Bach. Taizé chants abound, along with a plethora of Latin-texted and English-texted plainsong, some of which were not in W4.

But why should Catholics sing hymns to begin with? One of today’s most well-regarded composers of “contemporary” music once said that four-square hymns are not appropriate for Catholic worship. I still wonder at the myopia of this statement. It implies that authentic reform in the West must follow a set of rules different from inculturation everywhere else in the world. Hymns, he would have us believe, are for Protestants, not for Catholics, even though sixteenth-century Anglicans and Lutherans were working with essentially the same Roman liturgy in their day that we are today. Why was hymnody OK for them but not for us?

Anyway, W4 retains a fairly strong ecumenical thrust, to its credit, as did W3, in the multiplicity of hymns that come from the Episcopal tradition. This was to be expected in W3 because its editor, Richard Proulx, had an affinity for the Episcopal church. Though known primarily for his work at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, he served as a consultant for the current Episcopal hymnal, was employed at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, Washington, for ten years, and was received into that communion prior to his death. He is interred at St. Thomas. Proulx, as a matter of fact, represented in his person the North American success of ecumenism through music, by his faithfulness to the liturgical dreams of Vatican II. It is a tribute to him that this ecumenical feature of W3 has been retained in W4.

One of the most satisfying features of W4 is its continued commitment to The Hymn of the Day. More successfully than in W3, the index provides texts that are directly inspired by the gospel pericopes for particular days. The hymn “My Elder Son, Go Work Today!” is a fine example. Two others are “O Christ, Who Shared Our Mortal Life,” which provides alternative stanzas about the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son and Lazarus, and “The Scheming Elders Challenged Christ.” There are others. If we recall that the purpose of the Gregorian propers is to give musical flesh to the lectionary and the liturgical season, any hymnal inspired by that legacy of Catholic liturgical song will have a healthy smattering of texts so gospel-related. W4 takes a bold step in this direction. And to make it more practical to use, many of the texts that roll around only once every three years are paired with tunes that appear elsewhere in the hymnal.

The main problem with the hymns, oddly enough, is that there are so many new ones. W4 introduces approximately 356 new texts out of a total of 614. That’s an astonishing number. This means that roughly 58% of the texts in W4 are brand new, and that 258 texts were retained from W3 (152 were dumped). That’s a lot of hymns to rob from a congregation’s repertoire. It would be interesting to know the relevant percentages of new and old hymns in the new Lutheran hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Every wise publisher knows that a new hymnal builds on a tradition; it doesn’t start from scratch. [Editor's note: the figures in this paragraph are corrected based on comment #4 of Ron Krisman below, which refers to Frazier's "fine" review.]

This raises the question as to the intent of GIA. Does the company hope that W3 congregations have a loyalty to Worship such that they will buy W4, even after discovering that in many ways they will have to start all over again to build a musical repertoire? In effect, W4 will cause a blip in their community memory.

Adding to this unfortunate circumstance is the fact that the Mass settings that have dominated the American landscape for several decades are now rendered archaic by the new translation of the Missal. W3 provided three more-or-less complete mass settings, namely, the Community Mass of Richard Proulx, Alexander Peloquin’s Mass of the Bells, and David Hurd’s New Plainsong. Proulx’s Mass played a pivotal role in the evolution of congregational singing in North America and was the lingua franca for the American church for several decades. Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation subsequently succeeded Proulx’s setting in popularity. Peloquin’s Mass was dated at the outset and the sing-song quality of its Gloria, though popular here and there, had no chance of longevity. David Hurd’s chant setting had the ecumenical advantage of having appeared also in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982, but alas, ecumenical advantage or no, chant Masses simply lack sex appeal. Thanks to the new translations in the Missal, none of W3’s Mass settings can be used any more in their entirety.

The setting that appears with the Order of Mass in W4 is taken from the Missal (ICEL 2010), as we should expect, but whether it ever takes off is anybody’s guess. I, for one, would not enjoy singing that repetitiously descending A-G-E that so drags down the Gloria. Other parts of the setting are more congenial, some of them adaptations of Latin Gregorian chant, such as the Sanctus from the Mass Deus Genitor alme (which some baby boomers will subconsciously remember from their Catholic school days). The Order of Mass in W4 is easy to find, thanks to the red edging of its pages. Hurray, editors.

Apart from this setting, there are eight others, many of them disappointing. Mass for a Servant Church, by Michel Guimont, the Director of Music at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, is the principal exception as it demonstrates the composer’s well-known gift for natural and inspired melody, with fresh harmonies that stretch the boring diatonic norm. This setting is the best of the lot, and none of its parts are in 6/8 or 3/4. With true technical skill, this composer has written a sophisticated and artistic setting that is worthy of the average congregation. There’s a good reason that this setting is printed the first of the eight.

The second setting, Missa Pacem, by L. Randolph Babin, of St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Beaumont, Texas, is fairly workaday, with little to recommend it.

The Unity Mass of Norah Duncan IV, an associate professor at Wayne State University and formerly associate director of the Office of Worship of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is described as stylistically eclectic—calypso, early American, lyrical—supposedly to appeal to a variety of musical tastes, though as a result it lacks musical unity. The calypso-style Gloria, set responsorially, is so over-syncopated that the melody suffers. It has a repeat of the opening sentence and even an inner repeat of “people of good will.” The Gloria thus becomes a big production. The Sanctus has a good melody (in 6/8), but the Agnus Dei is set to a descending walking figure that lacks grace and is awkward to sing.

In the Storrington Mass of GIA’s “master composer” Marty Haugen, commissioned by Our Lady of England Parish in Storrington, England, we find a well-structured arrangement of the Penitential Act, where the three addresses to God by the presider are set at successively higher pitches, lending a progressive sense to the whole, much like the traditional three-step chant for the Sursum corda. The Gloria is another responsorial arrangement, but at least the refrain is sung only once at the beginning and is not a big production. The Alleluias in the Gospel Acclamation are sung twice through, with the obligatory deceptive cadence. The beginning of the Sanctus is suspiciously similar to the opening of the Sanctus in the composer’s Mass of Creation. The Agnus Dei has a good melody despite the descending leap of a seventh at “the sins.” But the entire Mass is in 6/8, except for the Lenten Gospel Acclamation and the Agnus Dei. GIA calls it “lilting”; others will call it sing-song.

The Black Mountain Liturgy of Sally Ann Morris, who is Director of Music at Parkway Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, appeared in GIA’s Gather Comprehensive–Second Edition but was first introduced at the Montreat Conference Center, beloved of Presbyterians, near the state’s Black Mountains. As GIA’s Special Projects Editor, Kelly Dobbs-Mickus, has said, it received “some good customer feedback”—deservedly so—and serves as “a good ‘cross-over’ setting” that would “work well both with ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ forces.” Indeed. The Kyrie smartly presents each phrase a third above the one before it, giving it a good shape. Except for a few awkward moments, the Gloria is well written and has more harmonic interest than most of the settings in W4. Unfortunately the entire setting is in either 6/8 or 3/4, excepting only the Agnus Dei, but somehow the work survives as one of the best of the eight.

Misa Una Santa Fe, by the Rev. Ronald Krisman, GIA’s Editor for Bilingual Resources, one-time executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Liturgy Secretariat and one of the editors of W4, is a completely bilingual Mass. It can be sung in English or Spanish, or in both together. The Penitential Act has a welcome solemnity to it, like the Prayer of the Faithful. But the Gloria is in 6/8. The foot-stomping Sanctus successfully alternates between 6/8 and 3/4, providing metrical interest and welcome relief from sing-song, but there is too much repetition of text.

The Mass for the People of God, by the Rev. James J. Chepponis, formerly the director for music ministry for the Pittsburgh Diocese, currently the music director at St. Paul’s Cathedral in that diocese, and one of the editors of W4, suffers from the over-use of 6/8 meters, the tedious lullaby rocking between D and Am chords, and the too-frequent repetitions of melodic motives, making for musical stasis. The two best parts of the Mass, the Penitential Act and the Agnus Dei, are saved by their common meter. Everything else in this setting is in 6/8. The Gloria is treated responsorially, and the text of its refrain, sung twice at the beginning, has annoying inner repetitions. This Mass is probably the least successful of the eight.

So the Mass settings are the weakest part of W4. Considering their overall importance to the liturgy, this is to be regretted. One of their frequent faults is the needless repetition of text, caused by the composers’ inability to control their material. Among the goals of the liturgical reforms of Vatican Council II, we remember, and of Tra le sollecitudini (1903) before it, was to banish undue repetition. The complaint was originally brought against choral music—Renaissance motets and the Masses of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert—but modern composers of psalm refrains and congregational masses are just as guilty.

Why do composers so often give the Gloria a responsorial setting? The text does not call for it, as it has no refrain. Technically a psalmus idioticus (an imitation psalm), the Gloria is best presented in through-composed fashion. Lutherans and Episcopalians sing the text straight through. So should Catholics.

But the greatest fault of the Mass settings lies in the predominance of sing-song, facilitated in many cases by the slavish use of 6/8 and 3/4 meters, often with cloying sixths and thirds.

There is a critical difference between “joyful” and “happy.” A good beat and a swing are “happy,” as in “Happy Birthday,” but are they “joyful”? Christian joy, after all, is far more profound than a beat or a swing. It is in no way trivial or clichéd. Rather it is borne of the paschal mystery, and the music that expresses it best has a weightiness to it, a gravitas that is capable of bearing that rich mix of death and life, of darkness and light, that we recognize as the fullness of life in Christ. Apart from the Guimont setting, where is the melody that soars like an eagle, the harmony that lets in a transcendent light, the meter that frees us from a tyrannical beat? Instead we find tunes, harmonies and meters mostly geared to the “feel good” school of liturgy.

GIA is to be commended for its continued effort to make the Liturgy of the Hours, with its psalms and its canticles, a staple for average congregations. But Roman Catholics, by and large, have yet to discover that the Mass is not the only form of liturgical worship. Moreover, it is the rare church that has a dedicated space suited to the office.

For the Hours and for Eucharist, W4 usually provides freely chanted verses of the psalms, as did W3, in responsorial settings that require a cantor or choir. We should recall that Lutheran and Episcopal congregations are privileged to sing the psalm verses directly, without cantors or choirs, using chant formulas.

W4 provides two options for the psalms for the Hours: the time-honored Gelineau tones and the tones from Conception Abbey, the men’s Benedictine Abbey in northwest Missouri. Both have survived the test of time. (Instead of the Conception Abbey tones, W3 provided medieval tones and tones composed by modern composers. Conception Abbey is new in W4.)

In the Hours, the psalm texts are interlined only with the Gelineau tones, for the greatest convenience, but they are also pointed for optional use with the Conception Abbey tones, in which case the latter tones must be memorized, or else the eye of the singer has to dart back and forth between the tone on one page and the text on another. While this is initially irksome, regular use—which is the point, after all—will accommodate the Conception Abbey tones.

The most bothersome feature of both Gelineau and Conception Abbey, however, is the occasional requirement to eliminate various parts of, let’s say, a sexpartite chant to accommodate fewer than six sections of text. This is necessary because in most cases the originally bipartite psalm verses, historically requiring only two halves of a chant formula, have been reorganized into three, four, five or even six sections of text, making the chant more difficult to learn and memorize. Such an organization of text also renders useless the standard numbering of the psalm verses.

It hardly needs repeating that irregular, unmetered psalm texts sung to a chant formula always present challenges to singers. It takes work, plain and simple. But cantors and choirs across the country have generally succeeded at singing the non-metrical psalter on Sundays, which is itself a major accomplishment in the long history of church music.

The frequency of antiphons whose texts are presented twice raises the whole question of the appropriateness of diatonic language for shorter liturgical texts and suggests the need for a harmonic vocabulary that stretches the diatonic strictures, such as the modal harmonies of some of the chant formulas in W4. Western harmony begs for development, but there is simply no time for the development of an eight-word text of a simple refrain.

Too often the result is the four-fold repetition of the text—twice by the cantor and twice by the congregation—before we reach the first verse of the psalm. There are about ten such settings in W4’s lectionary for Sunday Eucharist, but many more of them repeat smaller phrases of the text, as here: “I will sing, I will sing, I will sing, I will sing, I will sing of your salvation.” Please. Double-length antiphons have been kept to a happy minimum in the present volume.

GIA has successfully kept in touch with the evolution of liturgical music since Vatican II, monitored the changing temper of the musical times, and in its latest volume, despite its faults, the company’s W4 presents a mature proposal for a liturgical music that is worthy of the church and its future.

The sturdy red cover and binding, and the handsome typography and layout of W4 are virtually identical to those of W3, though the text underlay is larger in W4, making the hymns and service music easier to read. The editors have blessedly spared the congregation from having to turn pages during any of the hymns. It’s not an easy accomplishment, though it is damnably impossible to avoid in the accompaniment editions, especially for the sprawling through-composed contemporary pieces.

The hymnal is already available—or soon will be—in many versions: the pew edition with readings, the pew edition without readings, the choral edition, the keyboard landscape, the keyboard spiral, and the guitar spiral version, not to mention the lectionary psalms for cantor, the lectionary psalms for keyboard, and versions for B-flat and C instruments.

All things considered, W4 merits jubilant acclaim as the hymnal of choice for the twenty-first-century American church. The editors succeeded in what they call the “single most defining feature” of the hymnal, namely, its high-quality hymn texts. They correctly write that “the result is a body of hymns that are theologically sound, poetically substantive, and attuned to the needs of the rites and liturgical calendar.” The church deserves nothing less. Bravo!