by James E. Frazier
Editor’s note: Part One, the author’s introduction to this series of reviews of three hymnals – The Adoremus Hymnal, The Saint Michael Hymnal, and The Vatican II Hymnal - is found here.
The first edition of The Adoremus Hymnal (AH) was produced in 1997 by Adoremus – Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy to promote the “authentic reform” of the liturgy of the Roman Rite. It solicits donations to support its work, and interested persons may become members for an annual $40 fee (Outside the U.S.: $45). The society boldly asserts that “the liturgical reform mandated by the Second Vatican Council cannot be accomplished by a return to the pre-conciliar Liturgy.” The Introduction refers to the encouraging “recovery of the sacred dimension of Catholic worship,” and declares that “the restoration of sacredness and beauty to the Church’s liturgy can be seen in art and architecture in churches, in revived devotional practices such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and in a surprising recovery of sacredness in liturgical music evidenced in a revival of chant and choral hymns in the liturgy.” Note the combination of Versions I and II. Helen Hull Hitchcock was the general editor of the second edition under review here and she served on the executive committee with the Revs. Joseph Fessio, SJ and Jerry Pokorsky. The hymnal was published by Ignatius Press.
The revised AH comes in three editions: standard (choral), melody only, and organ (in a three-ring binder). It has three principal sections: The Order of Mass, the sung Ordinaries, and the Hymnody. It contains the Ordinary Form (OF) in both Latin (on the left) and English (on the right) and provides chants for all the sung elements (with Gregorian staves in the one and modern staves in the other). It thus serves as a missal, though it contains none of the propers. Unfortunately, every phrase with music is followed by a repetition of the same text without the music, for anyone who is impossibly confused by having to merely recite the text instead of singing it. But this is clearly redundant and it clutters the page. The congregation’s parts are printed on larger staves with outsized notes, which seems almost insulting. The four Eucharistic Prayers appear in course, so that one does not have to flip back and forth, though there are no ribbons for those who like to read along. AH does not contain the Extraordinary Form (EF) or a lectionary psalms.
In addition to the chants from Iubilate Deo that appear with the Order of Mass, there are seven musical settings of the Latin ordinary, in Gregorian notation, as well as the Missa pro Defunctis, along with four English settings by Horst Buchholz, Fr. Scott A. Haynes, SJC, Richard Rice, and Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB. Some of these are chant-like; all of them are well-written. The hymnody takes up the balance of the volume (337 in all), with the order for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament tacked on at the end.
Though it has a hard cover and sewn spine, the design of the hymnal is compromised. The hymn texts are set to an unusually small font while the note heads are unusually large, presenting a rather incongruous juxtaposition and forcing many hymns beyond a page turn. Otherwise the music engravings are excellent. There are only a few typographical errors, as there are in all three hymnals under review.
The organ harmonizations of the Latin chant ordinaries are mostly standard and predictable, but in the 1997 accompaniments by Calvert Shenk there are occasional oddities, like augmented chords, for example, or other pitches that lie outside the mode. And by following the old ictus, the pulse of the accompaniment in some places runs counter to the pulse of the text, with stressed syllables off the beat. Maurice Duruflé, in his Requiem, deliberately placed weak syllables on the beat in order to avoid an excessively strong pulse.
The hymnody is drawn universally from time-honored texts and tunes, mostly from the Latin, British and German traditions, all with standard harmonizations. There are a number of chants with Latin texts and several of these appear also with English texts. The hymns are presented in seasonal order, but with some odd features. The Advent section includes eleven hymns for a four-week season, for instance, while the Christmas section has twenty hymns for a two-week season and Lent only eight hymns for a five-week season (not including Holy Week). There are four hymns for Holy Thursday and five for Good Friday, but none specifically for the Easter Vigil, the assumption probably being that some of the eleven Easter hymns could be co-opted for use at the Easter Vigil. But the Easter Vigil has important elements that distinguish it from the balance of the season. Anyway, those eleven hymns for the most important season of the liturgical year (with seven Sundays) are not adequate. The Litany of the Saints (in Latin and English versions) appears in the section on Saints, Martyrs, Angels, but would have been better placed in a section on the Easter Vigil. There are six hymns for the single feast of Christ the King, but only one for the important sacrament of baptism.
There are fourteen hymns contained in the section titled “Blessed Sacrament.” These hymns are meant to be sung at communion and/or Benediction. I see this as a major theological gaffe. Hymns that memorialize the sacrificial meal of Jesus should be distinct from those intended for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The communion bread at Mass is not appropriately called the Blessed Sacrament, a term reserved for the adoration of the element in the context of Benediction. The two are indissolubly linked, of course, but they are two distinct moments in Catholic liturgical life and devotion. The editors should have made a clear distinction between the two.
But there are other problems. The hymn From all thy saints in warfare provides sixteen stanzas to be used on particular saints’ days, but there is no instruction as to how they are to be incorporated. (SMH, by contrast, clearly indicates that the stanza for a particular day replaces the second, more generic stanza.) The hymn Hail thee, festival day! appears in both the Easter section and the Pentecost section, but they are oddly identical apart from a single stanza to distinguish the two. All of the proper sequences are included, plus the Dies irae, for some reason, which is no longer used in the Mass of the dead. There is an English version as well: Day of wrath! O Day of mourning!
One can make a case for including items of historical significance in a hymnal, even if they are unlikely ever to be sung, such as the Te Deum, which appears in Latin and English settings in AH. It is the rare congregation that knows this psalmus idioticus or has an appropriate occasion to use it, but it is an important hymn in the history of the church.
The hymns devoted to Mary – there are twenty of them – include the four historic Marian antiphons anciently associated with compline, along with some fine classic texts such as Mary the Dawn. But it should be no surprise that in a traditional hymnal like AH there are a number of devotional texts about the gentle, chaste and lowly maiden, and about the world as a “vale of tears” and “a place of banishment, of fears,” with no mention at all of the triumph of the resurrection evident in her assumption, unless you think references to the Queen of heaven fit the bill. I don’t. The Marian theology in this hymnal, in my view, lacks both liturgical and scriptural strength and vigor.
A number of the hymns contain as many as six stanzas, several have seven, Lift high the cross has eleven, and the Stabat Mater, appearing twice, with Latin and English texts, has a whopping twenty, causing us to wonder how many clerics or lay folk could tolerate such lengths, when most Catholics have a two-stanza capacity. Perhaps AH can work miracles.
In the splendid text by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, Godhead here in hiding, stanza six is printed separately from the music and line two is impossible to fit to the melody because the word “me” was omitted. In all the hymn settings, the quarter-note gets the beat, except for one instance, Jesus, the very thought of thee, where for some old-fashioned reason the half-note gets the pulse. No attempt has been made at gender-inclusive language (“Good Christian men, rejoice”), but the editors have wisely made no attempt to dumb down the hymn texts (See the word lambent in the hymn Bethlehem, of noblest cities). Unfortunately there are scant hymn texts or melodies in AH that were written in the past fifty years, assuring the average person in the pew that good musicians and text writers haven’t had a single theological inspiration since the Second Vatican Council. The omission was at least partly driven by the cost of compensating writers. Even so.
There are lacunae in the numbering of the hymns, such as the skips from 485 to 500, and from 500 to 510, apparently to start the beginning of each new section at a multiple of ten, which seems pointless to me. And it is a plain nuisance that so many of the hymns in the choral edition require page turns. This was avoidable.
AH has no index of copyright acknowledgments, and only a few of the items actually carry any reference, at the bottom of the page, to harmonizations that are under copyright. Many fewer, in fact, indicate that they are reproduced with permission. The editors of a hymnal owe complete transparency on this matter, or they risk legal consequences.
The indices are disappointing, in part because there is no topical index. Moreover the Index of First Lines should be the last in any hymnal because it is the most frequently used. In AH it is the seventh from the last, making it difficult to find.
The several theological problems that I have noted in AH were clearly not perceived as such by the editors. The other problems I have pointed out do not have to prevent this book from serving a useful function in a parish that values a hymnal like this, because the texts and music are of universally high quality. The only serious drawback to the book is that it does not contain lectionary psalms. The book is already at a maximum size, but the absence of psalms raises many problems for parish planners. And the too frequent page turns are another nuisance.
All the music in the volume is available on MP3 files, and PDFs of all the new Mass settings are available for downloading online.
James Frazier is organist and choir master at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul. He was formerly music director in the office of worship of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
The reviews of St. Michael Hymnal and Vatican II Hymnal will appear next week.