The revised St. Michael Hymnal

You may not know about St. Michael Hymnal, but you’ll want to if you’re tracking grassroots conservative initiatives in the US Catholic Church. As part of a continuing series (we covered GIA here), PrayTell gives you the inside scoop on plans for the revised St. Michael hymnal. We spoke with hymnal editor Linda Powell Schafer.

PRAY TELL: How has the St. Michael Hymnal been received? How many parishes use it, and what do they say about their experience with it?
LINDA SCHAFER: We have been surprised and pleased with the response to the St. Michael Hymnal, particularly since most people have learned of it through word of mouth.  I cannot give you an exact figure, but we have sold a surprising number of hymnals in the last ten years, in the tens of thousands.  Parishes across the country (and even a few in other countries) have told us how delighted they are to find a permanent hymnal that is doctrinally orthodox, and that was created in a spirit of obedience to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.  They also are pleased with the selection of Gregorian chant and of beautiful hymnody, particularly with the unaltered language.  The feedback has been consistently positive.

PRAY TELL: What are the strengths of the St. Michael Hymnal in your view?
LINDA SCHAFER: As you know, the origin of the hymnal was a response to what we perceived as a gradual politicization of the hymn texts as they were being published at the time – that would have been almost twenty years ago now.  And this politicization was not limited to new music being composed, but also included changing the texts of older hymns whose original authors were long dead.  We felt, for many reasons, that such constant changes in the text were not an improvement; but when we searched, we could not find any hymnal or missalette in the Catholic world that retained the original language.
In the beginning, our parish did not have plans to create its own hymnal; our intention was to create a sort of seasonal supplement that would preserve the original words of the altered hymns.  As the “supplement” project progressed, it sort of took on a life of its own, as we found more and more beautiful hymns to include in our compilation.  We also realized that it was a tremendous opportunity to include a substantial body of Gregorian chant.  After a few years of work, our pastor, Fr. Timothy Alkire, suggested that we explore the possibility of a real, hard-bound and attractive hymnal.  Before we even got it in the pews, we had inquiries from other parishes who had heard of it, and the response since then has indicated that our parish is definitely not alone.
I would say that all the strengths of the St. Michael Hymnal are based on its love  of the Church and the Holy Father, and on its spirit of obedience to the authentic tradition of the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.

PRAY TELL: Any weaknesses which you hope to improve upon? What will be the most important innovations in the revised edition?
LINDA SCHAFER: There will be no innovations as such in the new edition, just some selective deletions and additions.  The biggest weakness in the original, first edition (we are now on the third edition) of the St. Michael Hymnal was a lack of funding and proper staff, which meant that we were not able in the beginning to create a consistently professional package for parishes.  The first edition was produced literally by the little money the parish was able to save up over a period of five years prior to publication.  The pew, (or people’s) edition was hardbound and completely typeset, but when other parishes began to ask if they could buy the hymnal, we realized that we would have to create an accompaniment edition as well, and we simply did not have the resources to professionally typeset such a large amount of music.
Of course, it was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find good accompaniments for the texts as we had re-claimed them, and so the original accompaniment book included a lot of late-night cutting and pasting of tiny “he’s” and “thee’s” to make it match the text of the people’s edition.  I am afraid we were not always successful in the beginning.
The final project of course was the choir edition, which also came as a response to requests from parishes that had bought the hymnal.  Over the years, we have improved both the accompaniment edition and the choir edition, but I am happy to say that the biggest improvement in the fourth edition of the St. Michael Hymnal will be that we will be able to make all the components as beautiful and professional as the pew edition has been.

PRAY TELL: What will be the name of the successor to the St. Michael Hymnal?
LINDA SCHAFER: I’m glad you asked that.  It will be The St. Michael Hymnal. The name was originally chosen because St. Boniface Parish at the time had unofficially adopted the great archangel as our patron protector, and we felt (and feel) a certain deep and real devotion to him.  The name seemed obvious at the time, and we see no reason to change it now.

PRAY TELL: Will World Library Publications help with the new hymnal, as they did for the current one?
LINDA SCHAFER: St. Boniface Parish in Lafayette, Indiana publishes the St. Michael Hymnal.  World Library did the original typesetting and layout for us, and Tom Strickland gave invaluable help and advice during the steep learning curve (as he continues to do). WLP is also working with us on this edition.

PRAY TELL: The St. Michael Hymnal reprints the Order of Mass from the Adoremus hymnal, with Latin and English on facing pages and chant on either side in four-line notation. Will this be the case for the revised hymnal? Some might wonder whether congregations really need every priest’s rubric in Latin, or whether five-line notation isn’t more helpful for congregations, as was typically used before Vatican II for congregational Latin chant.
LINDA SCHAFER: We do plan to maintain the current layout for the order of the Mass in English and Latin in the new edition. The question about the notation is a good one, and one that is being debated by many publishers as we speak.  Both notations have their strengths and weaknesses.  There are at least two reasons for using the four-line notation: first of all, like Gregorian hymnody itself, the four-line notation immediately signals that what we are singing here is something out of the ordinary, something reserved for the Catholic liturgy and peculiar to it. Secondly, once a very few basics are learned, the four-line notation is actually much easier to read and sing than the modern notation.  My choir members always prefer to sing from the old notation.
However, in introducing chant to a congregation, it is sometimes easier to overcome reluctance if the look of the chant is not too foreign; for that reason, modern notation is sometimes helpful.  We will split the difference in the St. Michael Hymnal, using the four-line notation in the ordinary of the Mass itself, and the modern notation in the hymn section.
As for the priest’s rubrics, they give a certain context to the dialog between him and the people.

PRAY TELL: Will there be responsorial psalms for every Sunday and feast day in the revised hymnal?
LINDA SCHAFER: No.

PRAY TELL: Why not? Do you recommend using another resource along with the St. Michael hymnal?
LINDA SCHAFER: We wanted to limit the size of the hymnal, and not try to include too much.  Many parishes still subscribe yearly to a missalette (in addition to the hymnal), and they use the psalms in the missalette.  And in recent years there has been a veritable blossoming of psalm compositions, with everything from booklets of psalms for the year, to free online sources where psalms can be downloaded effortlessly.  Fr. Samuel Weber has a beautiful collection of English psalmody adapted from the Gregorian.  And the Chabanel psalms can be easily accessed online, where Jeff Ostrowski is including more and more selections for each Sunday and feast day.  Every day there are more available and accessible sources for good psalmody.

PRAY TELL: The St. Michael Hymnal has hymns for topics like Evening or Baptism, but no congregational order for the office or baptism. Will the revised hymnal include other rites and sacraments besides Mass?
LINDA SCHAFER: Probably not, for the same reasons as mentioned above.

PRAY TELL: The hymn text language in the St. Michael Hymnal is quite traditional or classical. Tell us about your philosophy of hymn text editing. What will the hymn language be like in the revised hymnal?
LINDA SCHAFER: My background is in English Literature, with a strong emphasis on poetry, and so I believe in the importance of the text.  While music and poetry are obviously closely related, intertwined really, poetry is able to verbalize what music can only evoke.  Poetry can make doctrine not only beautiful, but articulate – I refer you to John Henry Cardinal Newman and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins as examples.
What we have happily been able to do for the new edition is to do more in-depth research on each hymn text.  In looking at the text of each hymn, there are several important considerations.  The first is always doctrinal faithfulness, and the second is the poetry.  Also, we try to maintain the original words as much as possible. However, in searching for the original words, we have often found that the altered version is actually an improvement, poetically, on the original version, sometimes altering the “purple prose” that was acceptable in the nineteenth century, but which seems overly sentimental and saccharine to the modern ear.  More often, the altered version simply corrected awkward accents. Very rarely, but in one or two cases, we have done minimal editing of our own, where the hymn is too good to omit, but has one or two textual weaknesses.
We typically retained the original “thee’s” and “thou’s” in most of the earlier hymns, adopting the modern language only in those cases where singability was affected.  Most of the time, changing the pronouns to modern usage results in a feeling of disconnect from the rest of the language of the poem, since the nineteenth century had its own particular idiom.  One can almost always recognize an earlier hymn from its sentence structure and vocabulary, not just from its “thee’s” and “thou’s.”

PRAY TELL: Will you include great hymntunes from Protestant traditions, as in the current St. Michael Hymnal?
LINDA SCHAFER: As the Church has always incorporated the worthwhile contributions from other traditions, so we will continue to include some of the great hymns from other Christian churches.  The temptation of course is to include too many, since some of the Protestant traditions have great hymnody.

PRAY TELL: What current Mass settings will be retained, and what new ones will appear? Have you secured copyright permission from the publishers to retain all the settings you want?
LINDA SCHAFER: These are the last questions to be decided, and of course cannot be completed until the official recognitio is given by Rome for the new translation.  I can say that we will have more complete chant Mass settings in Latin, as well as some beautiful new English settings.  We are still working on which of the current settings to retain, and are working with the publishers on which of these will be revised.

PRAY TELL: What auxiliary editions will appear, such as for cantor or choir or organist?
LINDA SCHAFER: We will have both a choir edition and an accompaniment edition, as well as the pew edition (or people’s edition).

PRAY TELL: Any predictions about how many parishes might use the revised hymnal? What are your hopes for its use?
LINDA SCHAFER: I have never been very good at predicting the future. For the Church in this country, however, I do sense a certain shift in the air.  I know that many of the seminarians that I am in contact with, and certainly many of the new young priests, have a joyful enthusiasm about the new Springtime in the Church, as is being led by our beloved Holy Father.  These young men have a love for tradition, a genuine love for the Church, and a great and holy desire for obedience.
And anyone who wants to do what the Church teaches concerning liturgical music cannot but find a preferential option for Gregorian chant.  The St. Michael Hymnal has more chant than ever (keep in mind that our very first edition contained the complete contents of Iubilate Deo, the compilation of chants that Pope Paul VI sent to all bishops, asking that they not be lost). Restoration of course is always a very gradual process, and cannot be accomplished overnight, or even in a generation.  Also, it must always proceed with true charity. It is our hope that during the coming years, many pastors will find our hymnal useful as a transitional hymnal, bringing from the musical storehouse “both the old and the new.”

16 comments

  1. Linda says that “all the strengths of the St. Michael Hymnal are based on its love of the church and the Holy father.” I am not a musician, but I confess I am baffled as to how the merits of any hymnal have anything to do with loving the pope…

    1. I think that was a reference to the Holy Father’s initiatives regarding the restoration of the Church’s traditional liturgical music. In that sense, the overall approach to this hymnal reflects a respect for these initiatives. That’s all…

  2. God forbid that we thoughtlessly throw out anything good, true and beautiful in our tradition, but in my mind those who are working on making new music (and other forms of art) within the tradition are doing the nobler, braver and more creative thing than those working to bring back the past.

    1. N. Depew…

      In your opinion, who are these composers creating new music within the tradition? Are you talking about composers of “contemporary liturgy music”, or composers currently working within the traditional framework with chant and polyphony as models? I don’t know about “noble” or “brave” , but it is certainly more creative to compose such new musica sacra than to simply advocate for existing musica sacra in general. I don’t think anybody would argue with you on that point.

      1. I recall a community where certain members complained that the music program lacked enough music by women and “music of our time”; a complaint directed at their female organist who provided organ improvisations regularly as preludes and postludes. Not that the complainers ever noticed, or saw the tension in the complaint. (And the hymn selections did include compositions by women of our time as well.)

  3. Although I like the idea of retaining the Gregorian graduals, at least on certain days of the year, I do indeed like the (re)introduction of the Responsorial Psalm. It was reintroduced presumably to encourage active partipation. However, having a different response for each Sunday of a three-year cycle seems to me more of an impediment to participation than an encouragement. I much prefer the use of seasonal psalms when the psalm is sung. Perhaps including seasonal psalms in the hymnal would not have been too much to ask.

    1. Like Johannes, and for similar reasons, I have mixed feelings about a three-year cycle of responsorial psalm refrains. I wish there could be a one-year cycle (which is hard to coordinate with a 3-year cycle of OT readings). Or maybe c. 52 refrains used every year but assigned to different OT readings in a given year?

      1. Since I’m not a musician, I’m not too aware of the difficulties with the chanted Responsorial Psalm. Our choir director has been here about 12 years and each Sunday we sing the refrain and psalm that is prescribed. Our congregation belts out their part because they are familiar with their part over so many years. Either the choir or the cantor sings the verses prescribed but in a chant fashion developed by our Methodist Music director. It sounds all very Catholic to me. I like being exposed to all that the lectionary offers in this regard including the prescribed Responsorial Psalm.

      2. Theodore Marier did a wonderful job setting the 3-year cycle of psalms and canticles to Roman plainsong tones and SATB fauxbourdon harmonization (and occasional SATB harmonizations by Palestrina and Viadana). One happy result of the resolution of the translations is that his venerable hymnal (Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Canticles – my parish’s own hymnal) will finally get updated after years upon years of waiting. It’s just too bad this resource has been out of print for so long (the 2d edition was published in 1983). Over the years, the outstanding copies of choral editions have become fewer in number, making them pricey to reclaim when they come up for sale, and also making our adult choristers at times wait a few years until they get their own book.

      3. One problem with changing the psalm to something “seasonal” or “the ones that the people know” is that it takes away from the preacher being able to use the psalm as material for the homily. Randomly picking different psalms could be seen as the same as picking a different epistle to preach on. Using a paraphrased psalm or “song based on a psalm” would be roughly the same as me paraphrasing the Gospel instead of proclaiming it.

    2. Dear Fr. Costigan,

      I too have concerns about adapted psalms or songs “based” on psalms. I’m not arguing for that. Moreover, the seasonal psalms are not random but can be found in either the Graduale Simplex or in the Lectionary for Mass. Here are the seasonal psalms listed in the U.S. Lectionary for Mass:
      http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/1998USL-Psalms-Alleluias.htm#174. You would simply have to coordinate with your music program as to which psalms would be used when. I know that the OUP Respond and Acclaim includes some of them in the appendix, and they use the lectioanry translations. I think that it is terrific that you preach on the psalms, which is something that is done quite rarely.

  4. Jeff H.,

    Working within the tradition could range from writing new music in old styles to writing new music in non-traditional styles but with a “traditional” intention.

    New art is almost always a blend of old and new, and can hardly be understood or appreciated if not somehow situated within a tradition. I guess that’s a sort of a truism, and one that I was giving a nod to with the phrase “within the tradition.” I had no particular composers in mind.

    Regarding your assessment of my three adjectives, I think you agreed with me on the most important one.

  5. N Depew;

    I’m not sure about the idea of “traditional intention”…I recall learning about the “intentional fallacy” as a first year PH. student.

    I was curious because one of the more interesting things that Pope Benedict has said in regards to new music was the following:

    An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

    The image of a “lineage” of great tradition implies that a continuity of style with Gregorian Chant and Polyphony is the only way that sacred music can be “authentically updated”, at least as the Holy father sees it….and he’s no slacker on sacred music!

  6. I am one of those ‘modern composers’ who try to keep ties with our longstanding tradition in the RC Church. It is a fine line to create the new without disconnecting from the old. The biggest difference I try to incorporate is modern harmonies that respect the fundamentals of sound music theory but still adhere to the sensibilities of excellent melody and counterpoint. That goes for both the choir and the congregation.

  7. Yes…my approach as well in my compositions. My favorite example (and there are many) is Benjamin Britten, whose compositions are very definitely 20th century, but formally and aesthetically not unlike Brahms or Bruckner. Another more obscure and less clear example is the relationship between Bach’s music and Schoenberg, who considered Bach as his greatest influence. While the two are worlds apart, there is a very clear continuity of style. My point is this… not all polyphony needs to sound like Lassus or Palestrina to be polyphony. It can be very different aesthetically and still be polyphony. Contemporary liturgy songs do not have such a connection to the Church’s historic music.

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