Hymnal Review: Gather, Third Edition

What does the “typical” Roman Catholic parish in the United States of America sing? GIA Publications believes – not without reason – that many parishes in the United States of America heavily use post-Vatican II “contemporary”-styled pieces for Mass while retaining many so-called “classic” hymns and songs of the Roman Catholic tradition. To appeal to this demographic, they have released Gather, Third Edition – really, a comprehensive hymnal, though it takes the name Gather – a valiant attempt to be all things to many people.

The strongest part of this hymnal is the hymnody/song portion, which is strikingly diverse. There is what I would term a chant starter kit – from “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” to “Parce Domine” to “Ubi Caritas” to “Salve Regina.”  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of recently-written hymns. There are a number of strong texts by Sylvia Dunstan, Ruth Duck, Delores Dufner, and Brian Wren, as well as other living hymnwriters of note. A large number of well-known contemporary songs whose copyrights are held by OCP and WLP are included, such as Bernadette Farrell’s “O God, You Search Me” and Steve Warner’s setting of Julian of Norwich’s text, “All Will Be Well.”

Four decades have now passed of largely-vernacular liturgy in the USA, with multiple waves of musical styles and repertories. Some representatives of each era are included. As a church musician who has spent much of his career serving in parishes that use much of this contemporary repertoire, looking through the hymnal was a little bit like going to a high school reunion. Wow, when was the last time we sang “We Are The Light of the World”?  Wasn’t it fun to sing Bob Dufford’s “All the Ends of the Earth”? And remember the first time we sang “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”?  While I haven’t used any of these pieces recently, I’m sure there are  congregations which have.

Two things in particular struck me:

  • The increased use of non-English languages. Although this hymnal is designed for English-speaking congregations, it includes many translations. I would not have thought of a Spanish language version of “Sing with All the Saints in Glory,” or David Haas’ “You Are Mine,” but I can see the usefulness. Many Taizé refrains now include, say, Lithuanian or Polish texts.  The hymnal includes Duy Thiên’s “Tình Chúa Cao Vòi,” translated by Rufino Zaragoza as “Boundless Love,” one of the Vietnamese songs that Br. Rufino has worked to make known to English-speaking congregations. The inclusion of these texts and translations is a recognition of congregational life in the 21st century, when most congregations have significant numbers of at least one group of people who prays and sings in a non-English language.
  • Multiple options for ritual needs. Congregations that use “contemporary” music span a wide range. Many, I suspect, would insist on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” during Advent. For those that don’t, there are settings of the O antiphons by Marty Haugen and Fr. Francis O’Brien. Passion Sunday isn’t Passion Sunday without “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” for some, but this hymnal also includes Scott Soper’s “Hosanna,” and Rory Cooney’s “Palm Sunday Processional.”  And yes, for those who would like to sing a Hail Mary, the chant “Ave Maria” is included, along with Carey Landry’s “Hail Mary / Gentle Woman,” and Dan Kantor’s English “Ave Maria.”

GIA has used this opportunity to rethink and re-edit the hymns as well. They have maintained their policy towards inclusive language (which will disappoint fans of Frederick Faber’s text “Faith of Our Fathers,” of which only one stanza appears here) but have revisited other hymns. I was especially happy to see a more original version of the sixth stanza of “The First Noel,” which now concludes by praising the Lord “who made the heavens and earth of naught / And with his blood our life has bought.” Instead of a meek doxology, this stanza restores the text’s connection between the Incarnation and the Passion. “I Receive the Living God” now has nine stanzas, making this hymn much more useful for lengthy Communion processions. “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” now includes a fourth stanza.

My largest concern with this hymnal would be the Mass settings, a whopping twelve in all, plus many other individual pieces of service music.  It is hard to fault GIA for this when every other publisher is acting similarly. My sense is that few people really have a sense of what will be the next popular Mass setting; publishers seem to be providing many alternatives in the hopes of either striking gold or at least claiming their piece of the royalties pie.  Gather, Third Edition includes the retrofitted Mass of Creation, along with chunks of the revised Mass of Light, Community Mass, and others. Other musicians have voiced the challenges of using these familiar melodies with new words, and I share their concerns.  There are two chant settings – the ICEL chants, and a Cantus Missae – plus a bilingual setting (English/Spanish), a setting by Liam Lawton with a Celtic flavor, a setting in the African-American style, and several more new or newly-revised offerings from familiar GIA composers such as Haugen, Haas, Alonso, Morris, and others. None of the newly-composed settings really caught my ear, although all seem workable. I’ll be watching with interest to see which of these settings become popular in the years ahead.

Gather, Third Edition has much to offer. It is a hymnal of such size and scope that every congregation will likely find plenty of new music for the congregations to learn. While I’m sure everyone can find that one more song or hymn that they wish were included, this hymnal does a fine job of collecting many frequently-used, much-loved, and useful repertoire.

Disclaimer: Chris Ángel has works published by GIA Publications, though none appear in Gather, Third Edition.


  1. “For someone to alter the text of a poem to suit his own agenda is at best bowdlerization and at worst philistinism.” John Nolan

    Altering the text of a poem, to suit their own agenda, is what the scholars who produced the Septuagint did, when they translated the Psalms from Hebrew to Greek. It’s what Saint Jerome did when he revised the Vetus Latina to produce the Vulgate. It’s what the authors of the Authorised Version of the Bible did, and what every other group of translators has done, and will continue to do, as long as language changes.

    To object to such activity is to prefer the gratification of one’s own nostalgia to making a text intelligible to future generations. It is to treat texts as museum pieces rather than as verbalisations of the word of God which is alive and active.

    1. Nostalgia . . . museum pieces . . . why Gerard, are you having a shot at the Reform of the Reform, the great agenda of the Prophets of Doom, hurtling into the past at the speed of the sound of their chant (no hymns, you understand) . . .

  2. Just as a matter of curiosity, there seems to be a dislike for “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” in the professional community. Can someone give me a brief explanation of this?

  3. The little ear wig that causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble….is the very future and viability of “hymnals” per se. My concern over hymnals and worship books in general remains the same whether one is considering the efficacy of GATHER III, ADOREMUS II, BY FLOWING WATERS II, or the SIMPLE ENGLISH PROPERS; in other words, the problem I portend remains the same no matter from which side of the musical spectrum comes one’s perspective. In the vibrant economy of the post-conciliar musical palette, there is no single comprehensive volume that has culled the best of both past and contemporaneous composition intended for congregational, choral and schola(stic) use at worship. The only acknowledged “universal” volume(s) remain the Latin books, GR, GM, LU, GT, AR etc. And that just isn’t in the cards for universal acceptance, as ideal a solution that more and more voices argue for.
    I used to cite that one of the more efficient hymnal compilations a couple of decades ago was the ARMED FORCES HYMNAL (USA). Perhaps I felt that way because its editors seemed to cover enough ecumenical bases, and that its intent was purposefully broad by necessity. But we don’t enjoy that same luxury of having another political entitity commission, compile, edit and mandate the usage of a hymnal for parish and cathedral use in regular society. I don’t think the CBW would qualify as a shining example of cumulative success. On the other hand, folks that offer up the Brompton Oratory hymnal as a standard really don’t come down from the gallery often enough, IMO.
    So, if not the BIG HYMNAL model, what else? The homegrown HULA Hymnal on demand tailored for one or two generations of a specific parish or diocese? Dunno.
    But the notion of the USCCB/BCL not tabling agenda items such as the “white list” regarding texts, the exhortation towards including propers among hymns, polyphony, chant and sacred song, and other types of guidance seems to me an urgent necessity.

    1. Bigger hymnals are, in my opinion, detrimental to congregational participation.

      Besides the Psalter, I think most US RC parishes could be served by about fifty hymns carefully selected, not for being of the very highest musical quality but for the likelihood [based on past experience] that most of the congregation will actually attempt to sing them. I would, at this low point in US musical literacy, not expect that most US RC congregations could retain a much bigger repertoire.

      It is congregational use of song as communal participation at which I aim, and to which I think most parish musical directors ought to give much more attention than to getting better choral performances from a small group of parishioners.

      Small, easily navigated Psalters with supplementary hymns are the way to go.

      We will not get that unless the USCCB buys the rights to the select group of hymns, gets the Psalter back on track, and pushes the book as basic and expected for every parish and keeps the price down to facilitate this.

      Music publishers, IMO, have been more interested in making money than serving liturgical needs. They do this by constantly introducing new music and pushing new purchases through workshops and convention elements. The publishers have worked from a capitalist model instead of a ministry model.

      On the other hand, composers have been grievously sinned against by all whole reproduce their work without paying. Maybe some of the publisher promotion would be less necessary if composers were treated more justly by parishes. If the best composers had sufficiently well-paid cathedral appointments, maybe they would be more willing to put good work for congregational singing into the public domain every third year or so.

      They is so much more
      – misunderstood relationship of liturgy and music
      – biases and assumptions of the artistic musical subculture
      – entertainment presuppositions of music publishing.

  4. Brigid Rauch :

    Just as a matter of curiosity, there seems to be a dislike for “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” in the professional community. Can someone give me a brief explanation of this?

    I’ve never encountered that resistance, Brigid. Can you explain your experiences further?

    1. From the posting

      “Many, I suspect, would insist on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” during Advent.”

      would suggest that professional musicians dislike this hymn, but congregations like it. I have an impression I’ve seen similar comments before. It’s possible I misunderstood.

      1. In the face of silly misunderstandings (like Dcn. Fritz mentions), is the solution to avoid the hymn, revise the hymn, or correct the misunderstanding?

  5. Oh!:-)
    I really think that Chris Angel would probably benefit and enjoy an opportunity to restate that sentence in the article. I suspect he wanted to inject the tension extant between the conventional, indiscriminate seasonal use of “Veni…” and its more “proper” usage in the Advent calendar.
    We got bigger fish, IMO.

      1. Thank you all for taking the time to answer. If I understand correctly, there is no objection to the hymn per se, but only to its repeated use while ignoring other Advent hymns.

  6. How about ‘Faith of our Forebears.’ It has the lure of alliteration.

    Try confirming the ‘iconic status’ of the hymn in any Catholic school! This is 2011.

    1. Forebears eaten by four bears…

      Four bears walk into a gay bar…

      The joys of oral English….

      1. It sounds even more like “four bears” when you put it to the usual tune. I can just imagine little kids thinking the song is about four faithful bears (like how some grew up thinking the Holy Spirit was a parakeet).

        I don’t really see unaltered older hymns being bad when balanced out by newer hymns that use more “gender inclusive” wordings (like most every hymn written in the last forty years). I imagine most Americans would interpret “fathers” in the song as meaning ancestors since everyone learns about our own country’s “founding fathers.” I think it is a real stretch to think most people would interpret the song as a slam against female ancestors. Perhaps the the hymns don’t need to be altered until some time in the distant future when the issue of gender-inclusive language is settled and the use of male pronouns is so far removed from the experience of average people that the hymns would make no sense or be comical. Most people are still familiar with terms like “men and mankind” having a double meaning and think nothing of such language in songs they know are 100+ years old.

        Out of curiosity, does the GIA hymnal consistently make hymns gender inclusive? Does it have some gender-inclusive version of “America the Beautiful” where God is not asked to “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea” because they think people can’t figure out what “brotherhood” actually means?

      2. KLS you’re going to get us re-visiting ICEL’s “serene and kindly gaze” if you’re not careful – and not a rose vestment in sight!

  7. @ Gerard Flynn

    Please, please, spare us the pious platitudes. Hymns at Mass were never liturgical – they belong properly to the Office – and if my schola sings (for example) Jesu Dulcis Memoria as the people receive Communion I don’t assume it is anything more than an add-on.

    1. You may choose to think that hymns at Mass are not liturgical. I don’t believe anyone would want to deprive you of that right.

      However, that’s as far as it goes. Others have different views.

      And, the liturgy of the hours is …….liturgical.

    2. This is historically false – hymns at Mass were liturgical for at least 8 centuries in places like Germany or Poland where it’s how the Mass was celebrated by congregations. To name one example of many, a hymnal from Graz, Austria in 1602 has the bishops saying that in cases where there are not cantors able to sing the proper, one of the hymns in the hymnal can be sung. Not as an add-on, but as the way congregations, with the approval of church authorities (bishops) celebrated the liturgy.

    3. Interesting that you consider praising God and building up the people of God a pious platitude. We are talking about liturgy. They are intimately connected.

      Or is your interest in all of this merely at the level of aesthetics?

  8. It’s also worth noting that the “Faith of our Fathers… faith of our Mothers” hymn in contemporary GIA hymnals is not an alteration of Faber’s text. It is a new text, inspired by Faber’s original. It should be judged on its own grounds (and it may come up lacking), but it shouldn’t be attacked as a “bowlderization” or as some kind of leftist censorship.

    1. Adam;

      With all due respect (and I do mean that!), it is difficult to see this as a “new hymn” as it is set to the same tune and makes use of the same lyric devices and the same refrain. While not a “bowdlerization” in the sense of neutering , it is perhaps best described as a parody, minus the negative connotations of that word.

      Faith of our mothers, living still
      In cradle song and bedtime prayer;
      In nursery lore and fireside love,
      Thy presence still pervades the air:
      Faith of our mothers, living faith!
      We will be true to thee to death.

      Also, the obvious contrast of Father/ Mother makes the impression of this being a “counter-view” to Faith of Our Fathers nearly impossible to avoid. Outside of perhaps a convocation of Women Religious or a Mass for the Council of Catholic Women or some such specialty event, I can’t see where this text would really work. I could see similar problems with attempting a text like “God of Our Mothers”. Even if a legitimate new text, it would have to be able to overcome the impression of being a feminine counter-text to “God of Our Fathers”.

      1. John

        You’re just dealing with the Victorian hymns that have survived; the age of the pulp penny press meant there was tons of trash that did not survive.

      2. I didn’t say it was a good hymn, just that it was a new one.

        As a feminist myself, I apologize on behalf of the movement for the goofiness which pervades the liturgical expressions of the ideology. Personally, I think we can do better but that requires a grounding in orthodoxy and tradition, which (sadly) not enough progressives have and a liturgical culture that values BOTH progressivism AND tradition, which is a pretty rare situation.

        (That is to say: I don’t like “Faith of our mothers” either.)

        What drives me up a friggin wall (with all due respect!) about your position is that it seems like you are saying that specifically mentioning or honoring women or femininity is some kind of “specialty event” and that the rest of the time, we should be A-OK with male-specific, male-only language, as if MALENESS is the normal, and FEMALENESS is a deviation from normal.

  9. No one addressed the financial aspect of altering hymns. The unaltered version of most of the “classic” hymns is in the public domain. It can be used by any parish without purchasing rights from OCP, WLP, GIA… A change of a word here and there and it is now the “property” of the publisher. If you want to use it, send the check.

    1. Is this true? I have a copy of the just-released Gather 3rd edition here in my hotel room at NPM, and I couldn’t find a single traditional text for which GIA copyrighted their alteration, although after 100 hymns I stopped looking. I see lots of John Mason Neale and other oldies, obviously altered, but no GIA copyright on the text. GIA copyrighted the musical arrangement or harmonization in many cases, but that’s an entirely different matter.

      I don’t have my hymnal collection with me. Does someone else know – do GIA and OCP and WLP claim copyrights when they alter an old text? Is Fr. Costigan’s claim true?


      1. Yeah, so-
        I’ve heard this claim over and over again. Seems baseless(ish), and doesn’t really correspond to actual copyright law anyway.

        Copyright “protects original works of authorship,” not modifications to existing ones.

        Further, you can’t copyright an idea, only it’s specific implementation.
        (“Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”)
        And if there is only one way to implement the idea (the “idea” of an all-white canvas as art), you can’t really copyright the implementation either. One could argue pretty successfully that there is only one way to implement the idea of changing “he” to “God” (for example) or of “Thy” to “your.”

        Note also that having a copyright and registering a copyright are two different, non-equivalent things.

  10. Any reason at all to prevent the gospel and the liturgy from speaking to men and women of today. It’s cheaper to leave the hymns less accessible. Therefore, since the markets dictate policy, let’s not change anything!

    1. What about the people who are turned off by altered hymns? Or does making the Gospel and liturgy speak to them not matter as much?

      I’ve never personally met anyone who actually liked altered hymns – the usual reaction is a feeling of being treated stupid. I really don’t get what’s wrong with having the alternate wording as well as the original. OCP does this sometimes with really well-known hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (I’ve never heard anyone actually sing the alternate versions, but at least they are there for people who want them).

      1. Really depends on the alteration and the purpose.
        For me, personally I strongly dislike:
        -Removal of “Thee” and “thou” and so forth
        -Softening of difficult words and ideas (“wretch like me”)
        -Removal of God’s gender
        -rewrites to reduce obscurity (not knowing what an Ebeneezer is provides a great teaching opportunity)

        On the other hand, I greatly prefer not having to pretend that “men,” “brothers,” and “sons” is somehow inclusive of women. (It is not.)

        What publishers would do if they were smart is:
        -Provide options of different approaches to texts
        -Explain each hymnal’s textual policy CLEARLY

        What we get instead are:
        -liberal hymnals full of goofiness and wishy-wash
        -conservative hymnals full of sexism

        My preference:
        Hymnals for my bookshelf. Printed programs for my people.

  11. “Faith of Our Ancestors” might solve the gender issues in “Faith of Our Fathers” and “Faith of Our Mothers,” and could possibly make a great hymn for All Souls Day that men and women could sing with comfort and remembrance of deceased loved ones.

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