How many hymns do we need? Just asking.

Let’s hear the wisdom of the general public on this question: How many hymns should a hymnal have to stimulate congregational participation?

Regular Pray Tell commenter Tom Poelker recently said this:

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.

Msgr. Richard Schuler of Latin High Mass fame at St. Agnes in St. Paul (entirely Paul VI back then, now they alternate 1962 and Vatican II) held a similar view. He never put a big hymnal in the pews at St. Agnes. He thought the small collection of hymns in the missalette from Collegeville was more than enough.

It’s not only Msgr. Schuler and the liturgical trads. The esteemed liturgical scholar Mark Searle at the University of Notre Dame used to make a similar point. He wrote about how well the tiny congregation at his Eastern Catholic parish in South Bend sang the entire liturgy because they knew it by heart. “Who are all these new songs being written for?” he used to ask.

There are many aspects to this question, obviously. Let’s have a good discussion of it at Pray Tell.

**Note: the question is not “Who thinks that only propers should be sung because strophic hymns are unliturgical and non-Catholic and illegal?” Any comments about propers will be deleted. That’s another question for another day. The question is: how many hymns should be in the hymnal to serve congregations that sing hymns?

46 comments

  1. I am actually yet to be sold on the idea that this is as important a question as some have made it out to be.

    That said, I think we’d need to distinguish between hymns for the Big Seasons (especially Advent and Christmas, but also Lent and Eastertide), and then ritual Masses (especially funerals but also weddings) vs the rest. In my experience, the capacity and delight of congregations in the many hymns still actively in the repertoire for the Big Seasons is itself quite big. The rest of the year, less so, but it would be good to have at least of all the seasonal psalms and significant scriptural canticles covered in good metrical paraphrases.

    One also needs to consider if one is using the hymnal to supplement a parochial celebration of morning and/or evening prayer. That’s not common, but not unheard of either.

  2. There’s no doubt that any given congregation will sing robustly on a smaller number of hymns/songs than what is in a hymnal. But to suggest that we should pick fifty and be done with it puts shackles on the Spirit who inspires all art. All fifty of those songs or hymns were new at one time. Let the process of aging and natural attrition take care of getting rid of the ones that don’t measure up.

    Besides, parishes may sing well, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get tired of singing the same things over and over. Familiarity is good until it causes people to stop paying attention to what they’re singing.

    1. I agree Ms. Basi. I’m so bored with those who, as you put it,
      put “schackles on the Spirit who inspires all art”.
      Something we’re seeing to a disturbing degree with those ready to rush to embrace tradition, stomp on the necks of those who get in the way, and impose their “schackles” on any artistic expression in the liturgy.

  3. You remind me of a book entitled Why Catholics Can’t Sing
    It is not so much the hymn but how it is sung. When interiority, feeling, conviction can be heard, then music can stir the spirit when words cannot… I would be for a variety of hymns, with new ones introduced when the music leader feels moved to bring in something to help the congregation connect with the Divine…
    One of my favorite hymns is Will you come and follow me? My parish does not have it in the book, so we don’t sing it. And though the question and the words answering the question are so beautiful!
    This is no answer. Sorry 🙂

    http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/documents/p2/will-you-come.pdf

    1. The song is well chosen as John Bell is very eloquent about all being able to sing. (see his Singing the Unsung DVD series)

      He also trusts his assembly to sing not just new songs but in parts and from all around the world. Limiting the songs would betray a lack of trust. On the other hand, songs still have to be taught.

      1. I find it amazing how many folks have dismissed Bell’s text wedding to KELVINGROVE (I have Stanford’s original transcription setting buried somewhere) for many disparate reasons.
        “The Summons” works for the PIPs in a huge way, and abets my thousand flowers metaphor in a way that echoes others such as Hurd’s “Ubi caritas” in terms of immediate adoption by many congregations many places.
        Someone ought to mention to Chris Walker that certain Celtic aires need to be left alone, unless he’s SURE. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I offer into evidence “Skye Boat Song.” The prosecution rests.

  4. Since we use weekly worship aids and not a hymnal in the pew, there is a greater deal of control over the repertoire in use at my parish. I have a list of about 20 core hymns that I consider “general use” hymns for the Processional and Recessional. These are such hymns as “Holy God We Praise Thy Name”, “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King”, “O God, Almighty Father”, “Alleluia, Sing To Jesus”…etc as well as some more modern offerings such as “All The Earth”, “God We Praise You” (Nettleton) and “When In Our Music God is Glorified” (Engleberg) and even “All Are Welcome”.

    To that list I add maybe another 20 or so selections that are more “topical” – “Servant Song”, “The Summons”, “Seek Ye First”… and finally a group of about 8 solid communion songs such as “Take and Eat”, “Eat This Bread”, “Draw Near”, “Jesus Christ, Bread of Life” (New World). All in all, it’s about 50 hymns and songs that I draw from for probably 90% of the music the assembly sings at Mass. Add to that the selections sung by the choir alone and the seasonal use hymns and that’s about the entirety of our parish repertoire. As a result, the singing is pretty strong for a Catholic parish.

    I remember when I served as an advisor for our region in the work on the New Century Hymnal for the UCC, the book that was proposed to replace the very well established “Pilgrim Hymnal” in that church. A major consideration in determining the selections to be included was the number of new (unknown) selections. Many of the more traditional voices involved in the process were very concerned about replacing well known hymns and tunes – many of which had been standards in the UCC hymnals since it’s founding. The very question posed here – just how many hymns are really needed? – was one which came up often. The fear was that the inclusion of too many selections would actually harm congregational singing which is quite strong in most UCC congregations.

  5. When dealing with hymns, one also has to consider the distinction between a specific hymn like “O God Almighty Father” and the tune “GOTT VATER SEI GEPRIESEN”. From the perspective of congregational singing, all specific hymns using one tune are effectively the same hymn. Thus, you can have perhaps a dozen hymns on various topics (Kingdom of God, Service, God’s Commands, Forgiveness) all using the same tune. As such, when dealing with actual HYMNS, the question isn’t necessarily how many different texts the assembly knows, but how many different tunes of various meters.

    If a hymnal is going to really be useful in a variety of congregations, it might be wise to present the hymns as text only in many instances with a variety of suggested tunes to be used. This would enable the director to choose tunes that are familiar to their specific congregation. I can’t tell you how many times I would have like to use “Lord You Give the Great Commission” only to finds that the hymnal out in the pews had it set to the quite unweildy tune ABBOT’S LEIGH rather than HYFRYDOL or IN BABILONE. Having many hymns in text only form would be a big help.

    1. I would be willing to amend my suggestion to allow for fifty hymn tunes with their various texts.

      Anthony, would you want to start another thread as to which are the most useful twenty hymn tunes?

      1. I suppose so… although I find that Abbot’s Leigh has a rather awkward progression through a dominant 7th chord that takes some getting used to. Also, I had become accustomed to hearing this particular text set to IN BABILONE for so long that it just sounds peculiar to another tune for me.

        I have found that some people have trouble with some tunes while others find them very easy to sing, so I suppose you are right in that respect.

  6. In multicultural parishes which sing in more than one language, picking an optimum number of hymns for the whole parish perhaps will not work. Added to the multicultural / multilingual environment is the wide range of singing ability inherent in the customary congregants at each of the different Masses. So the hymnal would be increased to have a wide range of music styles.

    Ultimately the determinant as to a number of hymns perhaps also relates to the quality and stability of the music ministry in the Parish. That is, an experience and trained music minister who knows how to teach music to choirs and congregants as opposed to the: “Oh, its Advent; we are forming a choir for midnight Mass!”

  7. I think each parish needs a “hymnal within the hymnal.” Large hymnals as resources may be needed to provide for vastly different communities, yet each parish should itself discern the 50 or so that they can (and will sing) over a given year. This is also not to say that an old parish can’t learn a new song, but a foundation is needed first.

  8. The Church of Ireland produced a splendid hymnal which is now ten years old. They are currently preparing a supplement. It speaks very well for their concern that liturgy reflect contemporary life.

  9. The liturgy unbrella group in a country which will remain nameless was once preparing a list of hymns that could be used at Mass (and, by default, a list of hymns that could not). The person running the committee proudly announced to me “and we’re finally banning [name of hymn deleted] which, for liturgical, theological and musical reasons, is not a real hymn anyway” so I said to the person “Well that’s fascinating, as it’s the ONLY ‘hymn’ or ‘song’ which was singled out for praise personally by (now Blessed) Pope John Paul II when he visited your country,” and proved it by providing the reference to the extempore remarks made by that Pope about that hymn . . . and, surprise, surprise, IT’S A HYMN AGAIN!

    1. and didn’t something similar happen with Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” when it was suddenly made known this was one of Pope Paul VI’s favorites? Oh, but I digress. Poor Pope Paul’s recommendation could be the kiss of death, as he
      is now viewed by many as a heretic.

      1. Well heresy’s pretty easily defined, surely . . .either one is or one isn’t a heretic . . . but “heretic” gets used by the Prophets of Doom more as an unfounded allegation than a statement of fact . . . it usually just means someone who doesn’t agree with their nasty world view, and (and this is what they always forget) the accusation says a lot more about the Prophets of Doom than it does about the accused person.

      2. I remember vividly when, circa 1971, we sang “A Mighty Fortress” for the first time in our parish. My father, who came from 100% Swabian Catholic stock and grew up in a German national parish in Bridgeport CT, was so tickled pink that we finally got to sing it at Mass; it’s one of his favorite hymns, and the look of satisfaction on his face as he sang it is indelible in my memory. My father was always eager to sing hymns, and he modeled that behavior for his sons (and, of course, daughters, but it’s the sons who needed the encouragement in that era), unlike many other fathers in that time and place. German Catholics like to sing. Heartily. I know there are those who find the idea of hearty congregational song to be something beneath Catholics and Catholic liturgy (there was a bit of a St Blog’s theme on that one a couple of years ago, IIRC), but I think that’s a bit precious a perspective.

  10. There is much empirical evidence for the general principle of psychology that people are attracted to moderately familiar, and moderately complex stimulation but are repulsed by the unfamiliar and overly complex stimulation. People become bored and unresponsive to the overly familiar. However that boredom can be undone by abstaining from the familiar stimulation for awhile.

    These general principles have been well illustrated by studies done with regard to music. The payola scandals are a good illustration. By “plugging” new songs, i.e. repeating playing them on the radio. people come to like them. The difficulty that music directors of orchestras experience in introducing new music is another example. The ticket buyers want the old classics preferably with a fresh interpretation.

    Unfortunately what is familiar and what is complex is determined by the listener’s experience. Musicians and even music lovers who are not musicians are probably not good judges of what the average person in the pew experiences as familiar or complex. What is familiar, simple and boring to a musician may be unfamiliar, complex, and repulsive to many others.

    The good news of this model is that if a music director “plugs” new songs (new to the parish) by having people use them repeatedly (e.g. practice them before Mass) and only introduce them one at a time to existing familiar music then one should be able to provide people with an attractive musical experience, even one that slowly over the years could change profoundly. A music director should be able to shape any congregation’s music preference (e.g. chant, polyphony, contemporary music) as long as this is done very, very, very slowly.

    The bad news is that musical changes are done too often, too many at a time, and are too unfamiliar and too complex for the people in the pews, and more likely alienate than attract them.

    The repertory in the minds of the congregation matters, not the hymn books..

    1. How about an ongoing process of communicating with the people? Every six months, survey them with these questions:

      1. Is there a hymn you hate and never want to hear again?
      2. Is there a hymn we sing now you especially like?
      3. Is there a hymn we don’t sing you’d like to see us try?
      4. The hymns are too high for me/too low for me/ mostly just right.
      5. The instrument(s) are too loud/too soft/just right.
      6. The choir is too loud/too soft/just right.
      7. Since the last survey, we’ve tried out ___, ___ and ___.
      Should we keep them or trash them?
      8. I’d like the choir to help me sing/ I’d rather listen to the choir.
      9. I generally go to the Saturday Vigil Mass/9:00 Mass/11:00 Mass.
      10. I’d love it if we ___________
      11. I hate it when we ________
      Other questions could be added.

      I’m not saying the musicians should follow the results faithfully, but they should make an attempt to find out what people may be too polite to say to their face. They may find out that musical tastes vary from Mass to Mass.

      1. I like this idea. But what if the results do not please choirmaster, organist and clergy? Perhaps as a starting point the church bulletin should explain why each hymn was chosen and how it is relevant to the Mass of the day. That might help the selectors to think and the congregation to appreciate that the Mass is meant to fit together.

      2. Also there are a lot of potential electronic ways of giving feedback.

        Many parishes now have their bulletins on line. It should be easy to put the list of hymns online (even weeks a head of time, including explanations) and allow people to give feedback or feed forward. This might be a particularly effective means for getting people more interested and involved without a great deal of meeting time or paper.

        I prefer to read bulletins on line and usually read three or four local parish bulletins in advance to help make my Sunday Mass decision. I would especially like to have more information about hymns, etc.

        I am not a participant in Twitter or Facebook, but I suspect those also might be useful.

      3. I like this idea. But what if the results do not please choirmaster, organist and clergy?

        I have always suspected that there hasn’t been a comprehensive and well done survey of musical preferences among Catholics for this very reason. There are some voluntary surveys conducted by NPM, etc…, but since the respondents are largely music directors or choir members, they are hardly representative of the Catholic population at large. It would be interesting to find out not only what music most of the people out in the pews prefer, but even more importantly what kind of music they would prefer to have at Mass, and what their attitude towards singing vs. listening actually is.

      4. Thanks Jack, I agree.
        I suspect that neither the music directors nor the congregation are well informed. Some experience of understanding why particular hymns or chants are appropriate on different occasions might cause initial preferences to change.
        Another thought is that the simple tones of chants might be more easily mastered than melodies of hymns. But until that is given a fair trial there will be caution.

  11. OK I am no expert here as will be apparent. But isn’t idea of limiting hymns in a hymnal purely an editorial matter for any particular hymnal – hymns which may be chosen aren’t limited to those set out in any particular hymnal, are they? Just asking.

  12. I think the idea of consciously limiting a parish’s repertoire of hymns to a certain number is a good one. Familiarity and repetition obviously fosters better participation, but also it forces those in charge of selecting music to make to make tough choices… in essence raising the bar. However, I think this list should be constantly evolving and challenged… stagnation is one of the worst things that can happen to a music ministry. As a musician part of the fun is constantly uncovering new pieces or old hidden treasures that might serve the parish well. Once again, the number of new pieces that will be introduced in a given year should be a conscious decision. I guess my philosophy is conservative progress, as unfortunate as that sounds these days.

    1. “As a musician” is a different standard than “as a liturgist”.

      As Rakosky noted above,
      “Musicians and even music lovers who are not musicians are probably not good judges of what the average person in the pew experiences as familiar or complex. What is familiar, simple and boring to a musician may be unfamiliar, complex, and repulsive to many others.”

  13. My parish sings about one-third of the “hymn” section of GC, first, and maybe a bit more than half the Psalter. 150-200 “hymns” sound right, but I would include more psalm settings and more “songs” patterned on the propers than actual strophic hymnody. So that “we” does pretty well with a fairly wide repertoire of 5 Mass settings plus about 250 more pieces. (Fifty of which are probably in retirement or close to it.)

    That said, when we speak of the wider “we” of the Catholic Church in the US/Canada, I would say we “need” several thousand “hymns,” about three or four times as many “songs” based on Scripture, largely, that adhere to the style of proper psalmody, and probably half or less of the Mass settings we currently have and sometimes use.

    I agree with those suggesting we focus the repertoire better liturgically. I’ll also suggest we could use a stronger American strain in the music itself. My biggest complaint with GIA hymnody is too much Britain and Germany, too little genuine American tunes. Still.

  14. +1 to Todd’s overall take, which I guess is counter to Jeff Rice’s. I am relegated to using OCP BB. A few years ago, when the current pastor was assigned, he added a Spanish Mass to the schedule. That necessitated a bilingual pulp missal, namely Unidos en Cristo. But I told him I would not accept halving English repertoire by switching to the Unidos/United Hymnal. (We purchased Flor y Canto.)
    I am a believer in challenging congregations with newly minted or included hymns/songs. I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned some realities in many churches that include: a. texts/great melodies that often serve to offset poor homiletics; b . second tier volunteer leaders whose repertoire preferences are already self-imposed by their own inabilities, ignorance or prejudices; and c. not all congregations are created equally dullard and disinterested-many take up worthy new material with gusto.
    Jack’s point about “shaping” a parish’s repertoire is well taken. I’d rather say that we DM’s should think about that notion more as “cultivation” rather than “styling.” I’ve got nearly two decades of music ordos on a hard drive, which will hopefully be taken up at least as a direct testimony by my successor (who has already spent those two decades by my side, if my preference is heeded.)
    But I firmly believe that if hymns and songs remain a strong, preferred element in a parish’s broad program (including propers/psalms in all styles) then let a thousand flowers bloom, rather than a convenient planter full of fifty.

  15. I am not a musician nor choir director. Inevitably as much as the question posed has been here treated rationally and practically – congregations only know and sing a certain repertoire – the proposition soon degrades into who controls the limited selection and how and by what standards. Like theological writings I believe the best course of action is print what may come and assemblies will be self selecting. As Paul VI said of poor theological writing – the answer is to write good theology and not try to set up institutions to police the bad. So goes musical composition from my point of view.

    1. The point that seems to have gotten lost is the proposal that most US congregations might not be able to handle a repertoire of more than fifty songs/melodies and a few psalm tones.

      CJ, above, made a good argument that a bigger physical hymnal might be needed. “In multicultural parishes which sing in more than one language, picking an optimum number of hymns for the whole parish perhaps will not work. Added to the multicultural / multilingual environment is the wide range of singing ability inherent in the customary congregants at each of the different Masses. So the hymnal would be increased to have a wide range of music styles.”

      What remains is whether musicians should be encouraged to keep in mind that a reasonable repertoire for each Sunday congregation is the Psalter and about fifty songs [including those for the Big Seasons], a number much smaller than trained musicians or music lovers might find desirable.

      Taking time and care in introducing new congregational music might mean that only about four new songs for the congregation could be added each year.

      I think these realities are part of the differences between being a liturgical minister to the assembly for music rather than being a musical performer in church.

  16. “The point that seems to have gotten lost is the proposal that most US congregations might not be able to handle a repertoire of more than fifty songs/melodies and a few psalm tones.”

    It might be less lost and more disagreed with.

    I do agree that four new congregational songs a year is about right. But my parish has been a singing congregation since Vatican II. 150 to 200 songs is about right.

  17. We sing more than 50 songs/hymns each year. We discard songs or use them more infrequently as we realize they are not being sung well. But there are 17,000 places in the US where mass is celebrated at least weekly. Even if each would use in the range of fifty, they will unlikely be the same fifty…..thus hymnals with hundreds of songs from which each place can choose the number needed. I’ll bet there’s at least one place out there that never uses or hates Eagles Wings or How Great Thou Art. I don’t want any song eliminated from our hymnal because some others would discard them.

    We never introduce a new song just because one of the powers that be really likes it. We have as our goal to employ songs that people come to enjoy singing.

  18. We need an Entrance, Offertory, Communion, and Dismissal Hymn specific to the readings for every Sunday of the year, plus every major feast and every major saint’s day. Quite a number of hymns may reasonably do double or triple duty. Still, this is what is needed. And, if carefully chosen, need not exceed the 6 or 7 hundred hymns typical of, say, the best of Lutheran or Episcopal hymnals. Nor should given tunes be exploited endlessly with a variety of texts with which they fall flat just to spare people from having to learn ‘so many’. Catholics are not born more musically inept than their Episcopalian brethren. They are conditioned such. This is not asking too much of the typical parish of European-American Catholics. Any less is institutionalised ignorance of one’s own culture and musical heritage.

    There is the legitimate question, of course, of those Catholics of other cultures who do not share this heritage and may be excused for indifference to it; and parishes in which there is such a cultural integration as would make this paradigm untenable. For them, I bow to those in those situations.

    But, we should lay to rest the shiboleth that the rest of us must make do with that paltry hymnody which the over-coddled ‘persons in the pew’ have been allowed to believe that they cannot surpass.
    Those who believe in something can teach it to almost anyone if they wish. (And – there is nothing so hard about ‘Abbot’s Leigh’: it is a wonderfully stirring tune.)

    1. But, we should lay to rest the shiboleth that the rest of us must make do with that paltry hymnody which the over-coddled ‘persons in the pew’ have been allowed to believe that they cannot surpass. Those who believe in something can teach it to almost anyone if they wish. (And – there is nothing so hard about ‘Abbot’s Leigh’: it is a wonderfully stirring tune.)

      MJO, Dittos to those sentiments, including ABBOTS LEIGH, sorry JH.
      The fact that certain hymns and their tunes are still extant in a myriad of major denominational (don’t go there with the “they ain’t orthodox” gripe) hymnals as well as our own attests to their vitality for the disposed and engaged worshipper. I may not “like” ENGELBERG or EBENEZER but someone, somewhere has obviously found merit there. OTOH, “I bind into myself…” may not at all be easy or convenient (what a standard for evaluation!) But it’s quite a treasure on Trinity Sunday.
      What was that about afflicting the comfortable…? 🙂

      1. Alright… I don’t have a vendetta against ABBOT’S LEIGH … I find it to be an awkward tune to sing. If I recall correctly from my work with Nick Temperly back in my “Doctoral Days”,we had (as of 1987) catalogued some 120,000+ tunes and local variants of tunes up to the year 1821 (after that, the variants became so numerous that it was impractical to catalogue them all at that time.) Surely we can agree that there will be some that everyone will find less desirable. For you, it’s ENGLEBERG or EBENEZER (Try HOWELD’S LODER sometime…). This would make an interesting discussion in itself….

  19. And, an Addendum –
    I will go on record stressing that hymns are ornaments to the mass, and that we do not need ANY unless we are first singing The Mass – every last dialogue, all collects, all prayers, all the readings and psalms; then do we need hymns as suggested above. (Fr Anthony will note that I did not mention the ______s, in relation to which hymns ARE a quite licit and very respectable option.)

  20. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Peter Haydon :

    I like this idea. But what if the results do not please choirmaster, organist and clergy? Perhaps as a starting point the church bulletin should explain why each hymn was chosen and how it is relevant to the Mass of the day. That might help the selectors to think and the congregation to appreciate that the Mass is meant to fit together.

    If the tastes of the congregation and the music leader are widely out of synch, then the music leader will have to choose between music the people like to sing and doing a solo at most Masses!

    Seriously, at the very least, music leaders need to find out what music is meaningful to people in their congregation. Also, there’s no rule against introducing new songs or new styles. An instrumental solo after Communion is prime time for this, unless the music is so irritating to people that it becomes a distraction.

    1. I don’t think there is any provision for instrumental music after Communion, only silence or a congregational song of some sort.

      GIRM 88 – When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.

      GIRM 164 – …a sacred silence may now be observed for some period of time, or a Psalm or another canticle of praise or a hymn may be sung

      STTL 196 – Quotes GIRM 88, then says, “The song after Communion should focus the assembly on the mystery of the Holy Communion in which is participates, and it should never draw undue attention to the choir or other musicians.”

      We observe a period of silence, then everyone stands for the song after Communion, followed by the Prayer after Communion, blessing, dismissal, and instrumental recessional (outside of Lent of course).

  21. On the other hand,
    We were blessed to have an incredible homilist (Missioner of Charity) as one our vicars until last month. This last year he delivered homilies of such a spiritual magnitude that to sing anything at the Offertory would have been insufficient in the moment. Happily we’re blessed with an incredibly gifted improviser in our organist. He took the moment and complimented and amplified it perfectly. Silence is golden. But inspiration can be platinum. I don’t find this illicit at all.

  22. In Metro Manila, many if not most parishes use the same 10-15 hymns over and over again, regardless of liturgical season (except Lent and Christmas which get a few “unique” hymns and carols).

    1. Is there a reason for the limited number of hymns?

      I can think of a few –

      – lack of hymnals – something that could be fixed with a projector, although I admit I dislike the use of projectors.

      – lack of hymns in Tagalog

      1. Actually–it’s the same 20 hymns…

        I am sure Palad knows this, but the chief reason is that the Jesuits have, more than anyone else, been able to define the shape and contours of contemporary Philippine liturgical music that their music–and there are far more on paper than the limited numbers implied herein–is the main kind being used in Mass. Other groups and composers have tried to penetrate the “market” so to speak, but not as successfully. Part of the campaign to revive the EF is partly weariness at the way the Catholic music repertoire has been defined so narrowly.

        The Protestant churches sing translated Tagalog hymns here in the Manila area, and I am aware of a couple of evangelical hymnals with translations available. In hindsight, the big mistake is that, apart from “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” there was no attempt to introduce the kind of hymnody popular amongst the other churches into the Catholic context. Fr. Hontiveros, SJ, who is a hero to many for starting the contemporary Tagalog liturgical music movement, also made a huge mistake when he stopped teaching traditional Latin chant to his Marikina parish. This is a very revisionist view–but I am increasingly sympathetic to it in the light of what Pope Benedict XVI is encouraging throughout the world.

        There indeed are hymnals in the Roman context, and the Jesuits, to their credit, have had a couple of hymnals published, but because Roman parishes have never gotten around to investing in this, Brigid rightfully notes that projectors have become in vogue recently…not hymnals.

        To be fair to the Jesuits, in some places, people do sing, and sing eagerly. Even if it is those same 20 songs. What the Jesuits have failed to do is compose a good Lent/Advent repertoire–so I suppose NLM advocates like Palad can work on encouraging the use of the p_____s at those times!

  23. One question that may be worth discussing at another time is to ask how many songs people know that aren’t hymns? It may or may not be a measure of people’s singing expertise.

  24. I’m a music director at a small ELCA Lutheran Church. We have 168 hymns in our repertoire and I have no intention of slowing down. When you’ve sang a song 5,000 times, are you even thinking about the lyrics anymore? We do some more than others. Overall, it’s more important to me that the hymns match the readings than it is for for the congregation to be in love with a song. Additionally, limiting yourself to a certain number cuts you off from finding some potential “new favorites”.

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