IAH – European hymnody conference II

(Part one here.)

The Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Hymnologie (IAH – International Fellowship for Research in Hymnology), meeting in Timişoara, Romania last week, had much to discuss around its 2011 theme “The Future of the Hymnal.” Such as:

  • Will projection screens entirely replace hymnals in the future?
  • Is it the future to construct an electronic database from which local planners can select from thousands of texts and melodies to create leaflets for each service?
  • What role does a canon or core repertoire play in supporting and conveying a church’s identity and teachings?
  • Is it not necessary to have a printed hymnal to define and preserve such a canon, even as it grows and changes?
  • How large should such a canon be? How many hymns can be learned and sung by the people?
  • Are not printed hymnals indispensable for singing and teaching hymns in schools, at parish meetings, in the home?
  • When there are many regional variants and alternate traditions of melody and text, should this variety be preserved, or should standardization be brought about?
  • What is the role of hymnals in fostering ecumenical unity through standardization of texts and melodies across denominations?
  • Which is more important – standardized form of the melody and text across denominations within a country, or standardization within the same denomination among Christians in other countries who speak the same language? (Example: should German-speaking Swiss Catholics have standardized commonality with Swiss Calvinists, or with Catholics in Germany and Austria?)
  • Should hymnal editors include good, unknown pieces (old or new) in hymnals? Or should they only include what is actually sung by the people?
  • Should hymnals include rapidly changing repertoire from the spiritual movements (Taizé, Neocatechumenate, Focolare, etc.), or is such material better printed in supplements, pamphlets, and handouts?
  • Through its hymn selection, can a hymnal help unite a Church with such diverse movements as “We Are Church” and “Legionnaires of Christ”?

Most of the discussion seems to be moving in the direction that printed hymnals are important and will remain in use, probably alongside other resources and media.

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On Wednesday morning, IAH vice president Alan Luff of England spoke on the role of the hymn editor. The Church of England has never had an official hymnal. Hymns Ancient and Modern issued a revised edition in 1904 – and it flopped. Congregations rebelled against changes to familiar repertoire, e.g. that the editors returned to the original wording for “Hark how all the welkin rings.” By 1906 the editors had reprinted the 1889 edition, to great success. Luff emphasized that there are limits to what editors can accomplish – despite their best plans, e.g. with cycles lectionary-based hymns, much depends on how well local congregations use the hymnal’s contents.

There was discussion about altering hymn texts, which of course has consistently taken place across history. Charles Wesley kept altering his own hymns throughout his life, as well as those of his brother John, which makes it more difficult to argue that Wesleys’ texts must appear unaltered today. Most alteration today is to eliminate language many find exclusive, or to make overly archaic language contemporary. Alteration works better with some hymns than others – sometimes the loss is too great poetically. In such cases, the editors must decide whether to use a text unaltered, or to eliminate it from the hymnal. There was a tendency a couple decades ago among some to eliminate all archaic language. Now there is increased tendency to compromise and accept inconsistency, and to accept archaic language in some cases within a text collection which has much alteration.

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Fr. Rastislav Adamko spoke of efforts to change the direction of hymnody in the planned official Catholic hymnal of the Slovak Republic. Project leader Juraj Lexmann has argued that there is a liturgical need for non-strophic open forms, refrains and antiphons, along the manner of the Graduale Simplex and the Graduale Romanum. This would be in addition to the existing large treasury of Slavic strophic hymns. In the absence of printed materials, such new-composed antiphons (I gather they are ‘commons’ usable within a season more than ‘propers’ for each day) have been used experimentally by teaching them to the congregation by heart before the liturgy. Younger clergy are a bit more open to this innovation, but there has been resistance at all levels of the church. The refrains sound too much like the Responsorial Psalm – do we really want the same genre for several parts of the liturgy every Sunday? Sufficiently trained cantors and choirs to sing the verses are not available in all circumstances. The people are quite attached to singing hymns at Mass. For all these reasons, work on the hymnal has come to a standstill, and no one knows if or when it will ever appear.

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Richard Mailänder of Cologne gave a progress report on the revision of the official Catholic hymnal for Germany and Austria, Gotteslob of 1975. The current hymnal has a core section of hymns common to both countries, plus unique appendices for Austria and Germany respectively, plus an appendix for each diocese. (There are many local traditions, and in a few cases only the hymn text is given, with a rubric explaining that the old hymn is sung to several different melodies within the diocese.) In the core section, hymns on the ecumenical list with the same text and melody as Protestants are marked with an ö (ökumenisch = “ecumenical”). The 1975 hymnal eliminated many beloved 19th-century hymns – they were considered too “sentimental” and “devotional” – and included almost no pop/contemporary material. The revised hymnal will see increases in both categories.

German-speaking Catholics have a highly organized structure for revising their official hymnal, all supervised by the bishops. Work began in 2001. There are ten working groups dealing with, e.g. hymns, psalmody, catechetical texts (including brief catechism), prayers, images and graphics, and so forth. The hymnody working group began by examining over 50 hymnals – the Canadian Catholic Book of Worship is on their list! – and began with a list of almost 3,000 hymns to consider. There was extensive trial use of new material in selected parishes, and feedback sessions with music directors in every diocese of Austria and Germany. As they narrowed down the core repertoire to about 300 hymns, each hymn was sent for feedback to the German Liturgical Institute (a study center funded by the bishops’ conference) in Trier, to the inter-denominational “Working Group for Ecumenical Hymn Repertoire,” and to the hymnological study center at the University of Mainz. About half the core repertoire of hymns is appearing for the first time. Of this, about a third (c. 50 songs) is pop/contemporary. It is expected that additional contemporary material will appear in diocesan appendices, and especially in local pamphlets, handouts, and via overhead projector.

Much revision and renewal has been needed for Lenten hymns. The large treasury of traditional hymnody is full of “Passiontide” hymns, but there is a lack of material related to the reformed lectionary with its Lenten themes of baptism and new life in Christ. (Note that the German-speaking Catholic bishops and musicians are working toward lectionary-based strophic hymnody.) The core section will contain many strophic loose paraphrases of the Mass Ordinary long known and beloved by the people, as the bishops have already indicated they will approve. (And we in the U.S. wonder whether it’s legal to use alternate Christological invocations for the first three words of the “Lamb of God”…)

As of now, the Austrian and German bishops still plan to retain “for you and for all” (“für euch und für alle”) as the translation of pro multis in the Eucharistic prayer. So far the bishops have been adamant in their rejection of Vatican demands that it be the more literal (but misleading) “for many” (“für viele”). We shall see.

It is hoped that the new German Catholic hymnal will be used outside the liturgy more than the current one – in homes and at church meetings and prayer gatherings of all sorts. It is planned to be a “prayer book and hymnal” with prayers for every occasion in family life. There will be increased emphasis on the basic teachings of the Catholic faith, and extended introductory explanations for all the rites and sacraments of the Church.

Each bishop in Austria and Germany has received the entire contents of the proposed hymnal and had opportunity to offer suggestions. It is expected that both bishops’ conferences will approve the hymnal this fall. Then it will be submitted to Rome for recognitio (approval) – it is hoped, without delay. The hymnal will appear Advent 2013 at the earliest.

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Thursday morning the speaker was Rev. Jørgen Kjærgaard of Denmark, who was to be elected new IAH president Friday afternoon. Kjærgaard was part of the team that revised the official Danish Lutheran hymnal in 2002. Because 80% of the population belongs to the state church, a revised hymnal affects not only the church, but also the Danish national cultural identity.

When Kjærgaard recently read a newspaper report on a Danish Lutheran church that installed a big screen, he googled (in Danish) “church” and “flat screen”… and discovered that the practice has become quite common. He wonders whether most or almost all Danish Lutheran churches will not have a projector screen within 5 or 10 years. And whether there will still be hard-bound hymnals. He hopes so, for the sake of preserving and fostering a core body of hymns supportive of the Church’s identity and tradition.

On the role of hymnody in Lutheran worship, I quote from Kjærgaard’s paper: “The hymnal is a tool for the proclamation of the Gospel in the mouths of the congregation… Through hymn-singing the whole congregation becomes active co-preachers of the Gospel – the hymn book is the congregation’s pulpit.”

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Also speaking Thursday morning was Franz Metz of Munich, a German born in Romania. Metz spoke of the long tradition of hymnody among German Catholics in Eastern Romania (the Banat). At one time the population here was about one-quarter German, but many were expelled to Russia by the Communists after World War Two, and most of the remaining Germans were able to relocate in Germany in the 1970s after negotiations with and financial support from the West German government. Metz has done the arduous and loving work of collecting hymn materials from the attics and choir lofts of 140 German Catholic churches in Romania, many of them abandoned overnight, now dilapidated and locked up. He is editor of the recent German Catholic Romanian hymnal Katholisches Gesangbuch der Donauschwaben (“Catholic Hymnal of the Danubian Swabians”) for use by Banat Catholics still in Romania or emigrated to Germany or elsewhere.

Little contact with the West was possible in the Communist era, which means that Banat German Catholic hymnody was mostly not influenced by the Biblical and liturgical renewal in West Germany after World War Two and especially after Vatican II. Banat hymnody remained largely devotional, above all Marian. Several strophic paraphrases of the Mass ordinary also remained popular. I was interested to learn that the first such strophic Ordinary in all Banat hymnals since the 18th century, and also in the recently-released hymnal, is the one by Michael Haydn – the one I recently adapted to English for the collection Lift Up Your Hearts from LitPress.

The traditional custom is to sing vernacular hymns slooowly, and to add harmony in thirds and sixths. Anything else, the people don’t think it’s “pretty.” Gregorian chant has never taken hold among the people in these parts, whether Hungarian or German or Slavic. What has been attempted to be introduced in the last hundred years – e.g. Mass VIII – soon fell into ¾ time, with “pretty” harmony (3rds and 6ths) add spontaneously, and the tempo made interminably slow. It makes one wonder about the zeal of some in the U.S. to force Gregorian chant onto Catholics attached to their (sometimes sentimental) contemporary music – and I say this as a supporter of Gregorian chant and a proponent of at least a small repertoire of Latin chant known by all Catholics.

Here is what Bishop Martin Roos of Timişoara wrote in his foreword to the new Catholic hymnal for the Banat: “For us who come from this region or still live here, this is a piece of our very selves. By means of this rich body of hymnody, we Danubian Swabians have grown into the world of faith, this is our religious home in which we find security and consolation, as did our ancestors. Such an inheritance is to be cultivated and passed on.”



  1. I would like to see each of the listed questions, or at least related groups of three of four, set up as PTB topics.

    “German-speaking Catholics have a highly organized structure for revising their official hymnal … ”

    Given my surname and heritage, I think I am entitled to say, “Why am I not surprised?”

  2. Minor nit, just to avoid confusion among the geographically inclined: The Banat is eastern Serbia and western Romania

  3. The argument of singing the propers vs singing hymns is new to me, but i would like to toss this into the mix; an account of the first post-Communion hymn:

    “Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

      1. Yes, and Jesus removed his chasuble and maniple before leaving, and put away the chalice that he had taken in his sacred hands, having purified it.

      2. Gerard – This misspelling of your name (unlike my previous one) was done on purpose. It was my response to your silly remark about maniples and chasubles and venerable hands.

  4. On points of information:

    (a) The history of Hymns Ancient and Modern is considerably more complex that Alan Luff appears to be saying from the reportage given here. The 1906 edition was not the latest, nor the best.

    (b) Gotteslob is not just a hymnal for Germany and Austria [and by the way, the diocese of Passau took a number of years to be persuaded to adopt it] but also for Luxembourg and the German-speaking areas of Belgium and, to a great extent, for German-speaking (Tedescophone) Switzerland.

    (c) The idea of having a “take-home” hymnbook is not new. The magnificent Evangelisches Gesangbuch did this a number of years ago. An earlier incarnation of the Psallite project started life as a similar hymnbook: “Live As We Pray”. Alas, it was judged that the time was not right for such an initiative. If it had seen the light of day, it would have been an updated and improved version of Magnificat/Give Us This Day but between two hardcovers and a permanent hymnbook (replacing the Collegeville Hymnal) rather than a softback periodical.

    1. While Gotteslob is a hymnbook for German-speaking communities, there is also a supplement, particular to each diocese, included.

  5. I’m glad to read about this development. Anything with a meter was met with stony silence in the Irish Catholic-style church I grew up in. I’ve always admired how German-speaking Catholics are great hymn-singers. Ditto my late Polish relatives, who loved to sing vernacular chorales at Mass.

    I think that some vernacular singing in the EF Low Mass would be a good bridge between the OF and the EF. This congregational participation could include the propers, paraphrases of the ordinary, (newer) hymns, or all three. Also, the use of the three-year lectionary in the EF (or at least Year A) would greatly facilitate music cooperation between the OF and EF. The work of the CMAA and Corpus Christi Watershed could provide common vernacular settings for a EF Low Mass and an OF with sung propers and an updated hymnal.

    Vernacular congregational settings of the propers and ordinary will meet with strong resistance among many in the EF movement (no amount of historical discussion of rich vernacular hymnody tradition in the Tridentine Mass will sway many, sadly). Then again, there are OF parishes which will hesitate at the use of more sung propers at Mass, for example. Still, there are very few points where the two forms can converge. Propers and hymns might be one point of convergence.

    1. Do you mean that anything with a metrw, based on syllable number was resisted? Or was it any type of metre?

      In the pre-Vatican II days in Ireland, there was a limited number of hymns, that tended to be sung with great pauses for breath after every line, so that the metre was lost. These included stalwarts such as Sweet Heart of Jesus, To Jesus’ Heart all Burning, Hail Queen of Heaven, I’ll sing a hymn to Mary etc.

      The Church of Ireland has a very successful hymn book. The most recent edition is in use for the past ten years and they are currently in the process of organising a supplement to keep it up to date. It’s a marvellous publication.

      We have nothing like it in the RCC. Nearly 40 years ago we had the Veritas Hymnal, a rather slim volume which wasn’t bad as far as it goes. The C of I is streets ahead.

      1. You’re quite right. The parishioners in my childhood parish would only sing the style of hymns you have mentioned, in that manner. The attempts under the reformed liturgy to introduce a sung responsorial psalm generally failed.

        I have a great appreciation for the Te Deum in general and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” in particular, but a very limited number of hymns meant that certain hymns, like the aforementioned paraphrase-translation, actually became part of certain liturgies. In this case, “Holy God” followed every Holy Hour. For a long time, I thought that all Benedictions had to end with this hymn. I now know that’s certainly not the case.

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