Editor’s note: Part One, the author’s introduction to this series of reviews of three hymnals, is here.
Part Two, the author’s review of Adoremus Hymnal (AH), is here.
Part Three, the author’s review of the Saint Michael Hymnal (SMH), is here.
Part Three, the author’s review of the Vatican II Hymnal (V2H), is here.
I’m convinced that good Catholic liturgy, authentically conceived and celebrated, naturally generates an enthusiastic evangelism, a vigorous outreach to the poor, and the restoration of justice toward all people. I would go so far as to suggest that the validity of that liturgy is measured by the extent to which the congregation succeeds at evangelism, outreach and justice. I even venture to claim that most parishes that lean in the direction of the Extraordinary Form—or wherever a choir dominates the singing of the ordinary and proper, and where at least some of the people don’t understand the Latin and resort to their private devotions instead—are less likely to take outreach and justice as seriously as do Ordinary-Form congregations. It doesn’t have to be this way of course. Indeed, it would prove the triumph of the EF or the Latin OF if congregations using them were also hosting successful outreach efforts. But in practice these two features are usually at odds with each other. This would be a good dissertation topic.
I mention this here because neither V2H nor AH provides a listing of copyright permissions. You may wonder how this segues from the previous paragraph, but it is a perfect sequitur. These two hymnals are fully dedicated to the restoration of a particular concept of Catholic liturgical life, and in this they succeed to a great degree, but in the process they have apparently failed in the matter of ordinary justice toward those good people whose texts, tunes and harmonizations have been reproduced without adequate evidence that proper permissions have been obtained. In the case of V2H, the vast majority of items are in the public domain. But no permissions appear anywhere in the printed hymnal, despite the fact that a large percentage of the masses, gospel acclamations, responsorial psalms and some of the hymns are the work of modern composers. The introduction to the hymnal provides the URL for access to a place on the publisher’s website that purports to list such permissions, but it is not functional.
Congregations who hold allegiance to more traditional forms tend to isolate themselves from the larger purposes of the church, for reasons that are hard to identify. Perhaps they see themselves as the beleaguered remnant, under siege, holed up for security sake and determined to survive despite all the odds. Such a community has an inward orientation and has trouble seeing the relationship between worship in the church and work in the world.
Evangelism is a recessive gene in Catholic DNA. We don’t imagine ourselves walking the streets and knocking on doors. So when I asked if there is an evangelical aspect to the kind of worship envisioned by V2H, Jeffrey Ostrowski was unsure what I meant by the word “evangelical.” I expect the editors of the other two hymnals would have a similar response. The word has a variety of meanings, after all. But what I meant is that authentic worship must have an openness to the world and a receptivity to strangers, making liturgy the church’s first evangelist. By this I don’t mean that the unbaptized have a place at the altar, but rather that the liturgy is living proof of the kingdom, which is available to everyone through baptism, without distinction of persons, whether they understand Latin or not.
James Frazier is organist and choir master at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul. He was formerly music director in the office of worship of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.