National Anthems in Church Hymnals?

When the new edition of the German hymnal Gotteslob came out in 2013, I was surprised that the appendix for Austria still contains the national anthem (as the 1975 edition had done too). Neither in Germany nor in Austria have I ever heard the national anthem in a service, and I can hardly imagine that this will ever happen. As far as I know, no German hymnal after World War II has contained the “Lied der Deutschen” (or “Deutschlandlied”) by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben with the music from the “Emperor’s Hymn” by Joseph Haydn which has served as national anthem since 1922 – with some important later clarifications about the lyrics.

Austrian "Gotteslob"
The Austrian national anthem (“Bundeshymne”) in the Gotteslob.

Some Bavarian appendices still contain the “Bayernlied” (“Hymn of Bavaria,” music by Konrad Max Kunz, there are different text versions in use today). Although I do not know exactly, I can imagine that this hymn (“God be with you, land of the Bavarians”) is actually used in liturgies: Bavaria has always kept its own customs and identity compared to the rest of Germany. The “Hymn of Bavaria” actually is the official anthem of the State of Bavaria. Other German dioceses do not have anything of that kind in their hymnals, and the anthems of the other German states – if they even exist – are much less known and used in public.

The Austrian anthem (“Bundeshymne”, federal anthem) is called “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” (“Land of mountains, land by the river”). It is sung with a melody by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, lyrics by Paula von Preradović. The text was elected as the winner of a public contest in 1946 and then revised a bit before it became official in 1947. In 2011 two text passages where changed to make them gender-neutral (but less easy to sing because of metrical issues): “Hei-mat bist du gro-sser Söh-ne” (“You are home of great sons”) became “Hei-mat gro-sser Töch-ter und Söh-ne”) (“Home of great daughters and sons”), and “Brüderchöre” (“fraternal choirs”) became “Jubelchöre” (“jubilating choirs”). The Gotteslob was printed some months after the change, so it contains the official current lyrics.

It might be the affect of someone whose nation has brought so much pain and horror over the world, but I have no sympathy for national symbolism in Christian services. I am thankful that there are no propers in the Missal for any German or Austrian national holiday. With much discomfort I can accept the “Hymn of Bavaria” as a sort of regional pious custom: At least it refers to God by name and can be regarded as a prayer for the nation. But the Austrian anthem is not even that: Apart from its solemn and declamatory language, there is nothing religious (even less Christian) about it.

This is not bad at all: How could I expect other citizens to join in an anthem that refers to the Christian God or any other God? Singing about the beauty of the land, its history and cultural abundance makes sense as a national anthem. But why must it be included in a hymnal used in Catholic services? I am a part of the country where I live, and I do that loyally as a Christian, but in a liturgical context, I do not see a legitimate place for texts that are directly addressed to the country.

9 comments

  1. Nice article. Being in Orlando Florida, with lots of retired military and their families, it is hard not to sing a patriotic, if not the National Anthem around Memorial Day or Independance Day. When I was up north, it was not a problem and I never did it, but here in the south, things are a little different and I had to adjust. Right or wrong, its the way it is here.

  2. I probably should add to my article that the third stanza of the Austrian anthem describes the Austrian people as “pious”, so there is a little hint to religion, which in this case can only mean (Catholic) Christianity. But nevertheless the anthem is not addressed to any God and even this one word remains somehow undefined.

  3. Liturgies are not the sole activities that take place in churches. I specifically remember receiving a Boy Scout award, the Ad Altare Dei, in a church setting and it was a combined civic and religious ceremony. And yes, we sang a variety of patriotic and Church music in keeping with the event. I’m sure we had some sort of printed program, but the words to the US National Anthem and other patriotic songs/hymns were in the hymnal. I don’t remember any problem with it.
    There has plainly been historical challenge in Austria and Germany that might mitigate against such inclusion. Understandable. And I don’t know if similar concerns had to be addressed with the demise of the Soviet Union. It would be embarrassing today to open a hymnal and find verbiage no longer acceptable!
    But there are hundreds of hymns/songs in our church hymnals now, most of which have never been, and likely never will be, sung. They are merely there should an event call for them.

  4. Most church hymnals do include some of the world’s national anthems. Yet, the word “Amen” was never used as the final word of any national anthem, not even “God Save the Queen” or “O Canada” or even “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

  5. Hi
    Here in UK our national anthem is explicitly a prayer. More specifically a prayer by the nation for the sovereign. In one sense it is a sung prayer for the sovereign. Like so much in British national life it grew organically and so I don’t think that there is an ‘official’ version. Where a second verse is sung it is ‘Thy choicest gifts in store, on her be pleased to pour….’. Another verse looks to the wider world.

    Not in this land alone
    But be God’s mercies known
    From shore to shore
    Lord make the nations see
    That men should brothers be
    And form one family
    The wide world over

    In my own parish the first verse and the verse above is sung on Remembrance Sunday each year. Our commemoration of the centenary of the death of the fallen of World War One immediately before the main Sunday Eucharist has included the first verse and the verse above.

    Here concern focuses on ”Jerusalem’ (And did those feet..) and ‘I vow to thee my country’. Jerusalem was not written as a Christian hymn and its first verse implies assent to the myth of Jesus visiting Britain! Concern about the second concerns ‘the love that asks no question’ being pledged to the fallible institution of the nation state which some regard as a blasphemy. The tunes used to these hymns means that they continue to have a measure of popularity, though proscribed in a number of churches and cathedrals.

    1. I would expect a number of “old fashioned” looks if we sang the National Anthem in our UK parish.
      The only time it might possibly be got away with would be around the time of a coronation.

  6. Not sure what I think about national anthems in hymnals, but I do think Gotteslob is an excellent and very widely used hymnal (and catechetical guide and devotional manual, all in one book) in German-speaking Roman Catholic parishes, and something like it in English would be a fresh and welcome resource in USA parishes beholden to one music marketer or another.

  7. I think that this is always a struggle between the liturgical and the pastoral. You can sense this struggle in the Australian National Liturgical Music Board’s repertoire in Catholic Worship Book II (Morning Star). I think they have done a superb job – our National Anthem appears as the very last song. Before it appears a new hymn, ‘A Blessing Hymn for Australia’. How practical and responsive to where people are!

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