Speaking of hymns and hymnals

Christopher Mahon had a lovely piece up about hymnals recently that has inspired me to share some observations.

I come from a parish that can rock the house singing Onward Christian Soldiers a cappella in four-part harmony.   It’s something we’re known to do.  But even in the old blue hymnals we acquired probably from some Anglican church’s dustbin there is lots of writing in pencil by some busy-body would-be feminist crossing out “masculine” language about the Deity and so on.   I feel perfectly comfortable identifying with the Christian soldiers marching as to war, since I know we are in a war, a spiritual battle.

I cannot tell you how much I detest so-called “inclusive” language or “dynamic equivalent” translations—because they are so often done by people with a tin-ear for poetry and a soul attuned more to the zeitgeist than the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, around Christmas, I went to a nearby basilica and I think it may have been a Christmas concert with a children’s choir performing.  Anyway, I picked up the hymnal and first of all, it only had one line of music, and secondly, instead of Good Christian Men Rejoice, it read, “Good Christians all rejoice!”

I was incensed. I nearly threw the hymnal across the nave.  Whatever hymnals we end up using in the Ordinariates, may they be old fashioned, full of masculine language that is full of theological import.  May our priests continue to choose hymns for Sundays that go with the readings and the liturgical season.

Which brings me to a post by Father Z about all the CDs being produced by monks and nuns using Gregorian chant that are bestsellers.  He writes:

Generations have been robbed robbed ROBBED! Cheated of their patrimony! The libs who controlled the interpretation of the Council on liturgy and music stole from us our treasury of sacred music and, in doing so, opened our liturgical worship up to tinkeritis and ditties so bad that not even a radical cephalectomy could remove the bad taste. When they destroyed Latin worship, the doors of our treasury were slammed shut and, into the vacuum, rushed slapped together dreck inspired by commercial jingles and sitcom tunes.

But I digress.

I would like for one of these groups systematically to record the chants for ordinaries and propers for feasts.

When we get enough critical mass in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society and perhaps get some people on board who are good at fundraising, we would perhaps like to commission a recording of the chants for our Sundays, feasts and solemnities.  We hope to start doing it on a small scale with hopes of making a fully professional version down the road.


2 thoughts on “Speaking of hymns and hymnals

  1. I agree completely that one should not tamper with language that refers to God — and this is especially true of the use of masculine pronouns — whether it be in translating scripture, in hymns, or in catechetical materials.

    There’s also a reality that tampering with the words of hymns that I know and love often is very annoying: I sing what I know, only to hear those around me singing something different.

    On the other hand, modern society simply does not understand masculine terms such as “man” or “men” to be inclusive, as was the case a century ago. Thus, revision of language referring humans, male and female, to reflect modern usage is often beneficial in the mission of evangelism and may facilitate the whole-hearted participation especially of newer members of our congregations.

    Of course, such revision absolutely needs to be done very carefully, especially when the text contains a double entendre. Here, the beginning of Psalm 1 illustrates the problem quite effectively. Historically, it was translated as “Happy indeed is the man who follows not the council of the wicked…” — with “man” referring both generically to any human being who lives a life of faith and specifically to the Messiah. Rendering this text in the plural loses the messianic sense, and thus fails to convey the whole meaning of the original text. However, translating this text as “Happy indeed is the one who follows not the council of the wicked…” makes it “inclusive” while preserving both senses of the double entendre in the original text.

    Of course, rendering poetic texts, such as words of our favorite hymns, in “inclusive language” has the additional complication that one needs to preserve the meter and the rhyme scheme of the original work.

    I know that this will come as a shock to some, but our forebearers in faith did not have a monopoly on inspired expression of our faith. In recent years, liturgical composers like David Haas, Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen, the Dameans, Fr. Francis Patrick O’Brien, and others have created many new pieces with profound lyrics full of rich theological expression. I’m not a fan of bringing trite compositions into the liturgy, but we need to be open to what’s substantial.



    • “Happy”? Talk about disgusting translation. Are you using a modern liberal bible translation. Baruch (Hebrew) does not mean “happy” first and foremost. I would never own any bible with that translation.


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