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American Catholic Hymnbook Reviews

American Catholic Hymbook

Something New
A review by Father Mark Boyer. Reprinted from The Mirror.

There are a lot of things that cross my desk in a day's time--news releases, brochures, junk mail, magazines, newspapers, and books. One book which caught my attention recently was the American Catholic Hymnbook.

While there are many hymnals on the market--all of which are good--the sample copy from ACP is best described as a collection. Its over 500 pieces represent composers from Johann Sebastian Bach to Iris Zahara. The collection represents what is old and new and what falls in between in hymnody.

The book contains songs from various ethnic traditions for the entire liturgical year. There are acclamations for Masses with Children, and music for use with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, Funerals, Morning and Evening Prayer, RCIA, Penance Services, and more.

Inclusive language is used throughout the book along with interspersed explanations, such as "Why God Is Called 'Father'" and notes and outlines of various services. The hymnal is fully indexed according to psalmody, the titles of songs, the first lines of songs, and themes, such as Advent, Christmas, Communion, etc. An index unique to this book is the hymn of the day, a song which is recommended for its theme which parallels that of the Scriptures for all three Sunday cycles of readings and for all solemnities.

The standard Leaflet Missal, which is printed in Iarge type, comes in giant print letters. It is ideal for use by the homebound, who may watch Mass on TV or listen to it on the radio.

ACP publishes a quarterly magazine, Parish Liturgy, a companion for the Leaflet Missal and the American Catholic Hymnbook. It contains a few feature articles on the liturgy and planning ideas and notes for Sundays, especially providing acclamations for the third form of the Penitential Rite, a list of General Intercessions, and a summary of the readings.

Parishes with choirs might have an interest in the American Catholic Choral Series, a variety of musical selections set in four-part harmony. Each pamphlet contains performance notes and some information about the composers.

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American Catholic Hymnbook
A review by Thomas Day, Professor of Music, Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island. Reprinted from The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song, Volume 46, no. 1.

Another "book of song" for Roman Catholics in the United States? The field is already very crowded with competitors. Into this competitive and risky market American Catholic Press, a non-profit company, has bravely entered with American Catholic Hymnbook (ACH).

The competitors already in the market have staked out their territory and are prepared to challenge ACH or any other contender who enters this crowded space. What qualities will distinguish ACH from its competitors? The editors of this publication would probably say that their hymnal can be combined with the Leaflet Missal (published by the same company) to give a congregation the benefits of both a "permanent" and "flexible" repertory of song, but perhaps the most outstanding feature of ACH is the quality of the texts that a congregation will sing. According to the editors, ACH contains texts that reflect "a new tradition, now taking shape." Those who sing from ACH are "already part of the Church of tomorrow."

To prepare congregations for this "Church of tomorrow" the editors of ACH have rejected yesterday's texts and language which in their opinion, distort correct Catholic theology or hinder "good prayer"--and their standards are stringent. In this broad category of improper language for prayer--outdated language that sounds inauthentic and false in "our North American culture"--the editors would include words such as "anthem," "divine," "undefiled," and "heav'n" (instead of "heaven"). Accents placed on the wrong syllable ("comforTER," "TriniTY"), trite rhymes ("love...above"), adjectives after the noun they modify ("victim blest") and expressions that seem more British than American ("O gladsome light") are all banished from ACH as "an impediment to worship, to prayer in spirit and in truth." The editors stress that the "Language of our hymns must be the language of today; it must be effective prayer for the present generation"--and for both sexes. (ACH, as far as is theologically possible, keeps its language inclusive.)

It is instructive to go through the pages of ACH and see what has been done. For example, the word "wretch" is removed from "Amazing Grace." "Yahweh" is not used in any song, and the convincing theological reasons for this are outlined in a paragraph inserted after hymn No. 229. "Come, ye faithful, raise the strain" is changed to "Come, you faithful, join the song," and the awkward phrase about the Israelites being led through the Red Sea "with unmoistened foot" is modernized to read, "Walking with a happy heart/ Through the raging waters."

Some feminists will be annoyed to see that God is still addressed as Father and that the "reimagining of God" only goes so far in ACH. They might, however, be pleased by the song "God, like a Mother."

Gregorian chant is not neglected in ACH. There are even some useful Gregorian tunes that have been sensitively adapted and simplified for congregational use. For example, the beautiful Kyrie from the so-called Mass of the Angels in No. 404 and No. 405 is the same melody but with a trope (added English words). Even the Dies Irae--a composition that was pronounced dead as liturgical music for modern Catholicism-is included among the possible songs for the funeral Mass. An introductory note indicates that the new English text provided for this chant, unlike the original Dies Irae, "sings of confidence, faith, and trust."

ACH contains an assortment of tunes from sources that many American Catholics describe (insensitively?) as "ethnic." The Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Italian, and Portuguese tunes in ACH have a "peasant" simplicity and charm that is endearing (although a couple of them just sound flimsy). Long before Vatican II, many Catholics on the European Continent were singing memorized songs like these in the vernacular, during the Low Mass. It is good to see this type of music included here.

The editors of ACH make some statements that will cause irritation among a few Catholics: "In general, we have avoided folk and contemporary songs with irregular verses....For several reasons, it is suggested that older tunes in regular meter should predominate in the liturgy. Contemporary songs should be chosen that are of good quality, that can be sung readily, that can endure for the next generation."

This will be unwelcome news for the large number of Catholic chapels and parishes that confine their musical repertory almost exclusively to "folk and contemporary songs with irregular verses" (undoubtedly a reference to many compositions written by the St. Louis Jesuits, the Weston Monks. Michael Joncas, and their imitators). But the editors of ACH know that they cannot win this battle, and so they include in the hymnal some "folk and contemporary songs" that have the most irregular, indeed twisted verses ever set to music: "On Eagle's Wings," "Be Not Afraid," "Come Back to Me," and the like.

ACH is like a large sailboat that has been fitted out with the finest, most modern navigational equipment. The boat's destination has been chosen and its course confidently charted - straight into prevailing winds. Maybe twenty-five years of advertising propaganda (a howling wind) have convinced many American Catholics that music which sounds like "On Eagle's Wings" should predominate in a liturgy and not (as the editors of ACH recommended) four-square hymnody. Maybe the big missalette companies have already cornered the "market."

The range of the music in ACH demonstrated an important fact: Roman Catholicism in the United States is not a denomination but, rather, a coalition of different "denominations'--groupings of people from different ethnic backgrounds, races, social and economic levels, and even religious persuasions. This diversity explains why the editors of ACH thought it was necessary to include contemporary kitsch, such as "Let There Be Peace on Earth," but also "Upscale" items, such as a hymn tune based on the so-called "Masterpiece Theatre theme" (by Jean Joseph Mouret) and another based on a minuet from Handel's Royal Fireworks. There are Latin Gregorian chants (for the poor and the Church's many ethnic groups who love it) but also eight stanzas of "0, When the Saints Go Marching In" (which will be used mostly by prosperous or comfortable white suburbanites who like to display their liturgical hipness).

In some kind of visual rating system, ACH would get the following, three stars for ideal and ambitions; four teardrops for the musical arrangements; thumbs up for the practical use of Gregorian chant and for the editorial comments added here and there in the hymnal.

Note: (1) The American Catholic Hymnbook is the current edition of a book first published in 1965: The Johannine Hymnal. Although the hymnbook provides many of the songs that are most popular today, it represents a distinct musical tradition in use for a generation.

(2) The idiom in the hymnbook is not precisely that of tomorrow. It is that of the offical books of the Roman Rite: the Sacramentary and the Lectionary. For example, these books avoid using "anthem," "heav'n," "thee," "thou," and "Yahweh. "

(3) The original version of "Amazing Grace" used "worm," not "wretch." Most missalettes have altered "wretch" or at least allowed for other choices.

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American Catholic Hymnbook
A review by Seamus McCormack [From Sligo, Ireland]

I teach both hymns and traditional Irish music. I am also involved with the choir at our local parish church. The American Catholic Hymnbook is an excellent publication, especially in the way the indexes group the hymns. This simplifies the sourcing of topics. The musical arrangements are excellent.

I have found particularly appealing the Responsorial Song, "0 Christ, You Are King," based on Och ochon! and "You Favored, 0 Father," based on Ar Eireann Ni Neocainn Ce Hi.

This book is among the best I have encountered. It's invaluable!

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Liturgy Planner says the American Catholic Hymnbook is "A delight to the eye, a joy to the heart, a blessing for the spirit"
A review by Robert Prestiano, Ph.D., Department of Art and Music, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas. Reprinted with permission from the Liturgy Planner, Liturgy House Publications, Portland, Oregon.

It is not often that one finds a Catholic hymnal that is versatile enough to appeal to almost every need of a contemporary parish. Such a hymnal is the American Catholic Hymnbook. This hymnal is distinguished by its fine binding, clear printing, and expressive illustrations.

One striking feature of this hymnal is its ease and convenience of use. For example, the ample indexes include a "hymn of the day" listing and a table of liturgical themes. With these indexes, the cantor or choir director can easily choose songs that correspond to the Sunday lectionary readings. Another example of ease in use is the alphabetical ordering of most songs by title. This arrangement makes songs easy to find, and perhaps the songs included in separate sections (for initiation and reconciliation) might better be put with the others, in alphabetical order.

A wide variety of ethnic tunes

Unlike other hymnals with an overwhelmingly Northern European bias, the American Catholic Hymnbook includes a wide variety of ethnic tunes, especially from Slavic and Hispanic cultures; there are even tunes from China, Korea, and the Philippines. Regardless of the ethnic background of any song, the material is of such quality and general appeal that it should be welcomed in almost any congregation. This is truly a universal hymnal.

The editors also present music for children's Masses by Theophane Hytrek, acclamations for Sunday -Eucharist, music (in both English and Spanish) for the posadas, and a complete service of reconciliation. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are especially clear and "cathedral" in character, that is, well designed for parish worship. Much music, for example, for funerals, is presented in sequence, part by part. Such a format certainly fosters participation for everyone.

New hymns by Dan Schutte

The range of the songs is reasonable for most congregations (usually C to C). None of the engravings represents a pitch that would appear to a congregation to be too high or too low. Moreover, the American Catholic Hymnbook includes many strikingly beautiful, newly commissioned tunes by such composers as Noel Goemanne and Robert Kreutz. There are even four new hymns by Dan Schutte, formerly of the St. Louis Jesuits. This reviewer is not partial to such songs as All That I Am. Overall, however, the melodies and arrangements are ideal for congregational singing.

Aesthetically, the hymnal is a success. The large type, uncluttered format, fine quality paper, and ample margins make this hymnal a practical tool. The design throughout is marked by consistent good taste. The arrangement of text and pictorial imagery is particularly complementary. In many cases, the simple line art is the work of Virginia Broderick. It is effective in her use of clean, clear, bold images that symbolically represent the main point of the text that they accompany.

Hymn texts in the spirit of the liturgy

Most important of all, the hymns reflect the contemporary liturgical renewal. As explained in the introduction to the hymnal, the editors' emphasis is on prayer through Christ and on the Church as the unity of the Holy Spirit. Such hymns as Father, Make Us One (#168) or Father, See Your Church (#621) are appropriate for use within the RCIA, for a full, mystagogical catechesis. By and large, these texts are written in clear, modern English, avoiding archaisms and exclusive language. All in all, the American Catholic Hymnbook is a delight for the eye, a joy to the heart, and a blessing for the spirit.

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Read what the National Association of Pastoral Musicians' newsletter had to say about the American Catholic Hymnbook:
A review by Barbara Ryan. Reprinted with permission from the Newsletter of the Director of Music Ministries of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.

The American Catholic Hymnbook, edited by the Reverend Michael Gilligan, is a successor to The Johannine Hymnal and an attractive contribution to the parish music scene. Representing composers from Bach to Zahara, and offering selections from chant to the very contemporary, it contains more than 600 individual musical items, most of which would be useful in the average parish. If you are looking for the text for Silent Night in Polish or Italian, it's here. There are quite a few Spanish texts, more Latin texts, and a smattering of French and German for the occasions when they are needed.

The hymnal is arranged alphabetically by title/first line and is well indexed. I do wish that they had included a metrical index, but everything else is there--hymn of the day, psalms--thematic combined with the liturgical year, songs for children.

Almost all the selections contain chords for guitarists, except for a few chant Mass settings. Included are the most popular "contemporary" items from other publishers: St. Louis Jesuits, Taizé, Landry, Colgan, Gélíneau, Joncas, Haugen, Haas, Wise, and Blunt. Walker and Miffleton are here as well. Most of the music is in good keys for congregational singing, probably due to the inclusion of guitar notation.

Excellent texts with familiar tunes

The attractive art work is by Virginia Broderick; the foreword is by Archbishop Weakland. The supplementary materials on the Liturgy of the Hours, Christian initiation of children and adults, funerals, communal penance, and eucharistic exposition should prove helpful, since they are arranged in the order of worship. If you're involved in Renew or Christ Renews His Parish, you'll find some suitable programming suggestions. The editor has set some of his own texts to traditional tunes; and there are some excellent texts with familiar tunes for saint's days, holy days, and national holidays.

If you are considering moving a step up from missalettes and the printed-on-newsprint annual hymnals, this is an alternative worth looking at.

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American Catholic Hymnbook
A review by D. DeWitt Wasson. Reprinted from The American Organist.

There is wide diversity among the hymn tunes. Among contemporary tunes are [those] by the St. Louis Jesuits, Taizé, Landry, Colgan, Gelineau, Joncas, Haugen, Haas, Wise, and others. There are ten Irish, eleven Polish, five Asian, and thirteen Eastern European hymn tunes. There are at least eight songs that speak of the sanctity of human life and at least 28 hymns on the dignity women deserve. This successor to The Johannine Hymnal should find a ready acceptance in Catholic parishes.

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