Four months ago, in the midst of various international crises, extraordinary US national tensions, vast economic and emotional turmoil, and, last but not least, a global pandemic, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine released a document on evaluating Catholic hymnody.
Perhaps they thought Catholics needed a good distraction. The document, as our contributor, Alan Hommerding, well-evaluated earlier this month, addresses issues that Catholics “should have had thirty or forty years ago” regarding the significance of the words we use when we sing.
Of course words matter. But words carried by music seem to have an even more mysterious hold upon our spiritual psyche. Trapped in a catchy tune, or emotionally tied to some specific event or worshipping community, even dull lyrics bring a prick of (joyful) tears or prompt our hearts to turn toward warm memories.
But, emotional feelings aside, I’m a bit curious about the hymn texts which were pointed out as bad examples. The document is more subtle than I will be, below, as it does not name names. The Committee on Doctrine reports having reviewed some 1000 hymns written, mostly, between 1980-2015. These are the ones named in the document as examples of deficient doctrine:
Deficient in Eucharistic Doctrine:
- God is Here! As We His People (Fred Pratt Green, 1979, Hope Publishing Co.)
- Now in This Banquet (Marty Haugen, 1986, GIA)
- All Are Welcome (Marty Haugen, 1994, GIA)
- Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees (Spiritual)
Deficient in Trinitarian Doctrine:
- The Play of the Godhead (Mary Louise Bringle, 2002, 2003, GIA)
- Some doxologies (Magnificat, text by Owen Alstott, tune by Bernadette Farrell, 1993, OCP)
- Led by the Spirit (Bob Hurd, 1996, OCP)
Deficient in Theological Anthropological Doctrine:
- God Beyond All Names (Bernadette Farrell, 1990, OCP)
- Canticle of the Sun (Marty Haugen, 1980, GIA)
Deficient in Ecclesiological Doctrine:
- Sing a New Church (Delores Duffner, OSB 1991, OCP)
- As a Fire is Meant for Burning (Ruth Duck, 1992, GIA)
Incorrect views of the Jewish People:
- The Lord of the Dance (text adaptation by Sydney B. Carter, 1963, administered by Hope Publishing Co.)
- O Crucified Messiah (Carmen Scialla, 2003, OCP)
I don’t name names to point out dedicated church musicians and composers as problematic. Rather, I share them because I was surprised at the number of women composers who were named as having doctrinally deficient texts (in a field where men still outnumber women), and by the heavy number of texts published by OCP and GIA. Also, apparently someone doesn’t like Marty Haugen. He’s not the only fine composer among our Protestant brothers and sisters whose hymnody appears in Catholic resources.
Why were these hymns pointed out? Were they the only problematic ones? Were there more? Did they only review English-language hymns? These are all straight hymns with stanzas—was praise music considered as part of the pool? Why can I find every hymn in either Breaking Bread or Gather Comprehensive, 3rd ed.? Did the bishops keep a “White List” of texts which they thought were appropriate?
I wonder, too, why the document does not recommend clearly the potential revision of language used in hymns deemed as problematic? And, if this is a document by bishops for other bishops, what are local church musicians to do in the meantime? What about our hymnals and printed resources? Should we just automatically add these hymns to our personal “do not play” list?
In any case, I have a lot of questions.
And, because perhaps you, too, need something more distracting to think about than world suffering or the peppery spit of ice-rain outside your own window, what do you have to say about our “deficient” Catholic hymnody?