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The Birth and Death of a National Hymnal

Online Edition – March 2007, Vol. XIII, No. 1

The Birth and Death of a National Hymnal


Part I

by Susan Benofy

In response to the directive in the Holy See’s Instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, that bishops’ conferences should “provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing” (LA) §108, the US bishops approved a “Directory for Music and Liturgy” at their November 2006 meeting.

Although LA §108 requires only texts to be included, the US Directory adds a provision calling for a “core repertoire” to be assembled within three years by the Subcommittee on Music of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy.

This core repertoire is clearly intended to include the music as well as texts. It will be, in a sense, a national hymnal, though it will not be published as a separate volume. Instead its contents will be included in all published hymnals and worship aids.

A similar project was attempted in the 1970s. A plan to assemble a National Hymnal was begun in 1972, before the translation of the Missal was completed, though this plan was abandoned.

Given the current plan to develop a “core repertoire” of liturgical music for the United States, a review of this failed project seems timely — especially since the problems that led to its demise were not resolved. In fact some of them arose in the bishops’ discussion of the “core repertoire” last November.

The history of the National Hymnal project is given briefly in two articles by Father William Bauman, then-Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, and Chairman of the Music Committee of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC).

“The Birth of a Hymnal”

The first article, “The Birth of a Hymnal”, was the text of an address that Father Bauman delivered to the FDLC at their national convention in October 1973. It was published in the Spring 1974 issue of the journal Musart, a publication of the National Catholic Music Educators Association (NCMEA).

Father Bauman explains that the national hymnal project began at the 1972 FDLC meeting with three resolutions concerning music. One requested that the Federation devise and implement a method by which music and ICEL copyrights could be shared easily. Another asked the Federation to implement a national hymnal. (Both resolutions were approved by a large majority.)

A third resolution, passed by a voice vote, listed the characteristics of such a hymnal. It should include 500 songs “of varied style of sound musical value with carefully edited texts” (p. 6), and psalms with musical settings and the antiphons for the responsorial psalms. The hymnal should be hardbound, with a detailed index, and include harmonizations or guitar chords, depending on the nature of the composition. There should be parish and diocesan supplements to meet local needs, and various ethnic and language groups should be consulted on regional supplements. It was anticipated that there would be a new edition of the hymnal every five years, to allow for revision and inclusion of new material.

Following the FDLC resolution, a plan for a copyright center was approved by the FDLC board in January 1973. The plan did not go into effect immediately, though. Father Bauman explains:

About this time, however, in several publications around the country, we began to get some static that liturgists, not musicians, wanted a hymnal (a distinction which I find very difficult to work with since I believe we are all both). Despite the Board’s approval to go ahead with the hymnal, the music committee of the Federation sought to build a better grass roots support by taking up a national survey on the topic. Further action of implementation was delayed while this survey was taken. (p. 7)

Bauman’s distinction here between liturgists and musicians may be that made by, for example, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini in The Reform of the Liturgy 1948–1975 (Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1990). “Musicians” invariably means advocates of chant, polyphony and other traditional styles of sacred music; whereas “liturgists” means advocates of more “progressive” ideas, even if they were themselves musicians and composers (such as Joseph Gelineau). Liturgists prefer functionalism in so-called “ritual music”.

FDLC survey on hymnal: “Much needed” vs. “a danger to progress”

The FDLC questionnaire was sent to chairmen and secretaries of diocesan music commissions to pass on to musicians. About 70% of the dioceses responded. The majority agreed that equitable sharing of copyrights was a major problem, and that a national hymnal was desirable. About half of the respondents considered the proposed hymnal “a much needed tool for participation”; however, about a quarter rated it “a danger to continued progress in music”.

The next question listed eleven possible features of the proposed hymnal and asked respondents to rate them “very important”, “somewhat important” or “not important”. The items most strongly rated as “very important” were well-edited texts and frequent revision. It was also generally thought very important to have a “compact and economical” hymnal.

Father Bauman interpreted the results of the survey as follows:

The survey would indicate a very strong and favorable climate for work on copyright sharing and a national hymnal at this time. It would indicate a consensus among liturgists and musicians. As to the type of book to be published, the response to question No. 4 is overwhelming in the demand for well-edited texts, and no precipitancy should lead us to compromise this value. The same is true of the flexibility by frequent revisions that would guarantee it to be the beginning of progress, not the end of progress. (p. 8)

Father Bauman then suggested a procedure for developing the hymnal. First the copyright center would be organized. Then a small board (perhaps five members) would be appointed to choose and edit hymns, selecting the best from among melody and text variations. The final edited versions would be intended for inclusion in a national hymnal. However, until a complete set of hymns had been collected, individual hymns thus processed would be made available to publishers for use in their own hymnals.

The process seems to envision primarily editing traditional hymns that have textual variants or translations of hymns from Latin or other languages that exist in different versions, but selections of popular music could be edited and prepared as well.

These would not be destined to go into a hymnal, for by their very nature as popular music, they finally pass out of popularity. They would, however, be able to be quickly used by those who make their own hymnals, quickly printed in periodical publications while they are still fresh and useful. (p. 8)

The copyright center, through this process, would eventually acquire several hundred edited texts and melodies from which they could select about 500 for the national hymnal. (Father Bauman estimated this would take three years.)

Producing new liturgical music was a primary concern, as is made clear at the conclusion of Father Bauman’s address, where he summarizes the “values” that would guide the hymnal project.

First, we want to stimulate the growth of new music, for we have only begun the new liturgy in the past ten years. Secondly, we want to provide flexibility so that no one form of participation aid can monopolize the market. Our parishes are very diverse and there is a need for the bound hymnal, for the monthly hymnal and for the program of worship. Thirdly, it would provide justice for the composer who under the present system frequently does not receive fair remuneration for his material — used widely in violation of copyrights. Fourthly, it would achieve justice for the publishers who own copyrights. To guarantee this before formalizing the process of the copyright center, we would call a meeting of publishers to hear the effect of this on their own plans, their own developments. Fifthly, the development of such a service book and hymnal for the American church would promote good liturgy and good prayer and this is the goal that brings all of us here today. (p. 8)

Some of these concerns about the proposed national hymnal are remarkably like those that were expressed at the November 2006 bishops’ meeting about the “core repertoire”. There was the same concern about meeting with the publishers as a first step because of concern about copyright. There was the same vagueness about content, especially about whether or not it will include current liturgical “hits”. There was still a concern about limiting progress in music. This did not take the form of requiring frequent revision of the “core repertoire”, however, but of repeated assurances that the core would not be the exclusive repertoire for Catholic liturgy. It is even expected that the new project, like the old, will be complete in three years.

“The National Hymnal is Dead”

Four years after his 1973 address on the National Hymnal Project, Father Bauman published another article on the same project. But by early 1977 neither Musart nor the NCMEA, which published it, remained in existence. This time his article was published in the journal of the recently formed National Association of Pastoral Musicians, Pastoral Music (February-March 1977). And this time the title was “The National Hymnal is Dead”. The purpose of the article was to:

communicate clearly the current status of the national hymnal project and to put to rest any unfounded expectations that one of these days a beautiful universal national attractive inexpensive all-inclusive hymn book will be put in our hands. No, the hymnal project is dead — and here is its story and my own impressions of the reasons why. (p. 20)

Father Bauman claims that there was strong “grass roots” support for a national hymnal at the 1972 FDLC meeting. (It is necessary to understand that the term “grass roots”, as used by the FDLC, means diocesan liturgical bureaucrats.) An attempt at that meeting to send the matter back to committee failed. Father Bauman says there was a wide consultation, but this consisted only of the survey he reported earlier and discussion at the 1973 FDLC national meeting.

Publishers saw that the project was a serious one and began to consider its implications for them. Work was begun on new editions of their own hymnals, and various proposals for copyright sharing were introduced. The work of 1973 was to focus a wide national attention on the hymnal and bring a wide response to the problem areas. (p. 21)

Hymnal falters from the first

The 1973 FDLC meeting endorsed the project of creating a national hymnal; and in 1974 two parts of the proposed hymnal were produced.

The first part, containing the people’s parts for Mass and the sacraments, gave liturgists and musicians an idea what the hymnal would look like and how it might be arranged.

The second part (Lent and Reconciliation) was one the committee believed would be the hardest to assemble:

[The] Rev. Patrick Collins, then of Peoria, was employed for several months under the grant to research and collect songs for Lent and Reconciliation. He then convened groups of liturgists and musicians on the east and west coasts and in the center of the country to study these materials. (p. 21)

(The Father Patrick Collins who assembled the Lent section of the proposed hymnal is apparently the same Patrick Collins who headed an FDLC committee that revised the 1968 document The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations. The result was the influential Music in Catholic Worship, published in 1972 — and now undergoing revision.)

The resulting collection of songs was printed by the FDLC to be distributed at the national meeting in Spokane and to diocesan worship offices. Father Collins addressed a music session at the meeting to explain his decisions and the problems encountered. The committee hoped that this session would then discuss further details of what was wanted in the hymnal.

In actual fact the discussion immediately went to the issue of whether or not to proceed with the hymnal; the vote of the assembly was a resounding “no”. The full assembly somewhat mitigated the response of the musicians, leaving the hymnal back in the study stage rather than the production stage. (p. 21)

By the end of 1975, however, it became clear that the project was dead.

In the absence of a national hymnal, it had seemed so good to so many. When samples and pages were there in front of us, when the third and fourth steps would mean a commitment of thousands of dollars and of the whole national music effort in one direction, the same people rejected the idea….

And so we come to celebrate a burial! This is 1976 and no further steps will be taken on a national hymnal…. Resurrection, while possible, is quite unlikely, at least at the hands of those who came so close to making the hymnal a reality. (p. 21)

Father Bauman lists some major causes for the rejection of the project:

Foremost is the fear that a national hymnal would fix liturgical music at a very immature stage. The mere existence of such an official book, no matter how “unofficial” in reality, would force many into its mold. It was feared that a substantial number of parishes would no longer seek the new, the creative, once the book was in the pew. A second reason was the discovery that we really don’t agree on what we want yet. (p. 21, emphasis added.)

He believes it possible that the issue could be raised again someday, perhaps in the eighties or nineties “when there has been time for the necessary growth and experimentation”. (p. 21)

To be continued… Part II

Also see: Jubilate Deo page