Monday, August 28


Purchasing a Parish Hymnal: Part II

The ideal ... and the real

To begin the second part of our exploration of purchasing a hymnal, let's look at what an ideal hymnal might contain, and then the real books that are out there on the market.

The ideal hymnal, based on my previous criteria and the comments, would have:
1) Settings of the Ordinary of the Mass
2) Psalmody for the Church Year
3) Hymns and/or settings of the Propers of the Mass, the selection of such varying based upon the parish's needs

The major real hymnals out there on the market:

We'll start with the offerings of the "Big Three" : GIA Publications, Oregon Catholic Press, and World Library Publications

GIA (that stands for Gregorian Institute of America) publishes a wide variety of church music, from the excellent choral and organ compositions of Richard Proulx to the reformed-folk music of Marty Haugen, David Haas, and John L. Bell. Its major hymnals are:

Worship III: The Book that Proulx Built. This classic hymnal contains the entire Proulx/Gelineau Lectionary Psalms for the church year, several classic Mass settings (including the Proulx Community Mass, Festival Eucharist, and adapation of the Schubert German Mass, as well as the plainchant Ordinaries from Jubilate Deo). The hymn selection is vast and fairly comprehensive, with the occasional odd pick but a critical mass of good hymns, without too many egregious textual adaptations. The book has been around for about 20 years, and is probably due for an update sometime after the Missal revisions go into use.

Ritualsong: This is GIA's compromise hymnal, composed of 50% traditional and 50% contemporary music. The Mass settings are equal to those in Worship, with the addition of Proulx's useful Mass for the City as well as some of his plainchant adaptation Masses (Corpus Christi Mass, for example). The hymn selection, due to the 50/50 split, is much spottier, and the revisions are much more prevalent ("All Creatures of Our God and King" and "Faith of Our Fathers" being good acid tests for this phenomenon). Furthermore, the book lacks a complete set of Lectionary Psalms. It contains many but not all of the Proulx/Gelineau works from Worship, spliced in with some Guimont (we'll get to that) and Haugen/Haas settings.

Gather Comprehensive, Second Edition: The first thing to say about this book is, it's beautiful. The cover art is nice, the pages are made of much nicer paper than any other hymnal - GIA clearly put a lot of work into this. It also contains the full set of Michel Guimont's Lectionary Psalms, which are very useful but not as good, IMHO, as the Proulx/Gelineau. Ideally, in a parish that prints worship aids, the two would be complimentary, but there are much worse fates than being "stuck" with the Guimont. The hymn selection is somewhat similar to Ritualsong, but in this case tilted 70/30 towards contemporary. That said, there's enough traditional music to be of good use for many parishes. Mass settings are similar to the other books, with some new contemporary work by Steven Janco that's a step up from much of the rest of that genre.

Oregon Catholic Press, originally the Oregon Catholic Truth Society, is known for publishing the works of the St. Louis Jesuits, innovators of "reformed-folk" in the 70's (for those who scoff, I don't like them any more than you do, but consider that at the time, people were relieved that at least the music was Scriptural as opposed to 60's classics like "Kumbaya" and "The Sadness Song"). OCP publishes a wide variety of missaletes, yearly Missals, and hymnals, but we'll think about primarily about their top-of-the-line hymnal, Journeysongs II. This book certainly has advantages over many previous OCP offerings, but it can't avoid the main OCP disadvantages, primarily the fact that OCP does not license music from its competitors, such as GIA and WLP. While this may seem a relief to those who do not like Mass of Creation, it also means no Proulx or other good GIA composers. On the bright side, Owen Alstott's Lectionary Psalms are quite usable, and OCP's versions of old hymns tend to be substantially more intact than GIA's.

World Library Publications has quietly, compared to its competitors, published much of the mainstream, run-of-the-mill music used in parishes since the Second Vatican Council, primarily Vermulst's People's Mass and Kraehenbuehl's Danish Amen Mass. These have appeared in the Seasonal Missalette, probably the most used of its kind, and permanent hymnals like People's Mass Book. WLP continues to publish both traditional and contemporary music, including works by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel's own +William Ferris and Paul French, as well as Notre Dame folk choir director Steven C. Warner, whose works tend to be superior to others in the "reformed-folk" category. WLP also puts out Christoph Tietze's excellent book of Introit Hymns for the Church Year, fulfilling the desire of many to sing the actual text of the Introit for the opening hymn at Mass.

People's Mass Book is WLP's primary hymnal, and it is probably comparable in some ways to GIA's Catholic Community Hymnal as a solid book that does not provide as many options as some other books. It gives a solid selection of traditional hymns as well as some of WLP's trademarked offerings mentioned above.

We Celebrate is a well-bound softcover hymnal that comes in somewhere between a missalette and a permanent hymnal as far as durability goes. This is a really good bet for those who aren't ready to invest in a permanent book for whatever reason, especially translation-related. It contains a similar selection to PMB, has a solid psalter and is a good bet to have good, very recently composed music. It seems to get better with every edition, and again, it is a good bet for those trepidatious about investing in anything before the the new Missal comes out. The drawback to both WLP books, as with OCP: they don't buy repertoire, for better or worse, from GIA.

A distant fourth place (volume, not quality) in Catholic music publishing belongs to Collegeville (Liturgical Press). Run by the Benedictine Monks in Collegeville, Minnesota, it currently publishes two major hymnals:

The Collegeville Hymnal is a very good hymnal containing a wide selection of hymns yet markedly different from Worship, a good number of Psalm settings, and several Mass settings. The problem with this book tends to be that its selection is somewhat anachronistic, as many of the Mass settings are good but composed at Collegeville and thus largely unfamiliar in the larger music world. The Psalm settings are also somewhat problematic, as they go between different styles and do not provide a consistent set of Lectionary Psalms.

By Flowing Waters bills itself as an English translation of the Graduale Simplex, but to me it is plagued even worse by inconsistencies and by the bad decision of the editors to use the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible, not approved for liturgical use in the United States. This book can be a useful resource to choirs, but isn't going to work as a week in and week out hymnal.

Another good tidbit about Collegeville is that both they and GIA are part of, thus making it possible for GIA customers to photocopy and use Collegeville material, and vice-versa.

The rest of the hymnals on the market tend to come from independent sources, whether they be publishing houses that usually don't publish music or parishes who put together their own hymnal.

The Adoremus Hymnal is the current veteran of this genre (for those wondering, the classic but anachronistic Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles has been out of print for a while and is in limbo as to when the new edition will actually be ready), and it provides a decent choice for a small, fairly homogenous and traditional parish. The Latin-English facing Order of Mass in front is a great touch, and there is a good variety of Mass settings. The hymn selection is also good, albeit small. This hymnal's major deficiency is lack of any Psalms whatsoever. Its purchaser will have to look and license elsewhere for these. The book has also been criticized for using archaic versions of the hymns (such as "Immaculate Mary") that confuse people used to newer but still highly traditional versions.

The St. Michael Hymnal seems to have lapped Adoremus as the traditional hymnal of choice, and understandably so, since they have included the Order of Mass from Adoremus along with a bigger variety of Mass settings and a larger number and variety of hymns. Like Adoremus, its major weakness is lack of Psalm settings, which hopefully will be dealt with in future editions. It also groups the hymns alphabetically, which is annoying for music directors and others programming music since music about the particular season or topic of the week/day is not grouped together - on the other hand, this is convenient for those in the pews if they know the name of the hymn but missed the number (though I would argue providing a textual version of the number whether on placards or in a worship aid is essential in any case).

The Catholic Hymn Book (do not confuse this with the American Catholic Hymnbook, which is a debacle despite its recommendation from Thomas Day of Why Catholics Can't Sing fame) from Gracewing is a hymnal hailing from England, in Anglican-style format with the music on the top half of the page and the text on the bottom. It contains an excellent selection of hymns and chant Mass settings, though again Psalms are an issue. The cost of importing from across the pond may also be an issue.

I have not yet seen The St. Augustine Hymnal, but I welcome commentary from those who have.

In the next installment of this series, we will take a look at the decision, now that we've sorted out some of the factors involved.

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