Can we bring back the “Gather” hymnals (more familiar hymns)?
In an effort to give this question/request the attention and substantive answer it deserves, I need to first say a few things about my own entering into the present situation. First of all, I am very aware that St. Benedict’s Parish has undergone a significant amount of change in the area of liturgical music over the last 10-15 years, both in its repertoire and in the manner by which the music ministries are offered. While I have this awareness of some elements of the “overall” history, I remain very unaware of many particular decisions that were made, such as the choice for implementing the currently used Adoremus Hymnal. Mindful that these matters of history and any decision making over these years are obviously unchangeable, it is best that I answer the given question strictly from the present situation: that we currently rely upon the Adoremus Hymnal for most of our liturgical music, and that there are some who prefer the formerly used Gather Comprehensive hymnal.
For those who ask this question with hope that it would lead to an immediate changing out of our current books in church for the Gather books, it is important that we consider the fact that such a replacing of the one book with the other is not a simple process for one key reason: that significant portions of the Gather books that were previously used here are now obsolete. In particular, all of the Mass parts are no longer usable, as these books do not account for the new translation of the Roman Missal which was implemented in Advent 2011. While a newer edition of Gather that contains updated Mass settings most certainly exists, any endeavor to purchase new Gather books would not be a sensible undertaking without consideration of the broader scope of all the possible options for hymnals from a variety of publishers, insuring that we would choose one that is both fit for the liturgy and effective in accomplishing the fundamental goals of liturgical music. Thus, we will remain in our current use of the Adoremus Hymnal for the foreseeable future.
Given the questioner’s reference to bringing back Gather as a way to return to more familiar hymns, might we consider the music repertoire itself. Having used a version of Gather in a previous parish assignment, I am aware that the various Gather hymnals have many selections that might be termed “contemporary” hymns –
sometimes called “folk hymns.” Very few (if any) of these titles are found in both Gather and in the Adoremus Hymnal – and therefore familiarity is a real concern. Yet, one of the merits of the Adoremus Hymnal is that many of the hymns have endured because of their sound theology and their “singability,” if you would, by a greater portion of the people. When it comes to theology, a fundamental point that we do well to consider is that “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, “the way we pray” (including the words that we sing) are foundational to “how” we articulate our faith. Unfortunately, many contemporary hymns either disregard this principle or flat out ignore it – as there are many hymns that contain heresy (treating Jesus as a mere man; treating the Eucharist as only a symbol; treating ourselves as authors of life; etc.). Many of these folk hymns also focus primarily on “us” (the assembled people) in reference to how “we perceive godly things,” rather than being truly focused on praise and worship of God in Heaven. (Note that I am not accusing anyone of deliberate heresy; I simply am acknowledging that heretical wording is one of the main issues that creeps into music, especially when official texts are paraphrased for the sake of fitting them to a strict melody.) On the other hand, many hymns with sound theology (even if the musical melody is judged by some as “uninspiring” or “boring”) have stood the test of time – or if they are newer compositions, will be more likely to stand. Finally, as for the question of what is “singable,” many contemporary hymns are difficult to sing because they have a wider range of pitch and they often require instrumental accompaniments as these pieces contain instrumental interludes, etc. Hymns that are more “traditional” usually can be sung by more people as the range of notes is more contained, and these can be done a cappella, that is, with voices only and no instrumental accompaniment if necessary or when fitting.
As a conclusion, I want to invite everyone (even those who like our current liturgical music repertoire) to cue up my recent “Theology and Pizza” session on “Liturgical Music” on the parish website to learn about further considerations on liturgical music and hymnody – and why the Church has a “preferred” genre of music.
Fr. Joel Hastings