January 15, 2021

Liturgical Gangstas 14: The Hymnal

gangsterWelcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Joe Boysel is an Anglican (AMiA) priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
And we have a new gangsta! Eric Landry is the editor of Modern Reformation Magazine. In addition, he is a PCA church planter in southern California. (Now all the Presbyterians can stop writing me.)

Here’s this week’s question: How does the Hymnal function in your tradition? How does it affect your version of Christianity?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: The idea of a hymnal has never been part of Orthodox tradition. But, musical composition has been a very strong part of Orthodox worship. We have centuries of musical composition with notables such as PyotrIlyich Tchaikovsky among them.It is important to remember that for many centuries Orthodoxy did not have the capability of printing hymnals or any such equivalent. In the Muslim countries the printing of items such as Bibles, hymnbooks, and educational material has been highly restricted, regardless of what one might read in Muslim apologetic literature. In Russia, literacy was not a high priority. As a result, people tended to learn by rote memory the hymns that were sung in their particular part of Orthodox musical tradition.

Today, because of immigration into the USA and because of the ability of the Internet to disseminate information, there is a much wider availability of various musical forms than there has been in the past for Orthodoxy. So, Orthodoxy is just catching up to a musical variety that has been available to Western Christianity for many centuries. There are now new composers composing Western-style music in the USA, and other countries. Even so, individual churches do not tend to publish hymnals as there is not that much variety present in Orthodox worship. The words remain the same though the melody changes.

As well, Orthodox worship tended to develop a rotating series of eight “tones” that rotate through the Liturgy. Thus, all Orthodox worship has to obey a series of rules that govern our chanting through a procession of eight “tones” that place parameters on the composition of our music.

Thus, we place limits on our music, parameters within which our composition must function. At the same time, this still allows a lot of room for composition. Because of our various ethnic backgrounds, that room for composition has some ethnic limits, but it is diminishing more and more. Perhaps we will develop full hymnals some day. But, for now, we still function with memory and a limited repertoire.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: I’m sure we’ll hear from Matthew shortly, as soon as he finishes tuning his guitar.

Methodists have a hymnal that is about 1/10 the size of the hymns written by Charles Wesley alone.

Joe Boysel/Anglican: Anglicans have a hymnal, too. I own one. But now that the Anglican communion is split, we may need to appoint a committee to divide the hymnal.

Many Anglican hymns involve alcohol or are best sung after being involved with alcohol. It makes it hard to know what “this song needs a fifth” actually means. The hymnal committee in the Anglican Church has been known to exhibit very strange behavior after midnight.

We’ll hear from Joe and Matthew shortly.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic: “The hymnal” huh – my answer will undoubtedly be the shortest of this Gangsta go-round. I speak from within the Catholic tradition, in the United States, as a 42 year old man. I am not a liturgist, or a music minister. As I have observed things from within, it doesn’t seem the Priest has much to do, most generally speaking, with what music is chosen for the Mass. That’s somebody else’s job. So, me not being a Priest isn’t likely to effect my answer here. I’ll do what I can…

So – first, which hymnal? There is a general group of songs in the back of the Missal which are a combination of old, traditional Catholic hymns/songs and newer hymns/songs, categorized by subject usually. There are hymns proper for use during the Eucharistic liturgy. There are Marian hymns for her feast days. There are lots and lots of general hymns about general Christian Truths and God’s Grace (believe it or not), etc., etc. But here’s the thing, we don’t sing them. Wait now – I’m talkin’ U.S. here and of course there will be different experiences, but there is not a lot of robust hymn singing in Masses that I’ve ever seen. You’re lucky if you look around and notice 50% of a congregation singing anything.

Singing, then, I gather, is not a huge deal in the Catholic arena. As you may know, there is a Mass every day in most parishes, sometimes (as in ours) twice a day. Very commonly at these daily Masses there is no singing at all – no hymns that is. And for most who go to Mass during the week, this is fine. We’re not going there to sing. We’re going for “the Mass” – the Word and the Eucharist. It seems the same general idea is there during the Sunday Mass, and therefore, singing hymns is not really treated as central at all.

This is very interesting when you think about how bent out of shape some people get about certain hymn writers and types of music in the Catholic world. It can get ugly. I don’t pay tons of attention to it – some, but not tons. I like traditional hymns with deep theology in them. But I don’t need to be taught theology through a hymn. I also like good, basic “worship music” – that’ll go over around here like a lead balloon, but hey, what’s new? 🙂 In the Mass we attend, there is likely to be more music with a Vineyard or Maranatha, or even Chris Thomlin trademark than anything else – and I like it. It’s a good mix. It helps me in my participation.

So – all in all – “the hymnal” isn’t as big a deal in Catholic circles as it is in Protestant – doesn’t seem like to me at all. It’s there and it can be helpful or it can possibly hinder, but the central thing is the central thing. Personally, I’m pretty eclectic as far as music styles are concerned, or even song types. I can value the content and purpose of different kinds of music and hymns/songs. It causes me much less consternation than I imagine a lot of people go through in this area. OK, this is longer than I expected. And I’m not ready for the onslaught at all, so you know, I beg thee, be thou chilled.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: I daresay that Southern Baptists have learned more theology (or purported theology) from the Baptist hymnal than they have from any intentional study of God’s word. I say that because ours is a tradition tragically mired in a high degree of biblical illiteracy but a tradition that still, in most cases, uses the Baptist hymnal. So it is probably not unfair to say that most Baptists learn the Bible second-hand through the hymnal.

The hymn book itself is revered as an almost sacred object in many Baptist churches. It’s right up there with the pulpit, the communion table, and the baptistry in terms of physical objects that the church would refuse to part with. I fully understand I am speaking of the average, traditional SBC church here. Obviously, there are many Baptist churches that have moved away from hymnals, maybe especially younger churches and church plants.

The hymnal is also one of the very few components of SBC worship that ties it in with post-apostolic Christian history. Albeit, as a result, the average Baptist knows more Fanny Crosby than St. Augustine and more Charles Wesley than than Irenaeus, but this is not an insignificant contribution. In a church climate of historical amnesia and neophilia, these participations with the great cloud of historic witnesses is refreshing and encouraging.

In my church, the hymnal exerts a profound influence on worship and spirituality. On worship because it is an expected and non-negotiable presence in each worship service. If I sound unhappy about that, please know that I am not. I love the hymnal and the singing of hymns and would reject any proposal to discard them.

The hymnal exerts a profound impact on spirituality for the reasons listed above: their omnipresence in traditional Baptist life.

The hymnal is, in my estimation, a positive in Baptist life. To be sure, the theology in a few of these hymns is suspect, and faithful leaders will steer clear of these hymns. But, on the whole, the Baptist hymnal has served for years and years as an overall faithful expression of Christian piety and conviction.

I close by noting an interesting little line I noticed on the inside of one of the more recent Jars of Clay cd’s. It may have been their hymns cd, I don’t remember. It said simply, “Save The Hymnals!”

And to that I say, “Amen!”

William Cwirla/Lutheran: It warms my heart to see the word “hymnal” used rather than “hymnbook” or “songbook.” In the Lutheran tradition, the hymnal is much more than a collection of hymns. It is also a liturgical book and a prayer book. Many Lutheran hymnals also include the Small Catechism and other catechetical resources, making the hymnal a teaching book as well.

Traditionally, the Lutheran hymnal is the “third book” of Lutheran piety and devotion, next to the Holy Scriptures and the Book of Concord (the Lutheran confessions) which together comprise Lutheran tradition. The hymnal puts into practice what is believed, taught, and confessed from the Holy Scriptures. It is the worship that corresponds our doctrine, the lex orandi of our lex credendi, though not to the same extent as the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church.

In Lutheran churches, hymnals have a quasi-official status and are approved for use by our body of churches. You can see this practice already in the 17th century Lutheran church orders which spelled out in considerable detail what hymns and liturgical materials were to be used in the territorial churches. Having served on the liturgy subcommittee of Lutheran Service Book (2006), I can attest that the production of a hymnal is no small undertaking with several layers of review and approval. Lutherans take their hymnal very seriously.

I must note by way of “truth in advertising” that the concept of a normative “hymnal” seems to be waning in some Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran understanding of “adiaphora” (that is, those things neither commanded nor forbidden in the Scriptures) lends to freedom in matters of worship. The influence of American Evangelicalism on Lutheran worship has also been considerable, introducing revival forms of worship not indigenous to Lutheranism. Rare is the Lutheran congregation today that does not offer some kind of non-hymnal based “contemporary service.” This is the on-going tension and struggle in the Lutheran version of the “worship wars.” To what extent are we willing to forego outward unity in worship for the sake of what we perceive to be relevant, contextual, or meaningful to the unchurched? The debate continues.

On our hymnal committee we wondered aloud whether we were writing the last Lutheran hymnal. With the push toward greater use of electronic media in the church, a bound book of hymns, prayers, and rites may well be on the fast track to obsolescence. Even LSB comes in an “electronic edition.”

In my grandparents’ generation, everyone had their own copy of the hymnal which they brought to church with them as dutifully as Baptists bring their Bibles. The hymnal resided in the home. In my parents’ generation, the hymnal moved to the pew rack in the church. Tomorrow’s hymnal will likely reside on a computer disk, if it indeed exists at all. What effect this will have on Lutheran piety and practice remains to be seen.

ericlandryEric Landry, PCA Presbyterian: Presbyterians are a conflicted lot when it comes to the use of hymns and hymnals. One on side of the question are our strict Regulative Principle of Worship brothers who only sing the Psalms. On the other side are some congregations in my own denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America) who wouldn’t even cop to having a hymnal! [I’m always amazed at how we can be such a small percentage of the Christian population at large and still be so diverse in our practice.]

Our denominational hymnal, which we share with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is called the Trinity Hymnal. It was compiled in 1990 and certainly represents a more evangelical flavor than the original 1961 version, which is preferred by some more-traditional congregations in both denominations. Both hymnals include a number of Psalm-settings, reflecting our tradition’s history of Psalm singing. The Trinity Psalter, a companion to the hymnal, was published in 1994 and is popular among newly reforming churches because it pairs its metrical versions of the psalms to fairly well-known hymn tunes, making it a little easier for hymn-singers to start singing Psalms.

Having a hymnal and using a hymnal are two different things, of course. Among our most broadly evangelical churches (where “worship” is a noun and refers strictly to the music, as in, “sweet worship today, man”), the hymnal is left in a closet to be taken out for the odd funeral. But that doesn’t mean they don’t sing the hymns. PCA folks like Kevin Twit with Reformed University Fellowship and Matthew Smith of Indelible Grace are setting old and forgotten hymn-texts to new tunes and those hymns are now being rediscovered in churches that had nearly lost touch with their history. I would go so far as to say that among the pastors I know who are under-40 in the PCA, these newer hymns comprise the bulk of what the congregation sings in their public worship services. There is a grass-roots feel to this renewal movement as musicians in local congregation like my own are adding their own compositions to the mix. Each church is functioning as a sort of lab to test whether or not any given tune or text can stand the test of time and be added to future compilations of hymns.

So, a number of churches in my tradition are still singing or are rediscovering the hymns. But not everyone is using a physical hymnal to do it. For some of us church-planters, hauling in 50-100 hymnals every week isn’t an attractive option and so we project the hymns or reprint them in our bulletins. Among established churches, the hymnal can still be found sitting underneath the pew in front of you. And the best pastors and musicians in all situations are intentionally choosing hymns that relate to the sermon text for that morning, while also working to expand the congregation’s familiarity with the hymns through such things as hymns of the month.

Whether one cracks open a book, sings off a projected image on the wall, or prints everything in a bulletin, it seems to me that the local church should strive to find and sing songs of many different ages and eras. The modern church needs to be able to sing God’s praises with Christians throughout history. Practically this means that in my congregation we sing hymns, biblical psalms, contemporary songs, and new tunes to old songs. This balance reminds us that we stand in the stream of historic Christian worship, a stream that is still flowing with praises to God.


  1. Concerning the role of music in the Catholic tradition, Mr Creech is no doubt a decent fellow, one who wishes to do right by everyone. But as far as explaining the role of music in Catholic worship, he can only speak from his personal experience; one which, sadly, reflects neither the position of the Church regarding liturgical music, nor Her history with the same.

    The early Christians sang the liturgy. They did so using the psalms and other spiritual hymns, largely from the Hebrew tradition at first. By the end of the fifth century, the western church, specifically in Rome, developed a coherent form of the “Roman rite,” and Pope Gregory set about reforming the music used over the cycle of the worship year, into what became known as “Gregorian chant.”

    Fast forward a millennium and a half, and you have the tumult of popular culture in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. For years there has been considerable tension between traditionalists and progressives, as to what constitutes proper music for Catholic worship. That contention is being transformed into a more coherent focus under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. The realization that Vatican II considered the chant as having “pride of place, all other things being equal” in the worship of the Church, is being made manifest, slowly but surely.

    The above, I will admit, hardly does justice to the subject. But if you want to know who can, the “go-to guy” would be Jeffrey Tucker, a contributor to the weblog “New Liturgical Movement” .

    I hope Mr Creech is not offended by this observation. It was never intended.

    • >…the “go-to guy” would be Jeffrey Tucker…

      I’ve been at this long enough with all questions Catholic, that the above statement may be 120% true, and it still cracks me up.

      No disrespect, but it does my Protestant heart good.

    • Alan is right insofar as he says there isn’t a wide tradition of congregational singing, at least from the Irish experience.

      Cardianl Ó Fiaich (God rest him) remarked at a meeting of all the bishops in Rome back in the 80s that the only place you could get the Irish to sing was in the pub 🙂

      • I should have connected my response, below, to this thread – but yeah, Martha, that’s kind of what I was experientially trying to convey. I sing, by the way. I love singing. My children, on the other hand, just stand there – I don’t get it. Anyway, that’s what I was basically talking about.

        • And now, Alan, I’m wondering if it wasn’t the baleful influence of the Irish on the English-speaking American Catholic church that is responsible?

          I don’t know about the Italians/Spanish/Germans/whomever; do they sing more? Anybody got any information in a compare-and-contrast manner?

  2. Eric Landry writes: And the best pastors and musicians in all situations are intentionally choosing hymns that relate to the sermon text for that morning…

    I think it can be wise to alternate between following and not following this advice. The advantage to following it, is it helps to enhance a thematic flow to the service. The advantage to not following it, is that you give people a chance to relate to the worship who may not relate to the text of the day, and vice-versa. Sometimes the songs that fit the text aren’t that singable, or don’t flow together well, so I pick another theme for the music that complements or does not distract from the sermon. The best word that Eric uses is “intentionally”, and to this I whole heartedly agree. We have to be intentional in our musical choices and planning.

    • Eric Landry says

      Michael Bell makes a great point: not all of the music should fit the sermon theme. The thoughtful worship planner will pair the music to the liturgy (invocation, confession , Communion, etc.).

  3. I appreciate being considered a possible “decent fellow” – and I’m glad our polar opposite Catholic thoughts on a single matter give you a chuckle, Michael – but as I read your response, David, it seems that we’re talking about different things. I wasn’t asked about the musical tradition of Catholicism or the history of the use of music in the liturgy, so that’s not really what I was talking about. Michael, as I read the question, asked about the use of “the hymnal” – the singing of written hymns, and not really music style, but “the hymnal.” To me, this is entirely different than chanting the Psalms or singing the Mass – that’s not hymnody really. And I do appreciate a well sung liturgy as well as Gregorian chant. Perhaps that clears things up – no need for Bishops to clarify I don’t imagine. 🙂

    • Actually, the US bishops were supposed to compile a hymnal after Vat II but never got around to it.

      Also, some people want to draw a direct line between the forms of singing in Israelite temple worship and Gregorian chant. It’s a nice idea, but there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I’m not saying that this is what Mr. Alexander is implying necessarily, but many “scholars” have tried to assert this over the years.

      • There is plenty of evidence for it. Not that I have it with me at the moment, although one work comes to mind. They recently revised a book called “From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated The Eucharist” by Edward Foley (Liturgy Training Publications), which has plenty of footnotes about the connection.

        (Oh, and Alan, thanks for responding. No harm, no foul.)

  4. I feel fortunate that in the little Catholic Church where I attend Mass when I can, the folks like to sing quite robustly on Sundays. The tiny weekday Masses have no singing and I like that fine as I go for the Word and the Eucharist. But on Sunday….let’s sing! It’s certainly best when the folks in charge of the singing pick songs the people know well. We like to sing:
    On Eagles’ Wings by Michael Joncas
    Go to #12 and click to listen to it sung. Don’t give up with the first verse (which is sung in a high pitch). Listen to the Refrain. Beautiful!

    I just read about it at wikipedia and it was written by a Catholic priest in 1979 and it says it is also popular among Protestants and Pentecostal churches, so perhaps most of you have heard it.

    We also like “Be Not Afraid” by John Michael Talbot.

    • Oooh, both of those songs take me back! When I was a small child, my folks led the folk/contemporary music at our local Catholic Parish. I think the songbook they mostly used were the Glory and Praise series. The post-Vatican2 folk music is some of my absolute favorite stuff! Besides those two, “One Bread, One Body” is my favorite from those days.

  5. Dolan McKnight says

    Like the Orthodox, Baptists have rules on hymns that are not explicitly written down. For instance, many hymns contain the Holy Fermata, unknown in most denominations, were a crucial word is held as long as the song leader can hold his arm up. It makes the hymn more spiritual.

    On the other hand, Baptists also practice the taboo of The Unspeakable Third Verse of Four. Unlike the Episcopalians, who sing all the verses and cannot even cram them all between the treble and bass staffs for easy reference, the Baptists consider the third verse of four as anathema and, like alcohol and mixed bathing, to be avoided.

    • Chad Rushing says

      Having grown up in SBC congregations, I have never understood why the third verses were almost always skipped when singing hymns. For the longest time, I just assumed it was just a time management issue (i.e., you can partially sing three hymns in a little more time than it would have taken to fully sing just two), but you hardly ever see the second or fourth verses skipped instead of the third one, the first verse always being the one that everyone knows best. Perhaps, someone reading this blog can provide some enlightenment on that seemingly unnecessary tradition.

      • There’s a (possibly apocryphal) rumor going around that we’ll spend the first couple of millennia in Heaven singing all those 3rd verses that got skipped over the years.

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        Regarding 3rd verses out of 4, 3 and 4 out of 5 etc. – most all of my experience has been that it was a time issue many times and others were pastors and/or music directors not wanting to sing all the verses. Some despise that we even have to sing them so get them over quickly while for others it is just a habit (rut) that they got into or just do it because that’s what they’ve been taught or they’ve “always done it that-away-before” to use a worn out statement. I prefer singing them all as, many times, leaving out one or more verses is like taking the meat out of a subway….. it misses the point and only part of the story, if you will, is told.

        I usually rant on about SBC churches in this regard and others but, tonight I spare everyone and say that our churches need to recover/rediscover hymns and hymn singing – in the music part of worship this should be the standard anything else leaves that part of the service very, very lacking and very ,very shallow.

    • “…the Baptists consider the third verse of four as anathema and, like alcohol and mixed bathing, to be avoided.”

      Funny, Dolan!

    • This is absolutely uncanny, but at my Evangelical, Calvinistic, Mennonite (= Anabaptist) church, we do the exact same thing–skip the third verse out of four in hymns! What on earth is up with that?

  6. At Saint Patrick’s Anglican Church (AMiAs) in Lexington, Kentucky, we sing all of the Charles Wesley hymns that the United Methodists don’t.

    I am not kidding.

    • Well, Charles Wesley was a lifelong Anglican, after all. It makes sense that you should sing them. As for the Methodists, we’re having enough trouble keeping up with John these days, let alone his brother Charles. 😉

  7. I find it really hard to ‘catch’ the melodies of most hymns. There are dramatic exceptions, of course, but most seem to focus on theology more than melody and singability. Perhaps this is because they were written for the melodic sensibilities of the 18th and 19th centuries, and what we consider a catchy melody has changed.

    If you grew up in the church, it’s no problem, but if you come in late, it’s hard. Imagine trying to sing the Star Spangled Banner if you heard it maybe once or twice a year, and it was always accompanied by a complicated organ arrangement where the goal seems to be to hide the melody inside the most complex chords possible. I just stand there and move my lips.

    Love the psalms.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Any good orgainst will know that the last verse only is where the “free harmonization” is used while the congregation and choir sing in unison the melody (soprano) line of the music. There’s also something to be said for playing an entire verse (and chorus if it has one) as the intro – especially so if it’s a “new to the congregation” hymn or song.

      As to singability – I tip my hat to the hymns without apology…. it’s, for the most part, the contemporary christian music that is most difficult for a congregation and that primarily due to the heavy syncopation in so many of them that makes it difficult to sing and as church musician they are, again many times, very difficult to play as well. Case in point – a few weeks back my wife and I went for a visit to the church of Christ that she used to attend and they had a screen in the worship center to project the words on and several the the songs were CCM stuff and the folks could hardly sing them. CoCs don’t use instruments but in this case the only chance they would have had to sing those songs anywhere near right would have been to have the musical accompaniment playing to sing by and even then it would have been difficult. I was really, really suprised to see the screen there and suprised at some of the songs that were allowed and certainly suprised that the hymnals were hardly used at all that day.

      Well, I’m ranting too much….. bottom line (with me anyway) is that hymns, generally speaking, win the day in the singability area…. there are exceptions on both sides though.

    • This is the fault of a showy organist, sadly, no the hymns or hymnal itself. The organ and organist should be there to *support* congregational singing, not to demonstrate fantastical pedal and stop-switching skills. And the Star Spangled Banner is actually pretty hard to sing, popularity notwithstanding. So don’t feel bad! 🙂

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        Agree, on the showy organist….. and that’s precisly the point, the organ is there to accompany the congregation not blow them away. Certainly a varity of registrations (stop selection) should be used verse to verse but the “free harmonization” is, generally, reserved for the last verse and everyone sings the melody in unison with the harmonization providing
        the parts in arrangment and typically you see this with the bigger and more classic hymns.

        There are places for the instruments to “shine” if you will but the hymn singing is not that time. There are preludes, offertories, postuludes even a special music piece from time to time for the instruments and I would suggest to make use of good hymn arrangments for organ, piano (or both in duet) etc which helps to keep the hymns before the people as well.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says

          One additional comment (humor) – the Star Spangled Banner sounds wonderful on the organ and it may actually be one of the songs the one could “open it up” with the people singing since they usually “open it up” to sing it! Seriously though organists, do be mindful of your hymn playing – it’s easy to get caught up in the moment during a stirring hymn and want to “turn it all on” and I’ve been guilty of that that before and I have to be careful too – musicans tend to be passionate but remember that the hymns are the music of the people – let them sing and be heard – register and accompany accordingly.

  8. Christiane/L's says

    It would be extremely interesting to do a study of which hymns are almost universally accepted by ‘denominations’ and then consider why that is so.

    My thought goes to the hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’ which was written by monks in Ireland in the eighth century. And yet, I have a Protestant friend who says it is a Protestant hymn.
    So there must be something of meaning in that hymn which speaks to both my Church and hers.
    Something of Christ.

    I know the focus is on the evangelical liturgical music, but surely a hymn like ‘Be Thou My Vision’ or some of the tradition Christmas music would work for them? I do not know that much about it.

    • Christiane,

      There is a very good reason why your friend thought that it was Protestant. I just checked my 1975 version of the Baptist Hymnal, and it mentions nothing about it being Catholic. “Words: Ancient Irish, translated Mary Byrne, Tune: Slane, Traditional Irish melody.” Nothing else hints of its origins.

      That’s one of my favorite hymns, and at one time, would have liked that to be part of the music at my wedding. (I never married, so it was never used.)

      • Christiane/L's says

        Thank you, Anna

        I remember looking up the story of this hymn after my friend made her statement.
        Neither one of us knew the original story. I knew it was sung in my Church, but I did not know it originated in the 8th Century, or that Irish monks wrote it.

        It is a favorite of mine, too. I have a CD of it as it is sung by Eden’s Bridge.
        Beautiful !

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        It’s worth noting (Monk will agree) that the mid 70s Baptist Hymnal ranks among the worst ever as hymnals go. ’91 was better and 2008 probably better still though I’ve not gotten had much exposure on it yet – the church I recently left was using some of the accompaniment resources available for download on the hymnal website – they were/are using the Celebration Hymnal. Check out also the Celebrating Grace Hymnal from the CBF that is
        coming out in March 2010 – very good for traditional baptist churches and others. Google Celebrating Grace Hymnal for the website – premire in Atlanta in March.

    • CantateDomino says

      One word explanation: Romaphobia.

  9. I had never heard “Be Thou My Vision” but I went to youtube and found numbers of people singing it. My two favorites were:




    I also read about its history on wikipedia. Like a lot of hymns, it appears to have started out as a poetic prayer, and only later in its history was it put to music. Anna, that would be a nice song for a wedding.

  10. A couple of comments to a few of the gangstas (in order of appearance)

    Fr. Ernesto: On one of my every-couple-of-years stint into music composition, I’ve recently been working on a 4-part vocal piece based on the Jesus Prayer. As I understand it, that’s an important prayer within Orthodoxy. That’s been a neat experience for me.

    Joe Boysel: I understand that some of the non-ECUSA Anglicans in the States have issues with the 1979 BCP. Is the same true with the 1982 Hymnal? Y’all lookin’ to make a BCP/Hymnal of your own? I’ve found my single volume edition of the 1979BCP/1982Hymnal to be a big part of my personal spiritual toolbox.

    Alan Creech: As far as Catholic music goes, I’ve become a big fan of the Gather Comprehensive hymnals by GIA. It’s about 70/30 mix of catholic folk music and hymns. Plus it’s got a lot of good stuff for the Mass (liturgical tunes, various Mass orders, etc).

    Wyman Richardson: Have you checked out the 2008 Baptist Hymnal by Lifeway? I’m very impressed with it and am curious as to how Baptist clergy are diggin’ it (or not diggin’ it, as the case may be).

    • I’m a minister of music at small, traditional Baptist church, and we’re slowly incorporating arrangements and songs from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal (the ’91 edition is currently in the pew racks).

      I’m impressed by the inclusion of many “new” songs…and even more so that they kept so many of the “old” ones! In terms of being blended in musical style, the 2008 BH really can’t be beat at this point.

      Another plus is that many of the more difficult, syncopated rhythms in some of the newer songs have been modified slightly to make them more singable. Although this irks me a bit on artistic level (I’m a composer as well, after all), it really opens up these songs for people that aren’t saturated in the “praise & worship” music genre.

      I also really like the way responsive readings are incorporated through out the volume, providing logical and meaningful introductions and links between songs.

    • I’ve thumbed through it and think it looks good! Unfortunately, our church remodeled our sanctuary and purchased all new copies of the earlier version just before the 2008s came out. If you know anything about Baptist churches, you know that means that if we get the 2008s it will be in 2035. 🙂

      • Sigh. We still have the 1975 edition, and the treasurer expects the rapture before the arrival of enough dinero in the ol’ bank account to upgrade the hymnals.

  11. I recently visited my alma mater, a Catholic college and went to a mass. The music was horrible and not surprisingly only a few were singing. After Mass, someone asked what it was like coming back to the college after so many years; my reply “it’s good to see that it hasn’t lost it’s Catholic character.”

    In my small town the singing is much better and I think it is because we have used more songs from the Gather hymnal. If you systematically page through any hymnal from most denominations, you will find great treasure. Clear presentation of the Faith, and Christian living – better than most sermons. I love the ecumenical variety of these hymns: We Walk by Faith, How Can I keep from Singing, A Mighty Fortress, and the Prayer of St. Francis… The temptation is to just sing songs that people know, but that gets pretty old.

  12. Way to get yourself banned on a sentence and a half there “Constance.”

  13. Amish/Mennonite tradition is really 2.5 separate ones:

    The German-speaking, slow-tune-singing groups, who use the Ausbund, a German hymnal from the 1600’s with lots of martyr hymns, for public worship; the tunes are very very slow, and clearly descend from chant.

    The rest of us, about whom the rest of this comment is talkign:

    Mennonites sing a-capella, congregationally, fairly standard tunes (and the ones that aren’t standard are fairly standard-seeming–a Methodist might not know them, but wouldn’t find them odd). Hymnals are all shaped notes, which makes singing in parts much easier. Singing is part of the worship service (say, 5 songs in a regular 2.5 hour service), but is also very important as a non-main-worship-service activity. Singing services are big events (all congregational singing, generally), youth groups usually work on singing and sing at special events and in nursing homes, singing is taught in school. The result is that most Mennonite churches sing well, and know a lot of songs (500+).

    The half-group is the churches who sing German songs, but to fast tunes.

  14. As a teenager in the ’70s I had a conversion experience, which occurred a few years before I became Catholic. My Baptist friends and I would travel about 40 miles every Thursday night to a small church in an adjoining state for a hymn sing. It was PACKED with teenagers and young adults from all over the place singing four-part harmonies to the old hymns. There was something so uplifting about gathering together and joining our voices. It was truly the highlight of the week for me and my friends – we could hardly wait for Thursdays every week. (And we weren’t nerds, honest!) 🙂

    These weeks of hymn singing placed a great love in my heart for the old hymns, and their magnificent words and melodies. Does anyone host hymn sings anymore? We certainly don’t in my Catholic parish, except at Christmas with Christmas carols and hymns.

    In my parish, we use the Gather Comprehensive hymnal that Alan mentions, and fortunately, it contains many of my favorite old hymns. It seems that in the last 2-3 years, the music planners have included more of the older hymns in the liturgy and fewer of the relatively newer folk hymns. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m not complaining.

    • The one complaint I have for the pew edition of Gather Comprehensive (which I currently have) is that it’s only melody and lyrics. No chord symbols or 4-part harmonies. That said, I just orded the Choir Edition of the 2nd edition of GC which has the 4-parts.

      • Agreed – there has been such a decline in musical literacy over the last couple of decades, fueled in part (IMO) by hymnals with only the melody line.

  15. I think the most significant hymnal for Roman Catholics is The Liturgy of the Hours even though it’s not really a hymnal at all. While hymnals range from The Gregorian Missal (gregorian chant) to Glory and Praise (70s pop catholic), it is the Liturgy of the Hours that is consistent across parishes.

    There’s a list of the hymns included in the Liturgy of the Hours at:

  16. Yeah, the mid-70’s Baptist hymnal is the worst. I own a copy, though I don’t remember why. However, I do believe everyone should be required to sing ‘God of Earth and Outer Space’ just once. It’s…educational.

    BTW, I am the default worship leader at my SBC church, I’m 25, and I sing all the verses. We sing 99% hymns, ranging from Indelible Grace to Wesley to the Gettys. That’s the beauty (and danger sometimes) of being baptists: independence. The newest SBC hymnal is head and shoulders above the past SBC offerings, even if it’s not all good.

    • I’m also 25…good to see other young worship leaders that appreciate the value of our hymnody. I strive for a blended service (50% hymns, 50% quality choruses – doesn’t always happen :), but we usually sing all the verses to our hymns.

    • Well I’ll be darned. I guess that makes three of us 25 year old hymn loving worship leaders.
      It irks me to no end to get the attitude from my church as if praise choruses were the future of the faith. We are also about at 50/50, but I feel pressure to go more modern. All the songs that I think would make the most appropriate and edifiying additions to our congregational repertoire, however, are hymns. I’m all for staying current, but do we have to stay as current as everyone else? Can we let the lattest hottest worship hit vet for 10 years or so before we decide if it’s best for our congregation? Ok, 3 years maybe? If it grows too old by then, was it really worth singing anyways? I just hate being driven by trends at the expense of content. I am not even sufficiently brave to simply suggest that we occasionally sing out of the book instead of the screen.

  17. Growing up Catholic, we had the “traditional” music hymnal, which also included the liturgy in the front. A later edition also included the weekly readings in the back, thereby removing the need for a missalette. But we also had a “contemporary”/folk hymnal in the pew. Most services used traditional music, with perhaps one song from the newer selection, although we had a Saturday evening service that was primarily newer music.

    I have found similar experience in the UMC churches. The downside to the UMC hymnal is that it contains lots of “pieces” of liturgy from which to chose. Then the pastor usually modifies the one he/she picks. Makes it difficult to follow along, even for a short period of time. (My current church’s choice for baptism is particularly annoying. Uses perhaps 50% of the included right, and skips through making following along nearly impossible, especially the first time you try.)

    And while I enjoy truely contemporary music as well, I tend to stick with the traditional service options.

    But both genres have their own issues with sing-ability. Charles Wesley actually wrote hymns that include parenthetical phrases. Great theology, sure. Able to sing it? Not if you are trying to catch even a hint of the theology.

  18. If you would like to hear 900 kids singing hymns at a youth conference, check out this link to the Higher Things Sola-Grand Rapids conference held last month: http://higherthings.org/conferences/sola2009/media.html

    • Wow thanks for that link. Those recordings are simply inspiring. Heard you mention them on your podcast but didn’t know the audio was up. To bad the didn’t post the Te Deum, huh? I’m in a SBC church but that recording of “I Bind Unto Myself” sounds workable even in my modern scenario.

  19. Also one thing anybody reading the response to the Catholic Hymnal is that due to Vatican II we had a bit of a re-start around 1967.

    Just like it was mentioned before the Bishops were suppose to come up with a new Hymnal for the new order of the Mass but “never got around to it.” So many took it upon themselves to come up with their best Hippie Hymns and it has been going down hill ever since. That is the main reason why the confusion between what Alan was stating and what some others familiar with the issue have opined.

    Today however there has been much of a re-evaluation of the Mass and you can expect things to revert back if not completely at least more harmoniously to a pre-council Hymnal.

  20. “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” The old songs are good but each generation should express their love for God from their own heart. As a former Folk Group Leader in the RC tradition and a former Worship Leader in the Non-Denom tradition, I can easily become bored with songs. I think the Scriptures encourage us to sing a new song because God is eternal and He wants to hear something new from each generation. After all, He is the One who made us creative.

  21. There is no “hymnal” as such within the Orthodox liturgical tradition. Instead, there are a few books that contain all the hymns to be chanted throughout the liturgical year:
    I. The temporal cycle hymn-books:
    1. The Pentecostarion comprising the order of services from Easter night until the All Saints Sunday, that is the first Sunday after Pentecost.
    2. The Triodion, comprising the hymns chanted from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (three weeks before the start of Lent) all throughout Lent, the Great Week, until the Vesperal Liturgy of the Great Saturday.
    3. The Octoechos (the “Book of the eight Tones/Modes”) filling the time not covered by the previous two. Here the daily hymns change their theme according to the day of the week: On Sundays they commemorate the Resurrection, on Monday the Angels, on Tuesday St. John the Baptist , the Hierarchs etc, on Wednesdays and Fridays the Cross, the Saturdays the dead.
    II. The Sanctoral cycle.
    The twelve “books of months” (Menaia), covering the daily commemoration of the Saints and of the Royal feasts not part of the Paschal cycle (Christmas, Theophany, Transfiguration, Dormition etc).
    III. The occasional services with their chants:
    The Euchologion and variations of this book comprising the order of the Sacraments and Sacramentals other than the Eucharist, such as Baptism, Chrismation, Burial, Consecration of the Church etc.
    IV. The Liturgikon comprising the order of the Three Eucharistic Liturgies with their common and proper parts.
    V. Various devotional books of Akathists , Canons, songs with a less liturgical character .
    The most famous hymn-writers of the Orthodox Church are:Roman the Melodist , John of Damascus, Cosmas of Maiuma, Joseph the Hymnogrpher of Sicily, Germanus of Constantinople, the nun Kassiani of Constantinople, Theophanes the Hymnographer, bishop of Nicaea, Andrew of Crete, John Scholastcus, Theodore of Studion, Matthew Vlastares, Ephrem the Syrian etc.

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