Monday, September 03, 2007

Scripture and hymns

Why IS it that when I try and stick to "traditional" songs/hymns, I can't find any that "match" the readings?

well, I know why, so I'll tell you.

It is clear from simply glancing through my hymnal, that the "protestant" hymns are rarely directly based on scripture. The notation at the bottom of most hymns rarely includes a Bible reference. Think: I Heard the Voice, Holy Holy Holy, How Great Thou Art, Joyful Joyful, Be Thou My Vision. I could go on. Of course there are exceptions, mostly obvious (The King of Love My Shephered is-Ps. 23, All People that On Earth-Ps. 100[99]-Old 100th, duh) but in general, protestants just seem to write hymns that are just generic praise songs?

However, contrast that with the "contemporary" Catholic "hymns," in that they are almost ALWAYS based on specific scripture(which, in the precise sense I am discussing here have been compared to Gregorian Chant...)
Just glancing through the hymnal: Here I Am Lord-Isaiah 6, Eye Has Not Seen-1 Cor. 2, On Eagle's Wings-Ps. 91, Be Not Afraid-Is. 43/Luke 6, and of course the inevitable Blest Are They every time any readings come up that are like the beatitudes, cuz there are no other songs like that!

It's amazing how when I often look at the propers for the day, wondering if by some rare chance we might have a musical setting (a song) even if an imperfect translation, of that proper, we usually have one! but for other reasons, which I am sure I have written about before, and could merit loads and loads of other posts, I won't use most of those songs. (as someone pointed out to me yesterday, although he said it much more clearly articulate than I will summarize-It may not be that there is anything intrinsically wrong with individual songs, it is more a problem with the general attitude of a particular cultural/religious/social movement.)

(good grief, sola scriptura? why don't they just quote more scripture in their hymns?)

and yes, I know how we ought to me even moving away from hymns and towards working on that!


Anonymous said...

Actually, for traditional protestantism, scripture is the foundation of hymnody.

John Calvin forbade the use of any hymnody except metrical psalms in the Reformed service. Metrical psalmnody flourished in France/Switzerland (the Old Hundredth comes from Calvin's own Genevan Psalter), Scotland, and England (O God Our Help). In fact, Fr. Weber, who is publishing a series of English propers, ALWAYS includes a protestant metrical psalm for use at the Introit.

The Lutherans, on the other hand, have always sought to interpret the scriptures rather than to paraphrase. Hence Luther's "Psalm 130" Aus Tieffer Not and "Psalm 46" Ein Feste' Burg. Much of what you may consider "protestant hymnody" is in fact revivalistic songs which originate in America from the late 19th century. The hymns you mentioned aren't from that tradition, but even "I heard the voice" quotes scripture.

Anyway, the tradition of psalm singing is continued in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches today, often using the original Scottish Psalter and Genevan Psalter melodies. And I'll add that the Genevan melodies are quite beautiful if you like the hymnody of that period.


BONIFACE said...

Mara, I think with regards to Catholic "hymns" of the post-1960's being based solely on Scripture, I believe that after V2 they wanted to prove that Catholics knew the Bible, too and that we were not all caught up in Tradition and all that; so I think they intentionally made certain that every hymn corresponded to some Scripture 1) To show how biblical the new Church was, and 2) to deflect any accusations that the new lyrics were heretical (" I Myself am the Bread of Life" isn't heretical; it's taken right from Scripture!) That is my take on it.

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

" I am the bread of Life" is indicative of "Vox Dei" hymns, where we sing in the "Voice of God."

I don't like singing or hearing the choir sing "I am the Bread of Life" Because I am not the Bread of Life, and the choir singing is not the Bread of life and therefore should not be singing using the first person subjective pronoun.

Rather, it should be Jesus is the Bread of Life, or better the hymn should be reinforcing that JESUS is the bread of life.

Cantor said...


Do you think your objection to “Vox Dei” hymns is tenable in light of the fact that a large number of the Gregorian propers are written in “Vox Dei”? ISTM that especially in light of the encouragement in Musicam sacram and the 1958 instruction for congregations to sing the propers (I think they had “special” congregations in mind more than the average parish.), “the Church wants people to sing in ‘Vox Dei’”.

Mara Joy said...

but are the propers *supposed* to be sung by the people like hymns? Or are they *supposed* to be sung by the choir/schola, and listened to by the people? this is a serious question. I really don't know the answer.

Scelata said...

"Do you think your objection to “Vox Dei” hymns is tenable in light of the fact that a large number of the Gregorian propers are written in 'Vox Dei'? "

Are there really a large number? My vague impression is that there are very few where, when God's words are sung, words such as "He said," are not also part of the text, although these do include several of the ad libitum communion antiphons (though since the communio is proper to the schola, I don't know that those would count as the people being asked to sing in the Voice of God.)

The Reproaches come to mind, I can't recall off hand if there is any indication they are to be sung by the people.

"in light of the encouragement in Musicam sacram and the 1958 instruction for congregations to sing the propers"

Where is there encouragement for this? I know one or the other of the documents from the '50s says that the people "may" or "can" sing some of the propers, but I think that falls well short of encouragement.

And I don't think the VCII document mentions the idea of the people singing the propers in any way, though I could be remembering wrong (It speaks fo the faithful singing the parts "proper to them," IIRC, not at all the same thing.)

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Scelata said...

"I 'Myself am the Bread of Life' isn't heretical; it's taken right from Scripture!) "

I may be remembering wrong, but I think the lyric people are objecting to goes, "I myself am the bread of life, you and I are the bread of life."

Is that from scripture?
I'm not even sure whether it is a "Vox Dei" song.
It may be us singing in our own voices to our neighbor, or it may be singing in Christ's voice, adressing ourselves, of it may be us singing as ourselves addressing Christ.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

Cantor said...

Mara and Scelta,

One of the most interesting sections of Musicam sacram is the following:

33. It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

The song after the lessons, be it in the form of gradual or responsorial psalm, has a special importance among the songs of the Proper. By its very nature, it forms part of the liturgy, of the Word. It should be performed with all seated and listening to it — and, even taking part, if possible.

Not only does this (1967) document evince here an awareness of the forthcoming revision of the Missal (so much for “MS is only for the old Mass”), but it also explicitly encourages congregations to sing the Proper.

I thought a similar exhortation was in 1958’s De musica sacra. But, just now I can’t seem to find it. Hm.

Scelta, there are many communions that do not have a “dicit Dominus” or other such tag around the words of Christ. Just a few:

Pater, cum essem
Pater si non potest
Data est mihi
Mitte manum
Spiritus ubi vult
Hoc corpus
Qui mihi ministrat

As to whether, Musicam sacram aside, the congregation *should* actually sing the communio, I don’t know. Frankly, I am more of the mindset that congregations should stick to the Ordinary and responses, with the choir handling the texts that vary from Mass to Mass. Then we have, as Ed Schaefer put it, a true “dialogue” between the choir and the congregation, with each singing music that is written to reflect its intended singers.