Monday, February 04, 2008

the reflection of the sacredness or banality of hymns from the rest of the Liturgy

I recently read (or skimmed) a book, "Brightest and Best-Stories of Hymns" by George Rutler. It was somewhat interesting, however I think that reading only one page (or less) about each hymn is too much to have a brief summary, but not enough to really say anything interesting. Or something like that made the book overall rather disappointing.

However, I found the preface to be the most interesting. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

"My purpose in writing this book was to restore attention to some of the finest hymns, in the hope that thye m ight replace the miserable afflictions that keep cropping up in the baleful "missalettes", which are tokens of failure by their very existence (the Liturgy is not a didactic exercise to be read like a theater program) and appearance (their disposable form reflects the transitory quality of the contents.)"

"I deliberately call these songs 'hymns' to distinguish them from run-of-the-mill songs. We do not make that distinction now. But there was a time when Catholics and Protestants alike understood the difference, which is why they did not impose secular idioms on music or text. When the distinction is blurred, the Church does not transfigure culture; the Church is usurped by culture. That is not a sacramental economy but its very opposite."

"Only because I was familiar with most of these hymns from an early age was I able years ago to take offense at their bowdlerization by clumsy editors and ideologues. I came to notice that, in almost every instance of 'updating', solid theology was the victim. References to sacrifice, grace, sin, spiritual combat, and Christ's blood were replaced by insistence on kindness, altruism, and social enlightment. The revisions of old hymns, and most of the inventions substituted for them, are uniformly sentimental: edifying in the worst condescending way, as well as redundant and gauche. This is to be expected of those who have been so unfeeling and rapacious in dismantling the fabric of our churches and the sacred texts used in them: for as selfish ambition has been called the lust of the cleric, so is sentimentalism the indulgence of the cruel.
Very often, people may sing a hymn without any clue as to how reduced the received version is. And, as hymns are poetry, it is decadent to alter their grammatical archaisms instead of rising up to them. We do not do it to Shakespeare, so neither should be do it to the friends of Shakespeare. Like children with sticky hands near fine furniture, a generation that has vandalized the sacred Liturgy should be prevented from laying hands on the great hymns."

"Hymns, when they are worthy and worthily understood, should enhance the classical Liturgy that, by God's grace, will soon rise from its aesthetic stupor. As right understanding of the hymn form means a right understanding of prayer, the psychology of collective song, and the integrity of the eucharistic action."

1 comment:

lvschant said...

This is very interesting... I know it always irritates me when I notice a good hymn has been made neutral gender, so as to be 'inclusive' (example... Good Christian Friends, Rejoice for Good Christian Men, Rejoice). I had not realized that it went so much farther down the path...

Janet (vox feminae)