Oust Oosterhuis?

Jimmy Mac sent me a news bit from The Tablet on the supposed censorship of the Dutch hymn writer Huub Oosterhuis. This would be, in part, an application of Liturgiam Authenticam‘s charge to bishops to oversee the texts of songs used for liturgy. There was a five-year prescription in the document. Looks as if some bishops are finally getting around to the task.

From The Tablet:

The dispute began with moves by the Utrecht Archdiocese and Den Bosch Diocese to remove the hymns from two songbooks printed there but used around the country.

Fr (Cor Mennen, who reviewed hymns for Den Bosch Diocese) insisted the blacklisted hymns were chosen for their content, not their authors. After being expelled from the Jesuits in 1969 for challenging celibacy, Mr Oosterhuis has been leading his own services in Amsterdam and writing hymns and prayers used in both Catholic and Protestant churches. At Queen Beatrix’s request, he delivered the eulogy at the 2002 funeral of her husband, Prince Claus.

When the daily newspaper Trouw revealed last month that at least 29 Oosterhuis hymns had been rejected, the rebellious poet, now 76, said, “This means going back to the 1950s. It borders on book-burning.”

Groningen Bishop Gerard de Korte (image, left) agreed with the rebel, it seems. “Parishioners could continue singing hymns even if they were removed from the hymnals. The bishops’ conference should decide the issue, not just two dioceses,” he said.

Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht disliked this public “fraternal correction.” He wrote to all the Dutch bishops, and said national oversight was a “shocking” suggestion.

It is true that publishers’ bishops are deemed responsible for content, not the conference–that comes from Rome. Given the national quality of most printed worship products that may or may not make sense. I’m sure 280-some American bishops don’t want to deal with tens of thousands of musical texts. (Not so sure Archbishop George want to tackle it on his own, either.) Maybe the solution is to run a composers’ and publishing consortium over the internet and let the hierarchy sort it out from there.

Anyway, I decided to dig a little deeper, especially since I don’t subscribe to The Tablet. Blogger Mark de Vries has been following this issue “from within the Catholic Church in the Netherlands.” I direct interested readers to these posts tagging Fr Mennen. Mr de Vries thinks his bishops have bumbled the PR on this. He notes the secular press asked Bishop Gerard de Korte for clarification:

The songs may still be sung?

“Yes, until the Dutch bishops formulate a new policy together. That is what was discussed yesterday during the meeting of the bishops. The work of the censors concerns the booklets published in their dioceses but does not have national implications. Every diocesan bishop has his own responsibility for liturgical policy. The so-called ‘rejected’ songs can therefore still be sung by choirs in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. They are also in the other collection of music used in many parishes.”

It doesn’t seem quite like censorship, at least not yet. But these bishops either don’t have their heads together on this one, or nobody wants to juggle this hot coal alone.

I’ve always thought that the issue is bigger than any single musical text. It’s a repertoire issue for the whole parish. If your stable has twelve “gathering” songs for entrance and twelve “meal” songs for Communion, I’d say the issue is about balance, catholicity, if you will. The “Eucharist” heading of my parish’s hymnal includes songs numbered 814 through 853. It would be both easy and lazy to go to that well weekly. I’d miss the possibilities of discipleship and mission for the sake of a focus on meal and sacrament. Not to mention (most importantly!) losing the psalms.

Let’s turn our attention to the hymn writer. From The Tablet:

They said that the hymns to be barred from use were “too vague” or “too earthbound”. Recent work by Mr Oosterhuis, for example, “focuses more on justice than worship,” said Fr Mennen.

I have no problem with an artist focusing on one aspect. The real problem would be if a parish sang only his texts. But that would be an impoverishment even when engaging the most skilled of authors. The only place I would think that happens is when a composer is in-house, so to speak.

Huub Oosterhuis’ most sung text in the States might be “What Is This Place.” My current parish uses it, though I don’t think I’ve pr0grammed it more than once or twice in a few years. I worked with Tom Conry at an RCIA workshop many years ago, and aside from his own music, the bulk of repertoire we used was from Bernard Huijbers settings of Oosterhuis texts. A guitarist utilizing organ tunes with justice lyrics … let’s just say the conference music landed in one of two stylistic camps, without much in between.

My own favorite of the many Oosterhuis texts is “Hold Me In Life,” mercifully lowered from the original key of F. I heard it in the pre-Conry days. NALR released a Huijbers-Oosterhuis vinyl album in the mid-70’s. It was recorded with a parish choir in Baltimore accompanied by piano and organ, adding electric guitar and drums on a few tunes. That was a very interesting project, and one that intrigued me–how did they fit the piano and the drum kit in the organ loft? Kudos for the slightly unpolished, but natural sound of an actual parish’s music ministry.

Getting back to the song, the OCP sheet music cites Psalm 25 as the text, but this responsorial song wanders a good bit from the Biblical original. Too far for me to use it in the Liturgy of the Word. But I have no problems with a meditation on a Scriptural text.

And getting back to the “censorship,” I think we Catholics will all be seeing texts of beloved songs called into question in the years ahead. I don’t see the focus on individual songs being productive for the bishops. And I say that with full awareness than maybe 80% of the texts I program are deficient in some way. What we need is a higher bar with better words and music–liturgical songs that will organically replace the imperfect.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Oust Oosterhuis?

  1. Wow, Todd, quiet weekend.
    I’ll fess up to appreciating those two Huijbers/Oosterhuis hymns, particularly the latter as well. I also really liked the Oosterhuis text of “Song of/to Jesus Christ” with that famed Renaissance setting.

  2. Liam says:

    Huijbers/Oosterhuis’ works are among the stronger compositional efforts of post-conciliar hymnody. I agree with Todd’s take on them.

  3. smf says:

    The trouble with taking a repertoire based approach is that any policy of that sort is essentially unenforceable, and thus not a policy at all. The only way a bishop could make a balanced repertoire a requirement would involve rather onerous administrative requirements, such as requiring parishes to submit their annual list of songs to some review, or just simply dictate music on a diocese wide basis “this Sunday every parish will sing X and Y and Z”. I think that solution is even less appealing when viewed from that point of view. I for my part think there are hymns in Catholic hymnals that really should not be there at all. Sadly, very often the most problematic texts are set to the better music and vice-versa.

  4. Tony Barr says:

    I have been a colleague of Huub since the mid 1970s, when I began translating/retranslating his texts with Bernard Huijbers, Antoine Oomen and Tom Lowenthal for use in the UK and, more latterly, in the US with OCP and my own music imprint Jabulani Music.

    I am a post-grad theologian, biblical scholar, musician and liturgist. From day one I knew there would be incompatabilties with the Roman Rite, but I also knew that the Roman Rite per se has more flexibility than we Anglos are allowed to acknowledge.

    Huub’s command of the Scriptures is awesome. His eucharistic community at the Amsterdam Rode Huis is an extremely knowledgeable biblicaly-based assembly. His texts are a thesaurus to the Scriptures, never over-stating but always directing to other references. His earliest work on the psalms was a combined effort of two poets, two biblical scholars, paralleling the work of Gelineau in re-introducing Scripture into Catholic worship.

    Lit. Auth is a tragic intrusion into post-conciliar liturgy, as evidenced in the ‘purification’ of the thexts of the new missal. Yet as a Spirit-filed community we have the duty to prevent such mean and pessimistic purists from attempting to purge the wisdom and experiences of our reformed liturgy by not allowing them the authority to control how we make and do that which is worthwhile in our hearts.

    How can we keep from singing?

  5. smf says:

    I presume that Tony Barr is in fact serious, but I have to say much of it fits all too perfectly with the way some traditionalists and conservatives parody liturgical liberals.

    • Tony Barr says:

      tb says to smf

      Oh yes, I am deadly serious. I first met Bernard Huijbers in the 1960s at the experimental Augustinian Boskapel in Nijmegen. Then from the early 70s onwards I was a regular visitor to Amsterdam (six or more times a year) where I also established my working relationship with Huub Oosterhuis; then, from 1979 to 2003, I would visit Bernard each year in his highly-active retirement in Espeillac, to the north of Toulouse in France. My experiences in both the A’dam Domicuskerk and StudentenEkklesia revealed to me the strength of the ministerial ownership of the Liturgy by the assembly and the resultant commitment to social justice. Here was an experience which in no way could be realted to the introspective quality of all too many of our own parish liturgies.
      Please keep the comments flowing…. and as bernard himself would say, there are no answers, only more question, ‘my god, more questions….’

  6. James Corcoran says:

    I think that Mr. Oosterhuis’ lyrics are and experience in approachable hymnody. The lyrics portray a sort of theology of the common man. “Hold Me in Life,” with its striking last verse, sends chills up my spine. One could picture a person, alienated for years by his faith and troubled by doubts, realizing that in everything, God is there. Just because he is a progressive does not mean his hymns should be removed.

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