A number of years ago, I posted some analysis of the first three Glory & Praise volumes (red, blue, and yellow, respectively). Liam had suggested I write up my thoughts on music from those three volumes that I liked, and music that might last. Those two are not congruent categories.
While I was reliving the 80’s, I also noted the percentages of songs that those three editions provided that were based on Scripture.
- GP 1: 39 out of 60, 65%
- GP 2: 44 out of 81, 54%
- GP 3: 74 out of 102, 73%
I think the trend of Catholic contemporary music to Scripture-based texts is not only good, but it’s an undeniable improvement over the general state of pre-conciliar hymnody. It seems unlikely that any mainstream hymnal in Christendom will ever approach the 73% mark in Glory & Praise, volume 3.
The swan song (some might say last gasp) of this series was the combined NALR/GIA “tenth anniversary” edition that came out in 1987. The format was similar to its predecessors in that service music was placed at the rear of the publication, and the meat was an alphabetical listing of songs, numbered 1 through 276.
I did a count on Scripture-based songs, and it turned out to be the lowest percentage of any in this series, 51%. The actual numbers were 141 out of 276.
Some things about this final NALR publication …
- It included a few dozen pieces published by GIA.
- It included seasonal and traditional hymns, about fifty total.
Many, but not most of the GIA titles were Scriptural paraphrases. Almost none of the hymns were. But that would be expected by the inclusion of Christmas carols and the core of American organ repertoire in the Catholic Church. My guess is that the NALR material itself is about 60% Scriptural, which approaches the average of the first three paperback editions.
Twenty years after the red book, OCP Publications had acquired the NALR catalogue and the Glory & Praise “brand.” They issued a second edition of the 1987 book. It looks a lot more like a hymnal: Mass settings at the beginning, followed by a section of Psalms and Canticles. Songs and hymns number 407 and are followed by a substantive set of indexes and Scripture references.
To offer a fair comparison, I merged the 132 psalms and canticles with the songs and hymns and used the number 539 as a baseline for Bible percentages. 301 hymns and songs based on Scripture gave me a percentage of 56. Take out the 120 “traditional hymns” and the percentage shoots up past 60.
What to make of all this?
At first I was a little concerned about the weaker representation of Scripture-based texts. But then I realized that the inclusion of metrical hymn texts was the single biggest factor responsible. There just aren’t enough Isaac Watts paraphrases, and the inclusion of organ hymnody lends a certain gravity to the contemporary proceedings.
Despite the uneven quality of the G&P repertoire, I think it is valid to affirm the post-conciliar affinity for Scripture-based texts. The St Louis Jesuits started it, but by the 1980’s they were being imitated by nearly everyone.
Perhaps it is telling that other composers like David Haas and Marty Haugen were using non-Biblical texts to a greater degree. And I don’t think these efforts were necessarily positive overall. My sense is that the best of the contemporary GIA psalm settings were superior to the attempts to set other writers’ work to music. And especially setting their own words.
OCP I think is somewhat stronger in what they’ve published in terms of original texts set to contemporary music. It just wasn’t in full flower in 1997.
As my parish heads to discerning a new hymnal in the next three to four years, my committee and I will be looking very carefully at Scriptures set to music. Seventy percent will be a slam dunk. Sixty or under a thumbs-down.
What do you think?
I am grateful that, in my upbringing in the charismatic renewal, I learned a lot of scripture through the music we sang. Many of the songs were written by men and women I knew from my community in Ann Arbor. That also gave me a deep attachment to them. I would admit freely that I think almost all the music I learned was of inferior quality, with often simpler and sometimes less profound lyrics, and that they occasionally had a banal repetitiveness, but to this day I’m attached to them and sing them–albeit outside of Mass. In High School, I got involved in a youth group of a strong evangelical nature. We engaged in street evangelism and sang Christian contemporary music of a direct, emotional quality. I loved the music because it moved my adolescent heart more effectively than had the older charismatic music based on scripture; scripture was notably absent from these songs from such distributors of Hosanna/Tabor. As my friends and I moved on to Franciscan University and studied theology, we became increasingly unhappy with the songs we had sung in High School and the songs that were song at FUS, in part because of their inferior musical quality, but mostly because they seemed theologically shallow and were not based on scripture. I don’t think, by any means, that the use of Scripture should be the only qualification for religious music–I would rather sing “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” than “I am the Bread of Life” any day or any night. That said, Scripture is God-breathed, and I believe God is works through it. Music is a powerful way of learning it, and that shouldn’t be discounted. So there’s a lot of agreement there.
This may be a bit academic to me. I believe that, rather than singing religious music at Mass, we should be singing the Mass. At the Masses I assist at, both Novus Ordo and Traditional, the Psalms with their antiphons are sung at the Entrance, the Readings, the Offertory, and the Communion. I like that a lot better than any other option.
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