Would we ever have thought to see items numbered 992 through 1004 in a hymnal? It’s not even three-fourths of the way through GIA’s newest edition of the Gather hymnal. In this post, let’s look at thirteen pieces in the section “Christian Initiation/Baptism.”
Almost half–six–are metrical hymns (one significantly adapted as a responsorial song, and another a contemporary composition). There are two Gospel spirituals, “Wade in the Water” and “Down to the River to Pray.” I see a lot of that last piece in print resources since Alison Krauss’ popularization of it a few decades ago.
There are also three contemporary responsorial songs, one acclamation, and one post-Berthier Taize piece.
The traditional hymn tunes are excellent for contemporary ensembles and adapt well to just guitar and voice–Beach Spring, Bunessan, St Columba, Ar Hyd Y Nos, and even St Thomas. Readers following these reviews are well aware of my suggestion that a hymnal that aspires to being adaptable really does need to adapt these tune arrangements for instruments other than pipe organ. It could just be my ears, but many tunes from Celtic lands and the Appalachians adapt even better to the more frequently-used instruments in today’s churches.
The texts are good. Ruth Duck’s “Wash, O God, Our Sons And Daughters” is a fine intercessory prayer set to Beach Spring. The first two verses cover the three sacraments of initiation, so this piece is fitting for First Eucharist and Confirmation as well, not to mention other occasions of liminality in a young person’s life.
Michael Saward’s “Baptized in Water” is fairly widespread in print these days. Likewise “O Breathe On Me, O Breath of God.” Not yet in the category of classic is Marty Haugen’s 2019 text “For the Love Poured Down upon Us” set to a well-known Welsh tune. Great melody, but the text is a notch below the other contemporary ones.
Intriguing is Carol Browning’s 2019 adaptation of the tune St Thomas for “Receive the Cross of Christ.” A long acclamation set to the tune is enlarged by verses with phrases borrowed from Psalms 122 and 34 and concluding with a simple doxology. There’s a pattern with some of these: link a newly composed text to a second-level hymn tune not every parish is singing. I get it.
Two cantor-driven contemporary pieces are Bob Moore’s “Sweet Refreshment” continuing a run in GIA hymnals, and Tony Alonso’s WLP offering from 2012, “Easter Vigil Initiation Acclamations.” The former has a wider application in parish celebrations. The latter less so. My own sense is that call and response pieces are questionable inclusions in a permanent hymnal. Sure, it helps to have words in front–not every cantor is crystal clear and many churches have inferior acoustics or sound reinforcement. These are solid pieces–don’t get me wrong; I’m not sure they need space in a printed book.
“Come and Be Sealed,” a simple acclamation: same question. It’s one thing for a four-measures-long to be used at Confirmation. It’s a good idea. Why not compose verses to expand a piece for broader use? It’s what GIA did for Howard Hughes’ popular ICEL acclamation “We Have Put On Christ.” A cantor is designated for the verses, but the melody is certainly accessible for a singing assembly.
There’s a 2007 Taize piece, “Tu Sei Sorgente” (Lord you are living water). It’s in one of those awkward states: eight bars may be too long to be memorized in one liturgy, but no verses to elaborate on the John 7:37-39 reference in a printed format.
Last item is #1004, “From the Waters I Will Rise.” Interesting. I haven’t invested in GIA’s accompaniment books just yet, but the tune is good and the text states the viewpoint of a neophyte.
What’s missing? One can refer to the hymnal’s section on psalms and canticles for other material–settings of Isaiah 12 and Daniel 3, for example. OCP has more tried-and-tested repertoire than the handful of 2019 compositions here. Bob Hurd’s “Come to the River” from his Mass of Glory is a miss. From the same composer, “Flow River Flow,” is an overlooked gem with a stronger strain of Scripture in its verses.
Two women contributors to thirteen songs about initiation seems a bit light. Bernadette Farrell’s “You Have Called Us” may be another oversight.
The biggest oversight for Gather IV might be the limited selection here. 41 entries under the heading “Eucharist” and only thirteen for initiation/baptism/confirmation. I admit that there is other repertoire in this hymnal fitting for initiation and its process–songs about mission and discipleship, for example. It is also true that one can find songs suitable for Eucharist outside of the section named as such.
The problem is twofold. Have the editors have chosen to focus on a Church that looks to its interior, in this instance, the experience of the Body and Blood of the Lord? Have the Church’s composers given those who assemble hymnals too little repertoire from which to choose? Or, maybe I’ve overthought the problem.