Rescuing Hymnody from Stupidity

Hunkering down during the latest snowstorm, my family and I had to attend Mass via television. We saw a nationally broadcast Mass that wasn’t heretical, but that was an emblem of just about everything that I have criticized in my last two articles, on vocations. In particular, the little girl (and one boy) choir sang tuneless stuff that was downright infantile. There was one altar boy in pajama robe, with almost nothing to do. You won’t get any vocations out of that congregation, because the young men are not there.

Now you may say, “But we at least sing real hymns at our parish.” Well, yes and no. If you think you’re singing traditional hymns, but you’re using Worship III, the even worse Worship IV, or any other hipster hymnal, you are singing something grammatically garbled or poetically mangled. That’s quite aside from theological amputation. In Worship III, it’s the work of a person or persons I’ll denominate as Mr. Muddlesome.

Since most of the great hymns in English were written when poets used the archaic pronouns thou, thy, thine, thee and ye, especially for address to the Almighty, Muddlesome had quite a task ahead of him. He disliked the old pronouns because we don’t use them in common address anymore. It hadn’t occurred to him that in real use, by ordinary people, those pronouns gain in intimacy as they are restricted in range. That’s why ordinary people cherish them in their most beloved prayers, the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

To Muddlesome, “the vernacular” meant the colloquial: an office memo ending with an amen. That’s all. He’s no linguist; just as the people who vandalized our churches were not painters or sculptors. He can’t imagine that a mother tongue might “contain multitudes,” including the register of the sacred. He’s a subtractor. If peasants want to be courtly in their oral poetry and folk hymns, too bad for them. Drag them into Future Church for their own good.

So he had to eliminate those pronouns, and that put the hymns in danger. Nor was it a matter of easy substitution. Thine and thee are euphonious words for the end of a verse. Their vowels are clear and bright. They rhyme with a wealth of words that are useful for a hymn: mine, divine, wine, sign, fine, incline, me, we, be, see, tree, plea, knee, and words ending in -cy, -ty, and -ly, such as constancy, eternally, and piety. So Muddlesome had to meddle with the rhymes.

He also had to rub out a few old verbal inflections: the occasional third person -eth (he leadeth me), the occasional second person -est (thou gavest)and a few variants: thou art (you are), thou wast (you were), thou wert (you were), thou shalt (you shall), thou wilt (you will), he hath (he has), he saith (he says), he doth (he does).

That’s it. Not many, not difficult. Anyone who prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary would have no trouble with thou, thy, thine, thee, art. Everyone knows thou shalt. Christmas carols, whose pronouns and verbs even Muddlesome sometimes dared not touch, are full of them: O come all ye faithful.

And it’s not as if he could be consistent. He keeps the vocative O, and even inserts it sometimes to replace thou, one archaic element for another. He keeps word-order inversions once common in English poetry. So we end up with neither flesh nor fowl, poetic monsters, always less eloquent and usually less understandable than the originals.

Often it’s not even grammatical. Here’s the true first stanza of For All the Saints:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

The pronoun Thee is the object of confessed. The sentence means, “O Jesus, may Thy name be forever blessed, for all the saints who rest from their labors, who by faith confessed Thee before the world.” The object of the verb is crucial. It explains the stanza. The name of Jesus should be blessed for the sake of those saints who proclaimed Jesus to all the world, and who often suffered for it.

Muddlesome couldn’t tolerate Thee, and he didn’t want the ugly collocation who you. So he dumped the object and hoped nobody would notice:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
All who by faith before the world confessed,
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

The saints confessed, did they? Whom, what? It makes no sense. In English, if you confess with no direct object, you’re confessing a sin. But that’s not what’s going on in the stanza. Perhaps Muddlesome was nodding—or snoring.

Or take the should-be-lovely hymn The King of Love My Shepherd Is. It’s a rendering of Psalm 23, seen in the light of the New Testament. This is the fine second stanza in the original:

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Muddlesome broke out in hives at leadeth and feedeth. He couldn’t substitute leads and feeds, because he needed two syllables. So he made hash of the meaning and the grammar. English verbs have a progressive form, to denote actions in progress. I love her denotes a settled condition. I’m loving her—well, we’re married! He gives me my medicine denotes a habit. He’s giving me my medicine suggests that he’s sticking the teaspoon in my mouth right now. So Muddlesome is giving us our medicine:

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he’s leading,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feeding.

Feeding right now, munch. As bad as the absurd change in meaning is the awkward he’s, required in order to get that progressive leading in there. It botches the parallelism. The ear and the mind have to “hear” the suppressed verb is in he’s, and it has to survive the next two lines, and be understood as applying to feeding. But English doesn’t work that way. When we hear feeding in the last line, we assume that it’s a present participle, modifying the nearby noun food, which makes no sense, or pastures, which also makes no sense. Plain awful.

The job he did on a later stanza was worse: he dispensed with grammar entirely. Here’s the original:

Thou spreadst a table in my sight,
Thy unction grace bestoweth,
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

Recall the psalm: “Thou spreadst a table in the sight of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” We have the Eucharistic table and the sacramental oil that bestows grace upon us, and the ravishing delight flowing from the holy chalice.

Yes, unction had to go, along with the old pronouns and verb forms. Witness the wreckage:

You spread a table in my sight;
Your saving grace bestowing;
And O what transport of delight
From your pure chalice flowing!

Say what? Gone is the oil of anointing. The word saving is inserted to take up two syllables. But after the semicolon following sight, there’s nothing but sentence fragments. What or who is bestowing? Where’s the verb for the clause beginning with and? There’s none. It’s gabble.

Maybe Muddlesome didn’t care. Consider this stanza from Jerusalem, My Happy Home:

There David stands with harp in hand,
As master of the choir:
Ten thousand times that man were blest
That might this music hear.

See the offending word? Yes, it is man. Fetch the smelling salts, Nellie—Mr. Muddlesome has the vapors! He erases that dirty word man wherever it appears. Here he substitutes we. But that makes no sense. The sentence means this: “That man would be blest ten thousand times over, should he hear this music.” That is a demonstrative adjective: that individual man, as opposed to somebody else. Were is subjunctive, expressing the result of a hypothetical: How blessed were that man!

Here is Muddelsome’s revision:

Ten thousand times that we were blest
That might this music hear.

What the heck is the subject? “I seen the robber” is bad grammar, but quite understandable. This here is not bad grammar. It’s beneath grammar.

These are typical examples; and I haven’t gotten to the diluted theology, where most of the deviltry appears. Reader, you may remember the dust-up a few years ago, about the new English translation of the Mass—a translation, not a paraphrase or abbreviation or distortion. The same people who complained about periodic sentences then have been selling us this garbled mess for forty years. I do mean “selling.” The hymnals aren’t free.

Anybody can put up with one bad verse here and there, or one foolish excuse for a modern hymn now and then. What’s the cumulative effect, week after week, year after year? Stupidity, said Jacques Maritain, is always a vice. We can disagree about pragmatic measures for attracting young men to the priesthood. Can we begin to agree that stupidity repels?

Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels” painted by Bernardino Luini and commissioned in 1523.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • chrisinva

    Printing a hymn from the XVII century makes the publisher no royalties. Mess it up with Koolspeak, copyright the mangled result, and he collects every time it is sung in public performance.

    These stupidifiers collect millions in mandatory music licensing fees per year from thousands of parishes. Their drivel wouldn’t get a cent on the street in Nashville or LA, but Mass?

    It’s like cafeteria food in school or,prison. Low end, high return. oh, and be sure to attend our summer Music Ministry Workshops – your parish will pay for that, too!

    • Scott W.

      Someone should start a RICO indictment.

    • musicacre

      No one wants to say it, but corruption is involved, and a BIG machine, well-organized, to hit literally every parish in the world! We have to use prayer power to get our Mass back, lock, stock and barrel….meaning truth, goodness and beauty!! “They” overlooked our parish a bit as it’s so out of the way and small, so we bred a huge batch of classically -trained singers, singing the old hymns with the tabernacle preserved in the center at front and no altar girl boys. Still, it is what it is, (Novus Ordo) so after a lifetime of waiting for the beautiful Mass to return ( I wasn’t old enough to take it for granted) we now travel to attend the the magnificent and awe-inspiring Latin Mass…practically after all the kids have left home. I feel very grateful.

    • Atilla The Possum

      Here’s a thought to chew the cud over:
      In the past decade or so, some of the biggest music recording companies in the world sell CDs, iTune downloads etc. by the millions around the world and are in the Top 40 Album Charts with such artistes as … The Priests, a cloistered order of French nuns, Italian friars (I forget their respective orders) singing the old hymns we loved and still love (I.e. those written by Fr. Faber etc.) and Gregorian Chant!
      I have a copy of an RTE CD called Faith Of Our Fathers which featured Frank Patterson amongst others singing those robust, tuneful and beautiful hymns that are as rare as hen’s teeth at Mass these days. Its secular equivalent as one of the best selling albums of all time in Ireland is called ‘A Woman’s Heart’ in that they were not driven by those heavy marketing machines that drive and spin otherwise tuneless drivel that we switch off at source! If we wanted to listen to a cat complain of haemorrhoids, we’d use our own sand paper and not bother with the radio or MTV…
      I don’t recall those ditties that we were and are brainwashed into thinking are ”the spirit” of Vatican II and ”the way forward for Church music” – written on the beer mats of Estelle White, Dan Schute etc. getting anything near as much as a sniff of the charts to nudge and elbow the likes of Phil Collins, Lady GaGa, U2 etc.
      True hymns are not complicated or have clumsy, disjointed meters that confuse the faithful.
      I HATE with every cell in my being that naff, hippy, trippy Church of Nice anthem ‘Colours of Day’ so much that I fish in my handbag for the ear plugs whenever it is played at the end of Mass (AAAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!).
      Other ”Usual Suspects” in the act of criminal assault and battery on our lugholes are as follows in the ID parade: an offertory ditty called ‘Father I Place Into Your Hands The Things I Cannot Do…” Puh-leeze! I expect the Teletubbies to appear from the side doors when that is struck up; ‘As I Kneel Before You …’ – yuck! Our Blessed Lady deserves the finest, sweetest nectar, not mawkish saccharine such as this; ‘Go, The Mass Is Ended’ would attract rotten bananas thrown at the stage if this was sung at a Music Hall; ‘Bind Us Together’ used to be nicknamed ”The Egg Hymn” at school; the amateurish, poor quality composition and mawkish ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come … come take my eyes/ears/heart/hands/feet/liver/kidneys/ spleen etc.’ might as well be nicknamed ‘The Organ Transplant Hymn’ – I was kidding about the last three body parts mentioned, by the way; ‘We Are The Easter People’ is another forgettable one – mangling the words of Pope St. John Paul II.
      The list is depressing.


    Tony – You ‘da man!!

  • Seamrog

    I suggest the editor change the image lest someone mistake the Cherubim for a Life Teen Band praising the Madonna and Child.

    Or Heaven forbid, a folk band.


    • Kevin Aldrich

      There’s nothing wrong with lutes or an accustic guitar at Mass playing classical music, except they don’t have the power to fill even a parish church without amplification.

      • John Flaherty

        I think that depends rather more on the construction of the interior of the building than on the means of providing music. Carpet on the floor and padding on the pews absorbs sound like crazy. Guitars and voices thus are “muted”. If you have Mass in an older church that lacks carpet (maybe using marble, tile, or concrete) and uses unpadded wood, sound from guitars and voices travels more readily.

        Organs typically have little difficulty making themselves heard either way because they’re large enough to send tons of sound.

  • kentgeordie

    Yes indeed, but let’s give psalm 22 the correct number, according to the Catholic Latin liturgical and Orthodox system rather than the Jewish and Protestant.

  • Scott W.

    Reader, you may remember the dust-up a few years ago, about the new English translation of the Mass.

    Yes. I remember John You-knuckle-dragging-Taliban-Catholics-need-to-be-more-charitable Allen trying to shame those in favor of the new translation by bringing up persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

    The new translation is hardly perfect, but a vast improvement over what went before which, like the NAB, privileges clarity much like a police report of a hit-and-run does. That is, in the most soulless, cover-your-backside manner possible.

    Music? Fuggedabout it. If you find a parish with good music, hang on to it like grim death.

    • Kate

      We were so sick of the music at our parish that we were seriously considering moving. However, we tried a last ditch effort before packing our bags. We had a new pastor, who although not traditional liturgically (a result of no training in liturgy or music or art in the seminary) was orthodox. Our family asked him if we could start a traditional choir and he said “Go for it.” We gathered some other singers (most of them under 25 years of age), learned Paul Jernberg’s simple Mass of St. Philip Neri, cracked open the old church hymnals that hadn’t been used in ages, learned some 4-part a cappella hymns and had our debut. People loved it (well, there are some hold outs). It was like they had a sudden revelation “Oh! That’s what Church music is supposed to sound like!” We’ve been doing this for a year and we still get people coming up to us after mass thanking us and telling us how much the reverent music helps them pray. We even throw in a Latin chant or hymn occasionally. It helped that the parish music committee is a “ministry” with no paid musicians or organist, so no one felt threatened. They also had a hard time finding people to cantor regularly or show up when scheduled. The Contemporary Choir consisted of members over 60 and a guitar player, and members came and went without commitment. We also live in a politically conservative area where people are not as hostile to tradition. Those things worked in our favor, but ultimately it was the Holy Spirit. What I learned from this is 1) Ask your pastor: all he can do is say “No”; 2) Church committees get taken over by those who show up and persevere; and 3) Don’t go in with a combative attitude; often people don”t have an “agenda”, but are operating from ignorance.

      • Charles Culbreth

        Kate, I’m gratified to know that Paul’s “St. Philip Neri” has found its way to your parish. I’m convinced that it is a watershed Ordinary setting (especially as demonstrated by maestro Thompson and the St. Peter’s Schola) that is spreading like wildfire among directors who simply care about “sacred, universal and beautiful.” There’s a lovely review (in addition to one of mine that I can’t recall where I posted, early onset and all that) currently up at CCWatershed.
        As a contributor to the CMAA Chant Café blog and the Musica Sacra Forum, there have been extensive and numerous discussions regarding the focus of Esolen’s critique of WIII/IV, but of hymnody’s/song’s (alius cantus) actual provenance within the Mass itself.
        It doesn’t take a lifetime (in my case 45 years) to deliberate which way the wind is blowing in the Church’s return to musical integrity, but it does a ton of dedication by leadership musicians and celebrants who have read the relevant documents from 1903 to the present in order to right the listing barque of Roman Catholic (Sacred) worship music.

      • Scott W.

        most of them under 25 years of age

        An absolutely critical point. Recruit from colleges and high schools. You will be amazed at the talent and the receptiveness to proper liturgical music. As Mark Steyn put it: if its a fight between 600 octogenarians and 200 teenagers, bet on the teenagers. 🙂

  • JP

    I’ve given up Mass Music. Personally, I prefer the 0700AM Daily Mass, where there is no music. Except for the voice of the priest the entire church is quiet.

    • Louise Riccobene

      I agree. My husband and I attend the 7:30 am mass on Sundays because we find the silence adds to the reverence and the people who are there really want to be there, if they are willing to get up at that time.

    • Harbored

      I’m a church organist and I feel the same way JP! The older I get, the more I feel that music at mass is over-rated. Like I tell my congregation, I don’t write the stuff, I just play what is put in front of me.

      • Kate

        Well, that’s not really what the Church teaches. The most fitting worship for Sunday mass is one with music (as St. Augustine and Benedict XVI remind us). However, I suppose if it’s a choice between banality (which causes uncharitable feelings) and quiet; the latter would be much preferred.

    • Super Genius

      AKA the “music-lovers’ mass.”

    • WG

      You poor soul…what are you going to do when you are asked to sing in the celestial choir???

      • Atilla The Possum

        Well, you can rest assured that caterwauling, bilge and kidney soup lyrics and dated music will not be on the hymn sheets we’ll be singing from… Please God!

  • Gail Finke

    They’re not all THAT bad. Very little is. I think you managed to find the very worst “update” in existence, perhaps because the original is one of the least like current English grammar (or English grammar at the time it was written). I find the less-twisted “updates” to be far more annoying, because the “we” and “-ing” substitutions are more surprising when they appear. The verses seem fairly normal and then BANG! there’s a strange “-ing” rewording thrown in, or “we” are suddenly doing something we were not doing before.

    • Tony

      Dear Gail — But yes, they are. These are typical. I’ve combed through Worship 3, hymn by hymn. It’s atrocious. I used these examples because they illustrate the sorts of things done, and because the mangled hymns are pretty familiar. There are worse still……

      • Gail Finke

        I was going by Gather, which is bad enough. If that’s true, then preserve me from Worship 3!

  • Northern Ox

    It’s most annoying (to me) when Mr. M messes with Christmas carols I’ve known since childhood. “God Rest Ye Merry, Christian Friends?” “Born to raise us from the earth?” etc. etc. really put a damper on my Christmas spirit.

    • Nel

      I was positively GLEEFUL when I was leading the singing in an English Mass in Poland (not a musician; just the only person who could possibly do it), and I got to sing, for the first time, ‘God Rest Ye Merry GENTLEMEN.’ I’d never heard it sung in Mass before, and since in Poland there is freedom of speech, and no thought police or feminazis, I could choose all the hymns I wanted that talk about ‘man’ and mean ‘humankind’. I also sang, “Good Christian MEN, Rejoice.’ Never heard that one sung in Mass, either.

  • Rich in MN

    [Warning: shameless advertising dead ahead….]

    I very recently happened across the Church of the Holy Childhood in St Paul, MN. A number of things grabbed my attention, not the least of which was the music which was reverential and beautiful and majestic. (We even sing songs with “Thee”s and “Thou”s. “Ye”s and “O”s….) I was so moved by the entire experience that I joined the choir. If any of you are in this neck of the woods at Easter time, come on down to the Church of the Holy Childhood in St Paul (near the State Fairgrounds). Our Easter liturgy will include the following music:
    Aria in Classic Style by Marcel Gandjany

    Christ Our Passover by Will C MacFarlane
    The Strife is Over by Giovanni da Palestrina
    Kyrie and Gloria by Charles Grounod
    Psalm 118 in Gregorian Chant
    Victimae Paschali Laudis by Charles Grounod
    Alleluia by Francis Thome
    We Know that Christ is Raised by Charles V Stanford
    This Glad Easter Day — traditional Norwegian melody with lyrics by C. Dickenson

    Sanctus and Benedictus by Charles Grounod
    Memorial Acclamation and Great Amen by Francis Thome
    Agnus Dei by Charles Grounod
    Meditation by Samuel Rousseau
    Sing, O My Soul by Samuel Rouseau and Bruce Larsen
    Christ the Lord Is Risen Today — Easter hymn – John N Beck
    Finale from ‘Symphony # 1” by Alexander Guilmant

    Mass is at 10:00 — see ye then.

  • Thank you for reminding me of how greatly blessed I am to be a member of an Ordinariate parish, where we sing four lovely, unadulterated hymns at each Sunday Mass, full of spiritually uplifting and poetically unmutilated sentiments that help form the soul and raise the heart to God. I hope that soon we (the Anglican Ordinariate) will come out with our own hymnal that we can share with the rest of the Church in America, so that any Catholic parish that wishes to may avail itself of a great fund of traditional hymnody that is both beautiful and theologically sound.

    • Shakespearean

      Actually, I wish the Anglican Ordinariate would spread across the Catholic Church in America. Those guys are doing terrific work

      • Amen. The beauty that is the English Mass has no serious liturgical rivals, really, in the English speaking world. Where the sublimity and mystery of the Latin Mass is not available, the majesty and grandeur of the English (Anglican) Liturgy ought to be offered.

  • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    All this rubbish drove me out of the Church as a young man. I returned while living in Europe, when I realized there was a “Mute” button (i.e. low Mass in Latin).

    • Shakespearean

      Wow, what weak, superficial faith you must’ve had as a young man to have left the Christ’s Church over some hymns or music. I hope your faith is not as superficial anymore

      • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

        Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are inseparable. Where beauty is trampled, deliberately, you can be sure the truth is no longer believed… and in the 1970s, it was not. The Christian Brothers high school I attended was a factory for agnostics. And – Quelle surprise! – the Brothers turned out to be perverts in large numbers. So yes, I certainly rejected what was presented to me as Catholicism at that time. Later, I discovered it was all a counterfeit. But as a Shakespearean, I would not expect someone from your lofty heights to understand the struggles of us mortals who lived through what Hildebrand called “The Devastated Vineyard.”

        • Chris Cloutier

          What a great response. I was too ignorant of the beauty, goodness, and truth of Catholicism as a youth, and fell away out of ignorance in the 70’s. Since I have come back(4yrs), I have learned that much of the beauty has been stripped away, at least in the current practices, and I yearn for it. I feel very fortunate to have some very orthodox friends, and am able to attend an EF Mass within a reasonable distance. All this modernism disturbs me. I am most thankful for your presence here, as well as the others that I read here that are educating me as to the beauty, goodness, and truth of Catholicism. It is humbling. Much to learn, and thanks to all.

      • ForChristAlone

        A very rude and most offensive comment.. There’s a plank for you to begin looking for.

        • Erika Allen

          I read the comments for his input.

      • Guest

        Why is it that people like you must attempt to shame others who wish to see beauty restored? And yes, not everyone has a faith that is apparently as unshakable as yours please try to stand in the shoes of us poor folk who became disenchanted with the protestanized version of Catholicism and left the Church for a short while. There are many of us weak superficial souls.

      • Nel

        Um… isn’t it BECAUSE people have superficial faith that they leave the Church? I mean, HelLO! Do you really expect a person of deep faith to leave the Church? You ought to think about what you are saying before you post.

        Many, many people leave the faith when they are young. As a college instructor I see it all the time in my students: faithful in first year; wobbly in second year, living with the boyfriend in the third year. I teach in a Catholic country where 95% of people are baptized, by the way, and my college is by no means overtly anti-religious: I have more freedom to speak here, in the classroom, on any subject than I do in the US in the public square. Neither teachers nor students are stifled from speaking up about their faith the way they are in the US. But at the same time, in a Catholic culture, you get a lot of cultural Catholics, who don’t know and love their faith or understand for a moment what they are truly throwing away when they leave the Body of Christ in the Eucharist for the body of the girlfriend in bed.

        Saying that Dr Williams must have had superficial faith when he was a young adult is kind of like saying, ‘Wow, you must have really liked sweets when you were a child, if you got cavities in those days.’ Well, yeah… for most people, superficial faith is what they are leaving behind.

        How about praising God that Dr Williams has come back to the Church? You know, like the angels in heaven rejoice over one repentant sinner?

      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        Have you directed similar comments to those who claim to have left the Church because it was not “relevant” or “up-to-date” or “patriarchal,” etc., etc. as many have done? Many clergy have seem willing to do back flips to induce them to return; what do you recommend in cases of the opposite variety?

      • jrj119

        St. John Baptist de LaSalle pray for us.

        I think Dr. Williams and I may have gone to the same high school – BKHS, 75.

        My faith was weak, superficial and not well formed.I was away from Holy Mother Church for many years. I hope and pray that all of us who survived those times have come to a better, richer faith. Perhaps knowing where we’ve been keeps us a little more meek rather than haughty.
        Ricky Joyce

        • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

          Hello, Rick!

      • Atilla The Possum

        Would you put up with your plays being systematically, brutally, tastelessly mutilated beyond recognition? Would you?
        Thought not.
        Besides, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton John Sheen said that the reasons people leave the Catholic Church is rarely to do with theology.
        St. Augustine famously stated that ”To sing is to pray twice!” – how could anyone pray even once with complicated riffs and insipid muzak?

  • Beak86

    Great article! I’ve found myself drawn to the old version of hymns for the beauty of the lyrics, but not been able to articulate why. That being said, I am a dreaded church guitarist, who only recently was awakened to the beauty of a Traditional Latin Mass. I am doing what I can, given my resources, to move toward more reverent and appropriate music. I find little support for this change from the choir, the congregation and the pastor. I am working on learning to play the organ, as the only organist in the parish is quite elderly and has difficulty hitting the correct notes. I guess my point is, please be charitable to those church musicians who don’t have the experience of beautiful liturgy with which you have been blessed. Most Catholics I know have grown up with 70’s church music and find the current hymnals an improvement. St. Cecelia, pray for us!

    • Incremental steps are better than no steps. Blessings upon you!

    • musicacre

      This is how we all have started!! I being more passive, but after my daughter grew up (in the Novus Ordo tradition) she came to love the Traditional Latin Mass and after attaining a degree in voice (singing) she became the director with alot of wonderful help from the thin but determined congregation. Now she has left the country after being married and so many wonderful singers have taken her place…the core group is very good at attracting and training new young singers!

  • Nick_Palmer3

    Dan Schutte at Intro and Dave Haas when offerin’
    Spirtitandsong we will force it in often
    Piano whenever especially commun’un
    These are a few of my favorite things…

    [Stage directions: perform like ‘Send in the Clowns,’ dual spotlights on cantor.]

  • John Albertson

    The late Father Neuhaus liked to quote Father George Rutler as saying
    that the thing he missed most when he converted from Anglicanism to
    Catholicism was the Mass in English !
    I am waiting for the new translators to tackle Shakespeare. Eg

    “The real question is whether or not to be.”

    “I’ll give you my kingdom if you give me a horse.”

    “Old men in bed in England will be furious that they were not here.”

    “Romeo, Romeo, where are you ?”

    “Above all else, be true to yourself and then, just as night comes after day, you won’t be be able to lie to anyone.”

    Then Browning: “Let me count the ways I love you.”

    And Lincoln: “Eighty seven years ago…”

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams


    • fredx2

      The worst example of this dumbing down of the language is found in the bible.

      Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” becomes:

      “Even though I walk through the darkest valley”

      • Simple & Plain

        So many modern translations have bowed down before the progressive feminist and inclusive languages. I’ve settled on the RSV, myself.

        • Jude

          RSV for accuracy, Douay-Rheims for beauty.

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      “Just fear fear.” – FDR

    • Anglican here: I agree. You can take the Anglican out of Canterbury, but you can’t take Canterbury out of the Anglican. I’ll be an Anglo-Catholic til the eschaton.

      Under some interesting turn of events this past week it looks like I’ll be happily at an Anglican Use parish in about 2 weeks. So happy to be in union with the Pope in my own tradition.

      • Kate

        My husband grew up the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and one of the thing he misses is hearty congregational singing of decent hymns. He’s baffled as to why Roman Catholics can’t (or won’t) sing and must have a goofy, distracting cantor up front to lead any feeble attempts at singing. Eastern Rite Catholic wonder the same thing.

      • ForChristAlone

        We rejoice!

      • WSquared


    • Geraldine Duddleston Young

      Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo is not “where are you” but WHY are you – as in a Montague.

    • Anon.

      Why are you Romeo? (not where)

  • Ewart Dunlop

    I think what we need to do is get some faithful Catholic liturgists together and create a good, low cost hymnal. Many of these hymns are really old and should be in the public domain now right? If the hymnal could be sold at a lower cost (by selling for little or no profit) the hymnal might be able to go into widespread use. How great would that be?

    • CC Watershed is working on the Isaac Jogues Hymnal to accompany its excellent Isaac Jogues Missal. (They also publish the excellent Edmund Campion Hymnal for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.)

      Iluminare Publications has a wonderful series of missals and hymnals and Mass Propers called the Lumen Christi series.

      Adoremus and St. Michael’s Hymnal are other options.

      And don’t forget the excellent Parish Book of Chant by the Church Music Association of America!

      • Tantem Ergo

        Anything would be an improvement over the kumbaya music they’re playing in 90% of Masses in the US these days. Our Lady of Sorrows, ora pro nobis.

    • MarkRutledge

      I recall an article a few years back (in Crisis, perhaps?) which explained how the “progressive” liturgical presses embedded themselves into parishes by providing entire packages of liturgical aides and materials. The One Stop Shop is hard to beat for convenience and cost. In short, a faithful hymnal would have to be part of an entire faithful liturgical package to realize any large-scale success.

      • Nel

        What are ‘liturgical aids and materials’? Usually theologically flabby suggestions for music or fillers for space in the parish bulletin. You can find all that you need of that rubbish online anyway.

        Once your pastor sees that he can buy ONE set of hardbound hymnals for the whole congregation, and not have to pay again and again and again, year after year for throw-away hymnals, he and the budget committee will not doubt get on board.

        Not sure what a ‘liturgical package’ is supposed to be, but whatever it is, the rest of the world does without it. Go to England, and you’re most likely to find hardbound hymnals either in the pews or in racks at the back of the church: pick one up on your way in. Go to central Europe, and you’ll find the lyrics to the music on a screen near the altar: no hymnals, not missalettes, not nothing in the pews, because the people know the Mass responses, and they LISTEN to the word of God rather than reading it during Mass (here in Poland, they know hundreds of hymns by heart, and in some parishes sing them a cappella, by heart, when there’s no musician).

        You don’t have to spoon-feed people. People rely on the booklets in the pews because they are there. But they weren’t always there. It’s like fast-food: before there were drive-thru burgers, people managed quite well to feed themselves, and they would do just as well if all the fast-food places on the planet were vaporised by space aliens. Similarly, you take away the missalettes and the hymnals and the people would just raise up their heads, focus, concentrate on what they are supposed to be saying or singing – and do it! It happens all over the world. It could happen in the US, the only country I’ve ever been to that has been sold – and I do mean SOLD – missalettes and disposable song-booklets as a necessity in Mass.

        • GG

          A famous priest in NYC once said on TV that missalettes were for catholicettes.

          • Atilla The Possum

            You can also blame the priestettes for ordering those pesky missalettes!

    • Nel

      When you think about it in terms of money, the Isaac Jogues Hymnal and Missal or the Edmund Campion Missal are CHEAPER in the long run than those paper missalettes and ‘song booklets’ that most US churches buy. Those paperbacks, besides being awful, are wasteful: they are thrown away at the end of the year, contributing to pollution if they are not recycled. Your parish probably pays thousands – even up to 10,000 a year for those awful missalettes, only to throw them away at the end of the year.

      In contrast, you can spend the money to buy hard-bound missals and accompanying hymnals like the Jogues or Campion and keep them for upwards of 40 years. The Chabanel hymnals are so well-made, so durably bound, and so visually beautiful that you would never want to dump them in a landfill, even when they wore out.

      By all means, get your pastor on board with supplying your parish with hymnals from Chabanel. Just google ‘Chabanel psalms’ or ‘ccwatershed’ and you’ll easily find information about their wonderful books that will offer you beauty in the books and in the music – and save you thousands every year in cheap, replacement missalettes.

      It would not be at all hard to organize a fund-raiser with people sponsoring a copy or two of these hard-bound hymnals and missals for use in the pews. It’s not a hard sell, once people see how beautiful the books are, how durable, and how much money they will save, though it might be a hard sell to the ‘music minister’ who expects to sing ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ accompanied by guitars.

    • jeremiah_methusela

      The old Westminster Hymnal was marvellous, full of fine Catholic Hymns. My copy was published with an imprimatur 1912. Some of the composers/translator are very well-known : Caswall; Faber; Reeks. Many of the hymns were sung with great fervour at Benediction – anyone remember Benediction ? What happened ? Did the periti of Vatican II “ban” Benediction, just like they “banned” the Old Mass ? No ? I thought not.

  • Tom Finnegan

    Amen, Anthony! Well dost thou say it! I’ve been badgering my choir director for about 15 years to have us sing, Veni Jesu, by Cherubini, or Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, but all I get is, “Yuck, that’s Latin, right?”. So we are stuck with many renditions of Amazing Grace, and of course, Dan, David and Marty stuff. I’d quit, but I love to sing.

    • WSquared

      Psst! …how about some of Thomas Tallis’s works in English?

      I would think they’d be a good start, no? has some simple chant Masses that are in English, too, which might get the Latin-adverse or Latin-shy used to chant while being a vast improvement over “Dan, David, ‘n’ Marty.”

  • This is another reason for singing the Mass Propers from the Church’s official songbook, the Graduale Romanum.

  • jrj119

    So, is there a good hymnal available? Still in publication, that is?

    • Tony

      Yes, there is. The finest English hymnal in print now, and none is really all that close, is the 1981 reprint (unrevised, but with 35 supplemental hymns) of the Hymnal 1940. It is published by the Episcopal Church, and it is ten times as Catholic as the things commonly in use in Catholic parishes in the USA.

      We do need an excellent hymnal of our own. I like the Adoremus Hymnal and the Saint Michael Hymnal, and am loath to write public criticisms of them; but they are not in the same ballpark with Hymnal 1940, neither for number of hymns, nor for (spiritual) variety, nor for consistently authentic texts.

      • 1940 Hymnal was the product of the Episcopal Church at her finest moment, right before she started teetering towards the Making Peace With Modernity clique. The old Lutheran hymnals come close, but the breadth and depth of the old ’40 is staggering.

      • KJM

        It also includes all four parts for those capable and desirous of singing in harmony.

  • Erika Allen

    I don’t recognize any of these hymns, but I appreciated the humorous writing style: I agree with the sentiment.

    • Tony

      Thank you — and of course it’s a shame that your parish doesn’t sing these hymns. I chose them because they are among the few good old hymns that any parish at all might sing once in a while …

      • Erika Allen

        I am a traditional catholic, so most of the hymns we sing are like Te Joseph, De Profundis, and whatever part of the Mass is being sang during High Mass. There might be one or two I might recognize, but I really need to hear them. My family sings in the choir (out of respect for everyone’s ear drums, I do not), so they would know better than I. However, I had a deep appreciation for the sentiment behind what you wrote. I could not agree more, and I must say, ridding those old hymns of their offending pronouns really does reduce the song for poetic to merely practical.

  • me, myself & I r all here

    ah, thank God for the watchers of “heretical” masses……. my own biased experience with some, not all, rad trad’s, is the constant “watch” for any movement that was anointed with the oil of “heresy”, rending the priest, servers, ushers & even the parking lot attendants “unclean.”

    • Tony

      Well — and what does that have to do with mucking up perfectly good works of art? Do you have to be a “rad trad” (I attend the Novus Ordo Mass) to want vandals to keep away from old poems? Are beauty and even grammar only for them?

    • GG

      You detonated the irony meter, again.

    • Guest

      ahhh there it goes, rad trads. Someone was bound to say it; best get it out of the way early, I suppose.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Even Quakers use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ to refer to each other but NewChurch has decided that these terms are too ‘reverent’ and ‘old-fashioned’ to use to refer to our God.

  • Pickwick

    Thank you. Very good. But it’s not just the diction. The music is horrible as well, at least where I’ve been going. It’s a kind toned down Andrew Lloyd Webber–Jesus Christ Superstar.

  • Don’t get me started. This rotten muzak is easy to spot in the hymnal at church: written after 1970 or too many we we we me me me I I I focused narcissistic atonal rants or pure sentimental moron songs. I go to mass for the eucharist. I can’t wait til this pope is history. He makes the muzak even worse for me. I feel like it’s his type of muzak.

    • Guest

      Do you mean this lousy modern garbage:

      • Erika Allen

        No, she’s talking about the lousy modern garbage that exists; don’t pretend it doesn’t.

        • turriseburnea

          …and it is “this pope”‘s fault?
          Go figure!

          • No I wasn’t clear. It’s what he elicits, a disdain for tradition and support for ‘modernity’.

          • Erika Allen

            I’m reading my comment; I don’t see the Pope mentioned. My argument was that lousy music does exist; don’t put words in my mouth.

    • turriseburnea

      And what exactly did “this pope” do? Could you give us any link to any of his comments on English translations &c?
      Good Lord!

      • see above – it’s who he supports and who he condemns. Just read the press for the past two years.

  • Kate

    Phew! I guess we’re OK. We have the Worship II hymnal (pre Mr. Muddlesome edition); although it does have a weird hymn with the words “Jesus is coming and I hope he isn’t black.”

    • Martha

      What?! As Catholic schoolkids in the 80’s, we scoured through our cheesy hymnal for bits like that. Not sure we ever found one quite that amusing…

  • Seamrog

    For those interested in pursuing better music at your parish, take a look at chantcafedotcom. It may be a good starting place to find resources.

  • Muzakologist

    I agree that modernizing language often seems to involve someone with a tin ear. But until Catholics learn how to be charitable to each other about their complaints, there will be no progress in church music, just fuel on the fires of hatred and scandal. I still don’t understand the logic of trying to convert someone who disagrees with you using a stance of more-knowledgeable-than-thou mockery.

    I wonder what this article would have been like if the author had researched the topic (for example, the Christmas carols *were* initially changed, but the outcry caused them to be changed back) and perhaps spoken to some of the editors. (Although, points for creating a fictional editor rather than blackening the name of a real one.)

    I suppose if “thee,” “thou,” and correct archaic English will save more souls, that’s the way to go, but I’m not 100% convinced yet. I am pretty certain that “If your brother sins against you, go to him,” rather than starting out with public criticism as step one (Mt 18:16), and I look to the day when conservatives see themselves as missionaries to liberals, not opposing sides of a civil war.

    • GG

      In these times whenever the words charity, tone, and hate are used we are sure we have nothing but the standard post modern talking points. IOW, our inflated feelings dictate how we reason. No thanks and that is not biblical at all.

    • Tony

      Dear Muzak: These presses have held Catholic liturgy in bondage for 40 years. They have zero interest in listening to me. I’m not writing for them but for the young priests and for others who want to sing real hymns, with authentic texts. I’m also writing to encourage some of the other presses to come forth with excellent hymnals. AND for people, in the overwhelming majority, who simply do not know what the editors have done — who would never suspect the mischief, which goes far beyond updating archaic language.

      Consider the people who destroyed the art in Catholic churches in the 70’s and 80’s. They aren’t listening to complaints, and they weren’t listening to them back then, either. But people could at least SEE what was done. Catholics can’t see what’s done to hymns unless they know the hymns and have the old texts. They aren’t aware. Much the same mischief was done to the prayers of the Mass, especially to those prayers proper to seasons and to feasts — out of the direct sight of the people. And when they were called on it, after 40 years, they squealed like stuck pigs, they cried foul, they accused the new translators of being “Talibans,” and so forth. I can’t speak to everybody. Others will listen if they do not.

      • Muzakologist

        Yes, I think you’ve got a lot of valid points. (I don’t agree with the one about parallelisms, but that’s neither here nor there.)

        But suppose your writings are effective and you create an army of zealots–people with excellent training and taste who deplore along with you. If young priests get their own parishes (without much experience, these days) and joyfully tear “Be Not Afraid” and “Lord I Lift Your Name On High” out of the hands of 50-year-old folkies who found it meaningful and beautiful and tell them it’s trash, will this be any better for the amount of mercy in the world than were the bonfires of the hymnals in the 1970s?

        As I answered someone above, I like old hymns. I like thees and thous. I think the tin ear problem is real (I’m not a fan of the English language settings of the chant Mass.) I also know people who appear to have legitimate problems with language that’s not gender-inclusive (I am not one of them.) They are not all bad people.

        However, I have also seen angry, disagreeable people taking over the twice-a-month Tridentine Mass so that the ordinary people weren’t involved. They *could* have invited the regular choir to be part of it, but they chose to be exclusionary. Situations like that are what I am concerned articles like yours will promote. (And then the indult choirs are usually bad–and here i am quoting Calvert Shenk!) That is why I commented on your article. I want conservatives to gracefully and kindly introduce their reforms so that the un-informed experience the change as a pleasant, option, not more grab-the-wheel-and-out-you-go musical politics.

        One simple yet significant change: NPM has organ activities shows the tide is turning. Conservatives still have to love their enemies, even if they don’t love their editorial decisions. Please don’t train the next generation to view everyone who disagrees with them as “one of THEM.” Can’t one be right AND kind? You point out that the translations leave something to be desired and lose theological meaning. The editors may not care what you have to day. The editors may also be dead. There is literature on the subject of the changes. They may or may not have made them for the reasons you deduce from internal evidence. My point there was that you based your assessment, that they were stupid, on internal evidence alone, and used mockery as your framework to advance your argument. Granted, this is _Crisis_, not known for pulling its punches. But I just think that even though there is a time for war, the peacemakers are still blessed.

        • musicacre

          “..used mockery as your framework to advance your argument.”
          You make professor Esolen sound very calculating and cruel when in reality a lot of people who have had the eyes to see, lament the tearing up of church beauty which was supposed to be the legacy we preserve like our parents did, to pass on untarnished to our next generation. I have been suffering through the “tear-down” since the beginning of being a newly-wed and new mother trying to raise my children in an increasingly banal church environment that even takes down the crucifix and hides it during catechism so the children won’t be ” frightened”…instead they are protected from learning and loving their faith. How do you try to use dry and analytical terms when a bishop actually took an ax at the cathedral to take down the high altar??? How does one not feel a little emotion? So I was one of the young people wishing for the beauty back…it has been 30 long years…..I can only credit my six children’s faith to homeschooling, and preserving the faith at home.

          • Muzakologist

            It sounds like you’ve had some horrible experiences. The cross is always a scandal, but within the church? You definitely have some serious obstacles around you, I would guess some well-meaning but very poorly informed people.

            However, I think that “mockery” or “sarcasm” accurately describe his tone. What do you think is a better description?

            I believe him to be a well-educated man very aware of the English language and appalled by a hack job by someone with intentions he does not know but surmises. I also think it makes for a good rhetorical advice, creating a straw man who is rearranging English with a shovel.

            I just think that encouraging people to laugh at and mock those they disagreement sets a problematic example. So it may sound harsh, but I stand by that assessment of the article. It’s mocking. I’m asking the author to consider other approaches so as not to fan the flames of enmity. I hope everyone takes action, and educates themselves. I hope they don’t come with pitchforks and torches because they believe that’s justified and the people they oppose are monsters. You catch more flies with honey. Conservatives believe they have honey, but they often use vinegar to advertise it.

            Again, I think I understand your anger, but the Bible says “Be angry but do not sin.” Best of luck to you winning over the hearts and minds of your fellow churchgoers!

        • Tony

          It’s hard for me to determine whether they were stupid, incompetent, malicious, inattentive, or what …. But it has to be something. You don’t take good art and spray paint it, without something in you being really off. That said, I’m not hoping to influence the publishers of that hymnal. I want instead to encourage others to publish a real hymnal instead, or to purchase and use the greatest English hymnal in print, the Hymnal 1940. In general, I’d like to help people see just what the hymns ARE …

    • LarryCicero

      If you are one of the editors and you are an admitted liberal, why don’t you ask some conservatives what they think of your editing before making the edit final? Or might you be offended because you are the more-knowledgeable-than-thou one who mocks the author of this article? How many souls have your edits saved?

      • Muzakologist

        You’re a sweetheart! No, I’m not one of the evil editors. But it did occur to me after I posted that the pot was possibly calling the kettle black. So your attack on me has some justification 🙂

    • I suppose if “thee,” “thou,” and correct archaic English will save more souls …

      And herein lies the problem: you have a revivalistic Protestant paradigm about sacred music. If there’s no immediacy then there’s no relevancy? That’s the criteria? What you see as a wall we see as a pathway which allows us to ascend safely into the theological mountain tops. “There’s gold in them thar hills!” The archaicisms are not there to impede but to give us an aesthetical sense of what’s before us. There’s an artificial loftiness, for sure, but not superficial. Not only do we need the right theological ideas, we need a grammatical legacy that can fund our spiritual progeny with those ideas.

      As others noted, think hard about what befalls the force of Shakespeare if you simply update the language. You can say approximately the same things, but what’s lost besides the archaic stuff? A few things, actually.

      For starters, the sense of a shared theological language. As you well know, language binds a people as much as ideas do. Though the Gospel transcends cultures, each culture must own it authentically as possible. Hip, trendy cant doesn’t hold a candle to the gravitas that permeates our highest expressions of the same Gospel.

      Another thing lost is the poetic force of the older language. We are forced to sing even if we merely say the words. The value of poetics in liturgical language cannot be underestimated. The Lord could have merely sent down a manual of Christian doctrine. Rather, He infused Scripture with memorable poems. Why our sacred music should be less poetic is rather puzzling.

      There are a few more things I want to add, maybe I’ll add later, but given it’s so late right now I’ll finish with this: no hymnody is simply an evangelistic tool. It is the Evangel expressed with the best our tongue has to offer: to make a living monument for ages to come. Nobody is barred from the riches of these hymns because of their loftiness; rather, people are invited to forget themselves and ascend with the Church.

      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        Good luck with trying to make this case with “relevance” minded types, who have an immovable sense of their own superiority. They don’t actually know very much, but in my experience, knowledge is no match for superiority. If only you could see things as they do.

        In the meantime, as a parish organist, I don’t think you can improve on the English cadences and majestic melodies of the 1940 Episcopal hymnal, which is where I get most of my English language material and music. Too bad so many Anglican churches have also tossed it.

      • Muzakologist

        Actually, I used “save more souls” for rhetorical purposes. I don’t hold the views you ascribe to me.

        Frankly, I prefer using the propers instead of inserting “good Catholic hymns” that have no place in the Mass (with a few exceptions such as Holy Thursday and Pange Lingua): hymns belong to the office. And the hymns aren’t Scripture, and even Augustine preferred Cicero’s writing style to that of Scripture. But I do agree with you that if you have a hymn, you might as well let it be of its time and leave contemporary phraseology to contemporary music.

        My point was rather, I don’t think that wailing to fellow travelers about one’s aesthetic and how other people are offending it is the way to win hearts to one’s point of view. I think that standing back and criticizing from afar makes Catholics looks bad and does not effect any change except making people on both sides more angry. I do feel sympathy for people who have to endure distracting music of any kind in their worship. I suppose it’s a few years off Purgatory if you offer it up.

  • Simple & Plain

    My local parish has a wide variety of music, depending on which Mass you want to attend. At one of them, I feel like I’m at a rock concert, complete with electric guitars. It’s not my thing. I much prefer the choir, or even the individual singer with an organ to accompany. Most things are from Glory & Praise and Gather, of course post VII, but I’ve no idea how progressive vs conservative they are.

  • Tantem Ergo

    Love this article. Why will our priests not axe the Protestant hymns now being used at Holy Mass? Our entrance hymn a few weeks back was “What is this place”? and I’m like “um a Catholic church!”.

  • Wilma

    When I see the assassination of beautiful words, I resolutely sing the original! I thought I might be the only one who hates the massacre of wonderful hymns.

  • John Flaherty

    At best, I have strongly mixed reactions to the analysis provided here.

    I’ll acknowledge that I tend to prefer older hymns to newer ones, if only because they’re not subject to politically correct, um, “correction”. I don’t do very well with most “hymns” newer than about 1985; most of them are WAY to squishy and say too little worth saying.
    On the other hand, I don’t understand why people insist on using “thee”, “thy”, or whatever in their music. If the original authors may have used these pronouns in their daily tongue, let’s remember that we do not. Nor do I buy the idea that altering the hymn to reflect more modern language necessarily hurt them very much. We don’t go to Mass for a grammar lesson, nor do the changes you wrote about appear to cause the music to be incomprehensible. If you had trouble understanding that someone was receiving the grace of God or the people were eating food, well, sorry. I didn’t. One merely needed to read the overall context of the passage to understand the meaning.

    I likely will wind up remaining with older hymns for the reasons mentioned earlier, but I would strongly advise focusing more on theological difficulties than literary. I’ve never been much of a fan of poetry, unless it’s set to some good music. Someone telling me that this hymn needs serious help because of poetic failings is like telling me that I shouldn’t eat the sandwich because it was made with rye, not wheat. I need to eat the fool sandwich, not quibble over the grain they used to make it.

    On the whole, this really comes down to another thought:
    If we’re going to howl this much about exact English renderings of hymns, maybe we ought to use Latin instead.
    If we have a large treasury of Mass music in English, I think we have an even larger one in the Church’s official language.

    • Tony

      I could easily do what you ask, ripping apart the bad theology of the new songs in Gather, and Glory N Praise. But that is shooting fish in a barrel, isn’t it? Most people are quite unaware of just what has been done to the “traditional” hymns, and the damage ranges from the grammatical to the semantic to the poetic to the theological. It is not easy to confine it to one category.

      The poets used THEE and THINE for a variety of reasons. Whatever you may think of those reasons, you can’t simply substitute YOU and YOUR without doing damage to the poems, especially when those words end a line. When incompetent people paint over an old mural, or “update” it in a cartoonish way, you will no doubt be upset, and rightly so. I am puzzled as to why this natural and just concern for the integrity of a work of art does not extend also to poetry.

      If you confess to me that you don’t have an ear for poetry, maybe my more pressing task is to show you just what was going on in the great old hymn-poems, and then you may be the more stunned by what our editors have done to them.

      • John Flaherty

        “I am puzzled as to why this natural and just concern for the integrity of a work of art does not extend also to poetry.”

        Primarily because I’m not attending Mass for a poetry reading, but to receive God’s grace.
        I have little doubt that the more poetic rendering will have more meaning in a certain sense, but that finer sense of the meaning won’t help if most of us don’t know what we should look or listen for. If that means that we’re severely deficient in our understanding of the Fine Arts, well, that’s nothing new.
        I don’t necessarily object to using older language in hymns, but we’d best remember that such hymnody may dissuade almost as many people as it persuades. If I’m not thrilled with more modern renderings of everything, I’m not always enthusiastic about older lyrics that require more explanation, especially explanation that we most likely will not be providing. We are talking about Mass after all, not a college course in the Classics.
        Like I mentioned earlier, I have a rather testy relationship with poetry. I keep hearing that poetry expresses things so much more..thoroughly..yet I recall being relatively disgusted with a book of poetry by Robert Frost. On the other hand, though I hated reading “The Highwayman” as a teen, I thought Loreena McKennitt’s rendering as a musical piece was astounding. The former still seems to me a very long, very boring poem. The latter has life and passion!

        If you’re that finicky about exact verbiage and poems though, I’m surprised you can tolerate English for Mass at all. If one reads Fr Z’s blog long enough, one discovers that many prayers suffered something more like a mauling when the ICEL committee translated them. I should think the same logic would extend to any poetic rendering of anything.

        • musicacre

          While you’re at it, why not take the trills out of Bach’s music? After all, it can be sped up then for any listener on the run…as though that listener is more important than the work which survived and inspired for 500 years! If someone is too impatient for a “thee” and “thou” I’m guessing they’re probably impatient with the older generation also, starting with their parents and grandparents who always speak differently, since we are of a different time. A young person has to learn to respect just that. and not be treated as though his attention is to be put on a pedestal. I find the Latin Mass in the city close to us is picking up tons of new university students (many are not Catholic) because, precisely, they are intrigued by the beauty and other-worldliness of the language!!

          • John Flaherty

            Interesting that you mention how college students are attending the Latin Mass. Let’s remember that this article addressed how older hymns that were written in English have been bastardized to a fair extent to address modern persons. Trouble is, if we intend griping about the lack of beauty of modern renderings of older hymns, it’d be good to know why we’re not insistent about using Latin in the first place. Let’s remember that these hymns, however beautiful they may be, originate themselves from verses that came from either Latin or Aramaic. ..Or both.
            If many are irritated by the modern versions of English, I have to think that many were irritated by using English in the first place.

            As far as the differences between generations go, I think it difficult to make the case that people will be eager to use “thee” or “thou” or whatever. Do we intend to provide literary catechesis as well as theological for Mass? I don’t believe I’ve heard any cases of thee or thou in everyday speech since somewhere around 1870 or so. Even that assumes that Laura Ingalls Wilder accurately depicted Almonzo’s mother’s question of him regarding whether he was sick.

            Point is, Mr. Esolen’s arguments regarding grammar and beauty don’t ultimately persuade me that I should be seeking to change something. He seems to primarily offer a re-hash of arguments that I heard between 1989 and 2001 or so. I learned a bunch of music in the 80’s that I thought quite thoughtful, then had to change lyrics in the 90’s because of “gender bias”, then had to sing simplified versions staring around ’99 because the ones we had were “too hard”. When I found a book in 2004 that discussed all this, I learned that thousands of people considered the music that I learned originally to be pretty close to rank trash.
            After that, because it seemed that both modern and older seemed to detest anything I actually thought good, I simply quit singing. It wasn’t worth the bother.

            I think before we start fussing over this rendering of an English hymn over that, we need to have a frank discussion about the merit of having any music or Fine Art in Mass in the first place. After all, why should we be concerned about the concerns he lists if the priests offers Mass using a chasuble that looks more like Rainbow Brite than St Paul?
            If we can’t deal with the matter of Fine Art in Mass versus more mundane, um, offerings, we’re merely bickering over preferences, or so it seems to me.

        • Tony

          But the point is, if you are going to feature a work of art, you don’t muddle it, you don’t mess it up. And this doesn’t have anything to do with needing a special education, because usually the attempts to “update” the language leave matters LESS coherent, LESS clear. And a majority of the revisions have to do with ideology and not with the quality of the language.

          There really are very few obsolete forms in the old hymnody. A child can pick them up pretty readily, and, after all, we still use some of them in our most beloved prayers. Here they are, in toto:

          THOU, THY (THINE), THEE for the second person singular pronoun

          YE for the nominative second person plural pronoun

          -ETH as the (occasional) third person singular variant for -S on the present tense of verbs (HE LEADETH ME)

          -EST as the (occasional) second person singular variant (WHO TAKEST AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD)

          And a few alternate second person singular forms for BE and for some modal auxiliaries: THOU SHALT, THOU WILT, THOU WAST, THOU WERT

          And that is it. There are no more. This is not particle physics.

          • John Flaherty

            “This is not particle physics.”

            *groans* It may be closer to particle physics than you realize.

            I think you must see these forms, however few they may be, through the lens of a passionate English professor. Perhaps you see these as the height of expression of one’s love of God and of God’s love for humanity. I don’t so much.

            I understand the passion for the subject-matter. I had an English professor who was quite passionate about her subject-matter too. She really wanted you to understand why this passage was so darn enthralling. She really wanted you to understand why this phrasing, this exact textual rendering, was so darn FASCINATING.

            ..Which is part of the problem, really.
            She taught a good deal about the great value of English literature and verse. ..But she did so from a definite secular/progressive view, not one of faith. Ironically, I recall reading a part of Ecclesiastes in her class, because the passage represented how an author could use parallel structure to present an idea. But again, the material was presented as an ;example of how a man used English verse to present a moving idea to an audience, not as a prime example of how a human being gave praise, honor, or glory to God.

            I understand the value of English literature as a means of expressing one’s awe of the majesty of God. I also understand that I and millions of others only warily look for any such thing. I recall examining “The Lottery” in graphic detail, realizing a few years later that this story was an assault on faith, however oblique, and ultimately becoming very suspicious of almost anything that might be presented by English literati.

            Granted, this has only very little to do with the exact use of “thee” or other forms, yet my larger reaction to anything of “older” English is not one of trust, but of resignation. While I can’t precisely guarantee that others have similar reactions, I’ll wager that I’m nowhere near alone in that appraisal.
            When you consider that I grew up with efforts to “make faith more personal”, you might not be surprised to learn that I have, on numerous occasions, substituted “you” for “thy” or “thou” when praying a Rosary. I don’t think of “thee” or “thy” as being a manner of personal address; I have little interest in praying to God using verbiage that hasn’t been common in daily life in at least 100 to 150 years.

            So yes, incredibly, while I can’t say as I had thought through the matter this way previously, I’d say you are, in fact, dealing with the literary equivalent of particle physics.
            I don’t precisely go to Mass for a re-education in English literature or norms regarding forms.

            I suppose I ought to be thanking you for the chance to more thoroughly investigate why I dislike these words so much.
            *sighs* Thanks. ..I think.

            • Tony

              Yes, I see now what you are getting at.

              English teachers should be able to show the consonance of truth and beauty. Most often these days they fall to political grandstanding; their betters, far fewer, fall to aestheticism. Those aren’t the only alternatives, though.

              The thing is, I am not recommending that anybody do anything to the hymns. I am recommending that they STOP doing things, bad things. Just leave them alone.

              Perhaps it might help you to consider that THOU, THINE, and THEE did remain in common use in English, for love poetry, until that tradition, along with many others, wrecked against the rocks of modernism. For love poets, they were “felt” as intimate, separate from the ordinary chat of life. They were associated with admiration and tenderness.

              In any case, I’m not insisting that poets now use old pronouns. I want editors to leave the hymns alone; and most of the damage they have done is not linguistic but poetic and theological…..

          • John Flaherty

            BTW, for what it’s worth, I was a natural sciences major as an undergrad, Meteorology specifically. I learned some of the materials of particle physics in Phys 202. Certainly it’s not an “easy” subject. On the other hand, while it may be mathematically intense, it’s not as intellectually incomprehensible as you might think. Time consuming–thus requiring ample money to accomplish the research–but not impossible to discern.

  • Matt Robare

    Mr. Muddlesome seems like Nineteen Eighty Four’s Syme: “By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now.”

  • The Catholic Church has no hymnals, just antiphons and propers. Using any hymnal whatsoever at Mass is stupid.

  • Jude

    Our TLM parish has two hymnals. The blue one is “The Traditional Roman Hymnal,” and the yellow one is a very similar title. Very nice selection, and my children are learning to sing music that is worthwhile. Never the Marty Haugen and David Haas sludge that our old parish offered.

  • Joe Vandenberg

    Okay, Anthony: there must be a place, a person of rectitude can merge his observations with the public malaise, to some sort of edifying employ, no? Why must it, seemingly, always sweep up the on-ramp with the muffler-less roar of the 15th century watermelon wagon? “Wadi-wadi-wadimellloonnnn!” is a charming, delectable promise, no question. Still, on the freeway? Like, cars don’t sing, Tony. Or eat melons. And, cars of course, is who goes to church, these days. People go along for the ride. To reach the people, sans auto-worship, shouldn’t there be some appeal being made to a common didactic, rather than the more self-satisfying war whoop of the combative literal excursion? Maybe, like–“Dear Friends in Christ, I would like you to know,on our Savior’s behalf, that His redemptive sacrifice does not cover our auto insurance policies, so, when we lift up our voice in song, to give thanks and praise to God, for restoring our eternal life, our communion with the Divine, couldn’t we, shouldn’t we, must we not, permit and allow and welcome, the infusion of the Holy Ghost to inform us that “New Creature” isn’t a motor vehicle promotion? New Creature is someone to meet, someone pleasing to the Holy Trinity, someone stolen away from the thief of perdition, someone to come to know, with august delight; someone who is taking the place of the casual monster of self-realization our fallen nature cowers to.”
    What say ye, Anthony?

  • Colleen

    Indeed: STUPIDITY REPELS. And i am talking out of my own experience, “year after year”, in a Southern European country, where even hymns would be considered heavenly, compared to the indescribable nonsense during Masses.

  • Colleen

    For most of you who proudly declare that you “prefer Mass withouit Music” : wouldn´t it be more honest and fair to admitting that you probably belong to the rather big Group, according to experts, of so called “tone deaf” people? After all, you cannot help this. But what you can do sth about is your pride and lack of humility regarding liturgical Music! You are NOT by any means an expert on this issue, unlike pope Benedict XVI who made it no secret that he considered reverent and beautiful music at Mass crucial for a re evangelization. It would definitely not harm you to READ what he says on dignified music!
    Instead of just crying out your own “views” and revealing your ignorance and dislike/hatred of classical music/gregorian etc LISTEN to what the pope em wrote on this theme! Look it up on the net! Or listen to the Westminster Cathedral, London: the boys and men Choir. Gorgeous! Heavenly! Or listen to the Westminster Abbey Choir, London(Anglican), who sing absolutely heavenly!
    Why do so many catholics, especially elderly, middle aged catholics, spend unproportional time attacking Beauty and beautiful music?! While, clearly, an increasing number of young catholics are redescovering the splendid beauty in dignified liturgical music.
    It seems all too obvious that your dislike and hatred (not always, but far too often) is a clear sign of a personality problem. Attack instead your own problems and stop attacking the Beauty in the Church!