St. Michael Hymnal Reviewed

For all the limitations of the past versions of the St. Michael Hymnal, it was probably one of the better choices out there for parishes. When I had seen a version from a few year back, it struck me as a good effort toward trying to figure out what kind of musical things should be going on in a Catholic parish. It had a bit of this and a bit of that, but mostly it had vast numbers of metrical hymns guaranteed not to produce strange textual and doctrinal surprises.There’s something to say for that.

Today, PrayTell reviews the forthcoming edition. The writer has done a thorough comparison between the old and new. There is no question that this hymnal is improving in the right way. It includes

●  The new translation of the Order of Mass in Latin and English on facing pages
●  6 Gregorian Chant Mass Ordinaries in Latin with chant notation
●  12 English Mass Ordinaries using the new translation of the Mass
●  Over 65 pieces of Service Music in English, Latin and Spanish
●  A complete collection of Entrance Antiphons for Sunday Mass
●  A collection of 440 hymns in English, Latin and Spanish
●  Indices by: Title, Tune, Meter, Liturgical Celebration, Topic

The list is notably lopsided in the direction of hymns! However, it is an excellent thing that Richard Rice has written entrance antiphons for this book, and this is a great step in the right direction. They are only antiphons (modern notation and only for the entrance) without Psalms, and they follow a formula very similar to the Simple English Propers. They are not yet presented in a way that can cover the full liturgical action but it is a good start for a book that began as a kind of blowback alternative to contemporary hymnody.

What we are seeing here is a gradual and growing sophistication among the editors – and we can hope that they can be seen as a proxy for the conservative music impulse generally. The project was born of the hymn wars but we are seeing evidence here of a deepened understanding that the Catholic music problem isn’t really about whether to sing preconciliar hymns or postconciliar songs. It is about whether we are singing the liturgy, or something else.