Sunday 27 December 2015


I had occasion to get out one of my old hymn books recently (I say mine, but actually, my brother stole it from Ealing Abbey many years ago, so its precise legal status is somewhat ambiguous). (I say stole, but it was his, as a member of the Ealing Abbey choir; I imagine he should have surrendered it on leaving; but even that isn't clear cut. He sort of left when he went to University, but then sang at Ealing in the vacations. I'm not sure when he finally left) (Anyway, all that is quite beside the point).

(Enough parentheses - Ed.)

It is a copy of Praise The Lord (Full Music Edition) edited by Wilfrid Trotman, and given the imprimatur in January 1966. And that is not beside the point: it was published just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, and before the New Rite of Mass was introduced.

Which makes the Foreword by Cardinal Heenan, and the Preface (unsigned, but almost certainly by the editor) particularly interesting to those of use who are trying to understood how the change in the liturgy was brought about, and the thinking (and the sequence of thinking) that accompanied it.

So without further ado (all capitalisation and italics are in the original):


Some people are happiest at Mass kneeling quietly as they unite their thoughts with the priest and the rest of the congregation in offering the holy Sacrifice to Almighty God. They have every right to make up their own prayers or say the rosary. The ultimate object of the liturgy is the union of our souls with God.

But if everybody chose to follow Mass in this way the liturgy would become impossible. It is true that if there is a priest at the altar, the holy Sacrifice would be offered but the priest is at the altar to intercede for the people. The Church has always required the priest to have at least an altar server to represent the people. The ideal for which the Church is always striving is the active sharing by priest and people in the words and actions of the Mass.

That is why I welcome the hymn book PRAISE THE LORD. When religious exercises are varied they keep their freshness. There are many ways of assisting at Mass and all should be given their turn. I think that children and young people will delight in the hymns and psalms that are set out here. For older people the Mass could never be boring. But even half an hour is a  long time for a child to keep still. I am sure that this book will help many to grow in love of the Mass.

March, 1965.                 + JOHN CARD. HEENAN



PRAISE THE LORD has been compiled and published in order to make available a worthy collection of hymns and psalms, suited to the requirements of a renewed liturgy, and especially for use during Mass. It is the first book to be issued in the English speaking countries that draws heavily on the hymn treasures of other denominations, and it is hoped that in a small way it may contribute to the cause of Christian Unity.

The method of selection has been straightforward: anything that was of doubtful merit has been omitted. Inevitably this has resulted in the exclusion of many 'old favourites', but it is difficult to make a case for retaining hymns that, although suited to the emotional needs of an earlier age, no longer meet the artistic requirements of the Church, and appear excessively sentimental.

A hymnal is intended primarily for congregational use and experience shows that the keys originally chosen for many hymns are uncomfortably high for the average congregational voice, especially men. For this reason many hymns have been transposed down so that except in unavoidable cases, no tune goes above D. Sometimes this results in slightly muddy harmonies, but this is outweighed by the comfort which the average singer gains by a pitch well within his capability.

PRAISE THE LORD is being published at a time when understanding of the liturgy is constantly increasing. In time parish priests and musicians will find they need hymns and psalms for occasions that are not catered for in this book. The editor will be very grateful to receive suggestions for improvements in future editions, especially from those who are actively engaged in the formation of parish worship.


There is much of interest and note here, including the Cardinal's comments when placed alongside some of his others (eg to Waugh, and his famous intervention at the Council), and Trotman's many assumptions.  I will be interested in readers' comments, and may post further on this as time allows.


Ttony said...

By 1965 there had been more than 50 years of liturgical innovation by Popes whose authority to change was not questioned, and no end of clever people who questioned the authenticity of the worship of most lay people whose actuosa participatio wasn't the activa participatio desired. And a fifth column of soi-disant liturgical experts had already constructed Pope Paul's new Mass at conferences at Maria Laach and Mont Sainte Odile in the early 1960s. So Cardinal Heenan's comments have to be read against a background in which what had been mainstream in the time of his predecessor, Cardinal Godfrey, already looked like fossilised arch-conservatism. I can't think he really believes the point he is making: in fact he says that if Mass means everybody kneeling quietly as they unite their thoughts with the priest etc then the Liturgy is impossible - but then says that it is OK sometimes: a contradiction.

The editor's preface sets itself on two premises which by 1965 could obviously be taken as read: that the Mass was to be fundamentally restored (not least by the introduction of vernacular hymns); and that drawing heavily on the patrimony of non-Catholics might make progress towards Christian Unity: the more we copy what they do, the more they'll like us. I would love to know what his definition of "doubtful merit" was, and which the "old favourites" cast out of the hymnal were: but I think we can guess. Anything florid by Fr Faber, for example, or anything too eucharistic which might upset our separated brethren. I wouldn't say that the editor was one of the fifth columnists, but he certainly had read the writing on the wall and had either been convinced or had decided to go with the flow.

"Occasions that are not catered for in this book": which occasions are catered for? Is it just Mass, Benediction, Processions, or does it include the Office? Does it cater for "Christian Unity" services?

However three cheers, and three cheers more, for the transposition downwards to allow men to sing. That seems to be a fad that didn't catch on.

By the way: the Cardinal's "children and young people will delight in the hymns and psalms that are set out here" sounds like every Catholic youth worker who is more than a generation older than the youth with whom s/he is working, and from whom I spent much of my childhood and youth trying to hide from.

Patricius said...

"The ideal for which the Church is always striving is the active sharing by priest and people in the words and actions of the Mass."

Is there not an irony in these words- not least because (please excuse me for harping on this theme)the introduction of hymn books and their extensive and increasingly rag-bag collections of hymns tended away from the focus upon the proper words of the mass? I vividly recall the arival of the first edition of "Praise the Lord" with its dark blue and ochre yellow cover. I was about ten or eleven years old and recall enjoying singing some of the anglican hymns like "For all the saints" set to "Sine Nomine" by Vaughan Williams. In a few years we had changed to "The Parish Hymn Book" and soon after that another, larger, edition of "Praise the Lord". To be fair, these were not half bad as hymn books go and it was to be another decade before I had the misfortune to find myself in parishes that used "The Celebration Hymnal" or "Hymns Old and New" and somehow seemed unfailingly to gravitate towards the worst material.

Cardinal Heenan's famous remarks upon the first outing of the new rite in the Sistine Chapel, I believe, provide some insight into what happened. Relatively few Catholics at the time attended sung masses. There was, as some commenters have remarked, a sort of "Low Mass culture". The great challenge for clergy at the time was to get the laity to sing at mass. (it is worth noting how, among the difficulties, Cardinal Heenan highlighted "psalm-singing". Few parish musicians could conceive of congregational singing other than that which fitted the format of the metrical hymn. I suspect that many parish priests were relieved that there was some formula whereby they could "tick the box" where congregational singing was concerned. Again, it is worth noting that Cardinal Heenan, in the above passage, speaks of an "ideal". I suspect that he, like many other good people at the time, were deeply uneasy about the direction things were going but could not see how to properly address them.

For a novel approach to these matters it might be worth reading "Sacrosanctum Concilium" not as a positive mandate for reform but as an attempt to block or ameliorate changes already in the pipeline.

Anonymous said...

"the more we copy what they do, the more they'll like us."

Thank you Ttony for this sentence, which neatly encapsulates what passes for ecumenical thinking in the modern Catholic Church.