We do have a rich treasury of hymn-poems to read, to sing, and to keep close to the heart. Some of them are almost as old as Christianity itself. They come from Latin and Greek, from our own English, from French and German and all the languages of Europe. Some were written by saintly divines with a fine ear for poetry: John Henry Newman (“Praise to the Holiest in the Height”), Charles Wesley (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”). Many were written by the great Dr. Isaac Watts, who set the psalms to English meter and rhyme. Some rose up from an anonymous lyricist among the folk: “What Wondrous Love Is This.” Some entered our language by the skill of great translators, like John Mason Neale and Catherine Winkworth. Some were the work of pious laymen who meditated upon Scripture all their lives: so the blind Fanny Crosby gives us “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” Just as many of our most beautiful melodies were written by the finest composers who ever lived—Bach, Handel, Haydn—so too many of our hymn lyrics were written by poets of some renown: George Herbert, Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Milton.
So why, then, why do we have verse-by-numbers lyrics posing as real poems in our hymnals? Why, when we have such a trove of the great, the profound, the beautiful, the memorable, the poignant, the splendid, do we have to endure what is banal, clunky, clumsy, dull, vague, and silly?
A piece from an excellent article from Antony Esolen
Often it is like living in a warehouse full of fine china plates and when we eat we break out paper plates. We do the same with our hymns – our heritage is a treasury of beautiful hymns and we dine on banal ones.
The headline at the top is from Fr. Dwight Longenecker who has his own thoughts on the article.
It’s not just the modern hymnal, it’s the modern Catholic architecture that makes moder churches look like Pizza Huts & abstract stained glass windows that look like broken beer bottles stuck in cement that are banal, as well. Hopefully, we’ll be able to recover from Vatican II & return to aesthetically pleasing creations.
I have never had a problem with modern music, so long as it is directed upward toward the Lord and not shining a spotlight on the singers. I have been to some masses and adorations that felt more like concerts. But I have seen this also with traditional choral.
I agree there is treasure trove of beauty waiting to be unearthed. But sometimes I think we need not just re-use it, but re-introduce it. Many may feel estrangement from things like Palestrina, just like some people are opaque to the light Shakespeare brings.
But with Shakespeare, I’ve found that if you can give people the tools to see the deep beauty and insight he gives, then can deepen in their affections for his work.
I think the same is true of traditional church music. If it is to be revived, it must be re-introduced.
It was more than Vatican II, I’ve been in some hideous churches fron the mid-early ’60s.