Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

Like many traditionalists, I don’t really like this hymnal.  So let’s make a point of starting with the positives.

+1 It matches the contemporary rites.  Made to pair with the 1979 Prayer Book, this hymnal is the first in the Episcopalian tradition to feature contemporary-language Service Music.  Carried into the ACNA, this remains a useful feature.  A few translation elements have changed since then (“And also with you” has returned to the properly historical and biblical “And with your spirit” for example), but for the most part those discrepancies are easily adapted from the 1979 liturgy to the 2019.

+2 It has a lot of options for service music.  In total there are 288 chant tunes and melodies for the various Office Canticles and Prayers, Mass parts, and other commonly-sung parts of the Office and Communion liturgies.  Add in the fact that it retains some traditional-language material alongside the contemporary, and you’ve got yourself a large collection of choices and resources built in to the hymnal.  This is very empowering for a choir or congregation, having so many possibilities accessible in one volume without having to purchase expensive choir music or whatever else.

+3 It brings in a few popular hymns that the previous hymnal lacked.  I commented last week that the 1940 hymnal doesn’t have Amazing grace! in it; this book does.  And, with a total of 720 hymns (compared to 600 in the 1940), this hymnal didn’t have to sacrifice a ton of songs in order to make room for new and imported ones.

But there are a number of shortcomings to this hymnal.  Depending upon your preferences and views, some of these might be minor or major to you; I’ll list what I consider to be the main offenders.

-1 The formatting is inconsistent.  Sometimes you get a fantastic four-part-harmony arrangement complete with the last verse’s descant on top, making for an excellent resource for congregation, choir, and keyboardist alike.  But sometimes you just get a melody line with no accompaniment.  If you want to play along on the piano or organ, too bad, you’ve got to purchase the giant TWO-VOLUME accompanist edition of the hymnal.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.  Plus, a lot of the hymns in this book are printed with uneven line or page jumps.  You can see the range of good and bad in this sample:

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-2 A number of classic hymns have undergone changes to the lyrics.  To some extent, yes, there is a longstanding history of lyrics getting edited for reasons of theological preference or for clipping long songs into shorter versions.  But this hymnal goes a few steps too far, doing violence to the poetry of classic songs in the interest of gender-neutral language.  Perhaps the most prominent offender is Be thou my vision.  The second verse reads:

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father; thine own may I be;
thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

compared to the original:

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

The theological implication (not to mention biblical language) of sonship is discarded.  The assurance of belonging in Christ (“thy true son”) is replaced with aspiration (“may I be”).  Plus, for the many, many people who already know the original version, this is a constant tripping point, stumbling over these awkwardly re-worded phrases.  Come thou fount of ev’ry blessing is also subject to some distracting word changes, and I’m sure there are other examples I haven’t found on my own.

-3 The ordering of the music is awkward.  Unlike the 1940 hymnal, the Service Music is printed in this book first.  If you’re in a choir, or the congregation uses the service music section a lot, that’s fine.  But if, like in many places, it’s primarily a book to pick up in order to sing hymns, this can be annoying (and downright confusing for newcomers), having to flip past S1 thorugh S288 before getting to hymn #1.

Furthermore, the hymns aren’t organized as logically as they could be.  Simplifying the Table of Contents…

  • #1-46 The Daily Office (Morning, Noon, Evening, Compline)
  • #47-293 The Church Year
  • #294-299 Holy Baptism
  • #300-347 Holy Eucharist
  • #348-361 Confirmation, Marriage, Burial, Ordination, Consecration
  • #362-634 General Hymns
  • #635-709 The Christian Life
  • #710-715 Rounds and Canons
  • #716-720 National Songs

Why Rounds and Canons need their own section, and why National Songs aren’t appended to the Church Year section, is beyond me.  The separation of The Christian Life from the related sub-sections of the General Hymns also seems strange to me.

Last of all, I should point out that the indexes are rather limited in this book compared to a number of others.  It has no liturgical index, recommending hymns for particular Sundays and Holy Days like in the 1940, but that is to be expected with the lengthy and complex 3-year lectionary cycle.  However, this hymnal also lacks a metrical index, which is admittedly probably only an issue for creative music ministers who want to look at alternative tune possibilities and make particularly detailed comparisons.

The rating in short…

Accessibility: 3/5
It’s well-labeled and has the basic Table of Contents and index that you need.  But you’ll probably need those resources more than you would with other Anglican hymnals.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
It has the positive usefulness of providing service music and additional hymns that older hymnals don’t or can’t provide.  But the liberal hand of editing has left its mark, which tampers with (and occasionally ruins) a number of hymns along the way.

Reference Value: 4/5
Compared to its predecessors, the extra-large collection of Service Music makes this hymnal rather handy to have around, especially for the contemporary-language worshiper.  And, with 720 hymns, it’s just plain got a lot of music in it too, lyrical tampering and format problems notwithstanding.

Ultimately, this hymnal is one I would recommend for two groups of people: choristers or congregations who routinely set many parts of the liturgy to music/chant, and music ministers who want to draw upon this book as a supplementary resource.  I would not recommend this hymnal as an ordinary hymnal for a church, especially considering the financial commitment for the accompanist who’ll need an extra $80 for that edition.

One thought on “Book Review: The 1982 Hymnal

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