Amazing Grace: Catholics & Evangelical Hymnody Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 04 June 2007 07:24
Todd over at Catholic Sensibiliy is hosting a discussion of the influence of Evangelical hymnody on Catholic worship and invites ID readers to take part. It features a lovely article by Mark Noll from Christianity Today on the place of singing in evangelical worship and hearts.

When I was still at Blessed Sacrament, Nan Holcomb used to host periodic hymn sings in which the Other Sherry and I took enthusiastic part. We drew from a collection of both Catholic and Protestant hymns but the ones most of us wanted to sing were classic Protestant ones.And we sang non stop for two hours.

I can even remember a party at my apartment in which the group (all Catholics but many converts) started singing hymns and choruses and sang them, one after another, for a solid hour. I can't imagine singing Glory and Praise songs spontaneously at a party - or Gregorian chants.

But the classic hymns and choruses of evangelicalism are an altogether different species from either of those - and the loss of that kind of singing is one of the things that nearly every convert I know still mourns. I'm no musician so I don't have language for all this but the spiritual impact of such singing is real and very powerful and there doesn't seem to be any reason why Catholics can't incoporate it - except that it isn't what we are used to and it smacks of them.

But this isn't necessarily the case outside the Anglo Catholic world. I used to live in Wales and it was the first time in my life that I attended a Catholic church on a regular basis and experienced the liturgical year. But one thing I remember - Welsh Catholics sing. They sang large parts of the liturgy in parts - spontaneously. What else can you expect from a people who sing hymns at football games and erect large monuments to choral conductors?

But the Welsh are, like the US, a culturally Protestant country - specifically an evangelical country - and choral singing is hard-wired in their collective psyche. The difference is that they are Celts, not Anglo-Saxons. Even Catholics in Wales can sing.

Many of the hymns of my Mississippi childhood are to be found in the Catholic missal I pick up on Sunday. But when sung, they are so often done so without gusto, too slowly, almost in a funeral dirge manner.

Anglo Catholics know the words but they don't get the tune.
It's our loss.