Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Index Canticorum Prohibitorum

George Weigel has written some wonderful things and some less-than-wonderful things. Whatever one thinks of Weigel, however, I think most of us will agree that he makes some important points in his essay, "Heretical Hymns?" (published by the Catholic Education Resource Center). The essay, which is not long, is worth reading in its entirety.

Weigel begins by noting that he only began to think about hymns theologically after making the acquaintance of certan old school Lutherans, who took their hymns very seriously. By contrast, he notes:
Most Catholics don't. Instead, we settle for hymns musically indistinguishable from "Les Mis" and hymns of saccharine textual sentimentality. Moreover, some hymn texts in today's Catholic "worship resources" are, to put it bluntly, heretical. Yet Catholics once knew how to write great hymns; and there are great hymns to be borrowed, with gratitude, from Anglican, Lutheran, and other Christian sources. There being a finite amount of material that can fit into a hymnal, however, the first thing to do is clean the stables of today's hymnals.

Thus, with tongue only half in cheek, I propose the Index Canticorum Prohibitorum, the "Index of Forbidden Hymns."
Weigel provides only three categories by way of example, but they are well-worth noting:

(1) "The first hymns to go should be hymns that teach heresy. If hymns are more than liturgical filler, hymns that teach ideas contrary to Christian truth have no business in the liturgy. 'Ashes' is the prime example here: 'We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew.' No, we don't. Christ creates us anew."

(2) "Next to go should be those 'We are Jesus' hymns in which the congregation (for the first time in two millennia of Christian hymnology) pretends that it's Christ. 'Love one another as I have loved you/Care for each other, I have cared for you/Bear each other's burdens, bind each other's wounds/and so you will know my return.' Who's praying to whom here? And is the Lord's 'return' to be confined to our doing of his will?"

(3) "Then there are hymns that have been flogged to death, to the point where they've lost any evocative power. For one hundred forty years, the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sent shivers down audiences' spines; does anyone sense its power when it's morphed into the vastly over-used 'Joyful, Joyful We Adore You,' complete with 'chanting bird and flowing fountain'?"

These are but some of the illustrations Weigel furnishes. But the points he makes here are insightful wise, it seems to me. An Index Canticorum Prohibitorum? Hm ... Perhaps Weigel has an idea here that may potentially upstage even the venerable Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas!

[Hat tip to Chris Garton-Zavesky]

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