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American Catholic Hymnbook Reviews

American Catholic Hymbook

Liturgy Planner says the American Catholic Hymnbook is "A delight to the eye, a joy to the heart, a blessing for the spirit"
A review by Robert Prestiano, Ph.D., Department of Art and Music, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas. Reprinted with permission from the Liturgy Planner, Liturgy House Publications, Portland, Oregon.

It is not often that one finds a Catholic hymnal that is versatile enough to appeal to almost every need of a contemporary parish. Such a hymnal is the American Catholic Hymnbook. This hymnal is distinguished by its fine binding, clear printing, and expressive illustrations.

One striking feature of this hymnal is its ease and convenience of use. For example, the ample indexes include a "hymn of the day" listing and a table of liturgical themes. With these indexes, the cantor or choir director can easily choose songs that correspond to the Sunday lectionary readings. Another example of ease in use is the alphabetical ordering of most songs by title. This arrangement makes songs easy to find, and perhaps the songs included in separate sections (for initiation and reconciliation) might better be put with the others, in alphabetical order.

A wide variety of ethnic tunes

Unlike other hymnals with an overwhelmingly Northern European bias, the American Catholic Hymnbook includes a wide variety of ethnic tunes, especially from Slavic and Hispanic cultures; there are even tunes from China, Korea, and the Philippines. Regardless of the ethnic background of any song, the material is of such quality and general appeal that it should be welcomed in almost any congregation. This is truly a universal hymnal.

The editors also present music for children's Masses by Theophane Hytrek, acclamations for Sunday -Eucharist, music (in both English and Spanish) for the posadas, and a complete service of reconciliation. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are especially clear and "cathedral" in character, that is, well designed for parish worship. Much music, for example, for funerals, is presented in sequence, part by part. Such a format certainly fosters participation for everyone.

New hymns by Dan Schutte

The range of the songs is reasonable for most congregations (usually C to C). None of the engravings represents a pitch that would appear to a congregation to be too high or too low. Moreover, the American Catholic Hymnbook includes many strikingly beautiful, newly commissioned tunes by such composers as Noel Goemanne and Robert Kreutz. There are even four new hymns by Dan Schutte, formerly of the St. Louis Jesuits. This reviewer is not partial to such songs as All That I Am. Overall, however, the melodies and arrangements are ideal for congregational singing.

Aesthetically, the hymnal is a success. The large type, uncluttered format, fine quality paper, and ample margins make this hymnal a practical tool. The design throughout is marked by consistent good taste. The arrangement of text and pictorial imagery is particularly complementary. In many cases, the simple line art is the work of Virginia Broderick. It is effective in her use of clean, clear, bold images that symbolically represent the main point of the text that they accompany.

Hymn texts in the spirit of the liturgy

Most important of all, the hymns reflect the contemporary liturgical renewal. As explained in the introduction to the hymnal, the editors' emphasis is on prayer through Christ and on the Church as the unity of the Holy Spirit. Such hymns as Father, Make Us One (#168) or Father, See Your Church (#621) are appropriate for use within the RCIA, for a full, mystagogical catechesis. By and large, these texts are written in clear, modern English, avoiding archaisms and exclusive language. All in all, the American Catholic Hymnbook is a delight for the eye, a joy to the heart, and a blessing for the spirit.

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