Friday, 10 July 2009


The Mulier Fortis has started a discussion about hymns inviting some humorous variants which many readers were only too eager to supply. I was struck by the fact that they were almost without exception the very hymns I should be most happy to see consigned to the dustbin. Almost all date from the 1970s - which is the kind of fact which might lay one open to the accusation of bias on grounds of personal taste.
Well it is true that many of them have tunes which grate. Others have texts which are poorly related to the rhythm of the tune. What most concerns me, however, is the quality of the texts which frequently betray a poverty of reflection on the part of the author - a failure to engage consistently with the subject matter in any depth or to take any trouble over the selection of words. Sincerity alone does not make the artist- as is seen in the example of
William McGonagall for while, in my personal prayer, I may use any words I wish safe in the knowledge that God knows my meaning, the provision of words for the wider community demands far greater care over their selection. Consideration needs to be given not least to questions of association and resonance.

Among such thoughts it has occured to me that there is a need for something along the lines of Father Z's "What does the prayer really mean?" and specifically dealing with hymns since they have become ubiquitous. We are, after all, dealing with prayer, the raising of the heart and mind to God, in another form. In that context I might ask, as I have elsewhere, what does the refrain of "Shine, Jesus, shine" really mean? Is it right to demand such things?

I must warn that this is something of a hobby-horse of mine. In nearly half a century I have encountered a fair few hymns in a variety of contexts- like that of the bride who wanted "Fight the good fight" in her wedding Order of Service- not a brilliant start to a marriage- or the young man who chose "Go, the mass is ended" for his father's funeral.

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