The new Gather hymnal is just good enough — and that’s perfect

The Gather The hymnal, which was first published in 2004, is now in its fourth edition. It still guides many Catholic parishes in song. Released earlier this year, this newest edition is advertised as being “Rooted in tradition, Engaged with the present, Focused on the future.” With this, Gather it is likely to continue its role as the American Catholic’s most trusted source of sacred music and the normative hymnal. Since its creation in 1994 Gather The American church has a variety of traditional and modern hymns and styles. This carefully crafted whole reflects the American church’s musical preferences.

Gather might take some heat from those with more traditional preferences—which I happen to generally hold myself—if only because it is so commonly used, but it is far from the most contemporary hymnal. This dubious honor could go to Glory & Praise, whose 2015 3rd edition’s Introduction with appreciatively notesIts 1970s edition was a popularized source of folk and guitar music at Mass. The other end of this scale is the almost exclusively traditional St. Michael HymnalThis is a niche option for parishes that don’t love contemporary hymns. (This is what my childhood parish used). Both (Whistlelash was a prominent feature of many of these collections. Gather This is a more varied and, in some cases, more sophisticated mix.

Gather’s new 4th edition covers all the bases for a diverse, growing, rooted church.

It might be called the Walmart for hymnals. It doesn’t drill down into any one category. It doesn’t specialize. However, it covers all bases expected by parishioners.

However, it is well-curated. The compendium only contains a fraction of the potential sacred music that could have gone into it, and many of these filtered entries will be unfamiliar to many.

One takeaway here, then, is the evolution of post–Vatican II Catholic music. Catholics of all musical preferences still have a tendency to refer to this vast body of hymnody as “contemporary,” as if there was a sharp breaking point. The oldest and most popular of the current hymns is now close to 60 years. They are not a modernist imposition, as they were once. Entire generations of Catholics have grown up with this music as a spiritual backdrop, and it is a part of the church’s life. Consider that American Catholics in 1850 had never heard “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” “Alleluia Sing to Jesus,” or even the English version of “Hail, Holy Queen/Salve Regina.” One day, it will be impossible to imagine a Catholicism without “Here I Am, Lord” and “Gather Us In.”

It might be called the Walmart for hymnals. It doesn’t drill down into any one category. It doesn’t specialize.

The evolution of modern Catholic sacred music can be seen in this new video. Gather edition. The work of refining began if the net was not too large.

“Each Winter as the Year Grow Older,”It is not possible to include the Advent section if there is only one reference to Christ in that final line. “You Are Our Center,” with the line “when dreams are shattered by nameless pow’rs,” has also fallen out of the hymnal. Jazz-inflected foot-tapping “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness”It is not to be found. “Look Beyond,” with its questionable eucharistic theology (“look beyond the bread you eat”), is also out. Similar to “Anthem” (a “we” song that also dubs Jesus the “rage against the night”), and “World Peace Prayer,”The Hindu is the scriptural inspiration for this text Upanishads.

Catholicism can be lived, and its aesthetics as well as music are never static.

Most importantly, GIA, publisher of Gather,David Haas has been expelled from the entire corpus of his work, after he was accused of sexual assault by many women in 2020. His absence as one of today’s most prolific hymnists will open up space for more music. Indeed, the 4th Edition includes almost 100 hymns more than the 2nd.

There are now tunes and texts from the 2000s; even as the older body of “contemporary” music is refined, new material is coming in. Marty Haugen’s somber “Tree of Life,” for example, is now joined by Aaron Thompson’s “Tree of Life,” from 2006. (My wife and i requested this song for our wedding. She requested that it be licensed at that time and contacted the author directly to allow her to use it. Now it’s just in the hymnal.) You can also find old melodies with new lyrics. It’s a good compromise between tradition & modernity.

Catholicism is a long-standing tradition with a long history of music and liturgy. This should not be overlooked or forgotten. It is more than a collection of old favorites; it is a living part of the church’s history. Catholicism is alive, and its aesthetics, music, and other expressions don’t end at any one time. It is possible to argue about the merits and limitations of certain additions. The process of sorting is ongoing and visible in this hymnal. Over time, this sorting should produce a new set standards and classics. This has occurred throughout the life of the hymnal as a concept—itself once a Protestant innovation—as perusal of a hymnal from 100 or 200 years ago will quickly make obvious.

GatherIt is a compromise that has been carefully considered. However, it won’t please everyone. It is a solid hymnal. It is adequate. It might be good enough for a complex and sometimes volatile church.