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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 2, 2012

Where have the wicked men gone?

evelyn @ 10:16 am

A sequel to last week’s post …

At yesterday’s funeral of a much-loved parishioner, we had ‘I’ll sing a hymn to Mary’ at the Offertory, believe it or not. It was almost certainly at the request of the family, as we haven’t sung that hymn for ages. As it came to the last two lines of the first verse, I realised something was wrong. I wasn’t hearing ‘when wicked men blaspheme thee, I’ll love and bless thy name’. A quick look at the Order of Service revealed that instead they were singing the very bland ‘O may I imitate thee, and magnify God’s name’.

Now this hymn, one of my favourites, had already had its text messed about shortly after Vatican II. But the ‘wicked men’ had survived the axe and stayed on, right up to Mayhew’s Hymns Old and New with Supplement. Mayhew’s Liturgical Hymns Old and New then changed ‘wicked men’ to ‘wicked ones’ (oh, this irritating inclusiveness!), but Decani’s Laudate, from which yesterday’s hymns were taken, has gone one better and removed them all together.  Why?  Too much aggression?  Don’t the wicked men (or ones) blaspheme any more? It’s such a pity, because I enjoyed playing a sharp staccato snap on ‘wicked’, which made the organ sound really angry. The congregation used to respond to it, too.

So who actually makes these changes to our hymns? It looks very much as if it is the commercial publishers themselves. The Catholic Church seems to have relinquished any responsibility for the content of the hymns sung in its churches. At least, it has in the UK.   The Australian Catholic Church is currently working on a new updated hymn book to follow their excellent Gather Australia (1995), a copy of which was given to me in Melbourne. In Scotland, the last Church-sponsored hymnal  was the ill-fated St Andrew Hymnal, compiled just before Vatican II and obsolete immediately afterwards.

So the words of our hymns seem to follow the whims of Mayhew or Decani. And they will keep altering them, which is very disconcerting. If the Catholic Church in Scotland, which closely scrutinises every dot and comma in the new Missal, would only take back its control of our hymns, life would be a lot easier.

Interestingly though, yesterday’s congregation sang the hymn as lustily as ever, which confirms me in my opinion that it is the music that really matters in hymns, not the words. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

PS (for the month of June):  ‘Sweet heart of Jesus’ has been left out of Laudate.  Now, was that really necessary?


  1. Erik Routley was fond of quoting:
    “Lord, keep us safe this night
    beneath the stars and moon
    pay thou no heed to the words we sing
    we only like the tune.”

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — October 27, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

  2. Wonderful quote!

    Comment by evelyn — October 29, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

  3. Found this, looking for links to the St Andrew Hymnal. Fed up with seeing decent hymn words messed about – is it so that the publisher can renew/retain copyright on material which is in/about to come into the Public Domain. My own experience yesterday was to find that “The wind and waves obey Him” has become “He fills the sky with beauty” in All things Bright and Beautiful” Why? Mrs Alexander would, I feel sure, not approve!

    Comment by fenblow — April 16, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

  4. Do you know, I’d never thought that it might be a trick in order to grab the copyright. Very nasty if so. I wonder if anyone has tried to test it legally?

    Comment by evelyn — April 17, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

  5. Protestants have similar problems.

    I had the misfortune to play for Eternal Father, strong to save…… The original ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’ had been changed to ‘Yous’ and ‘Yours.’ To retain rhyming couplets, ‘O hear us when we cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea’ became, ‘O hear us when we cry to You for those who sail the ocean blue.’ Watered down or what?

    Comment by Ronald Harvey — August 25, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

  6. Thanks for your comment, Ronald. That is such a famous hymn. How can anyone get away with wrecking it like that?

    Comment by evelyn — August 26, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

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