Bringing Books Back into the Pews

In June 2020, news broke that David Haas, a musical artist that presented a concert at the parish in February 2019, was a serial abuser of adult teenage women and women in their 20s. He wrote many favorites, such as “You Are Mine,” “Blest Are They,” and “We Are Called.” By using his position of influence as a composer, editor, producer, and arranger, his abuse lasted for nearly 40 years, with cover-ups by other liturgical composers in his circle. While the details of the abuse are not Sunday bulletin material, all of the information is available online. Mr. Haas’ publisher quickly pulled the legal rights and licensing for parishes across the globe to stream, record, or print the music in worship aids. (Since streaming was the only option available to us due to COVID when the news broke, we were legally compelled to stop using his music or face significant fines for federal copyright violations and piracy.) This was an unprecedented step by his publisher as he was, by far, their best-selling artist penning what many, including myself, consider their “old favorites.”

Later that year, Bishop Thomas, in consultation with the Diocesan Consultors, permanently suspended the use of “any Haas music at parishes and all Diocesan events.” Furthermore, Haas has been prohibited from giving presentations, workshops, concerts, and other events hosted by the diocese, parishes, schools, or other Catholic institutions in the Diocese. Bishop Thomas has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to credible abuse accusations. Since the Haas news broke, another composer, the late Fr. Cesáreo Gabaráin, most famous for “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore,” was also banned. The late priest’s religious order that owns the rights to his music removed all legal access to his music. Legally, from the angle of civil law, criminal law, and canon law, we have no ability to use this music. My hands are tied, as are Fr. Cam’s hands, and we thank you in advance for your understanding about why some of your old favorites will never be used again in public worship.

David Haas’ music makes up about 60% of our current hymnal. On top of that, there is a solid chunk of music in the hymnal that was never or rarely used by churches because it was either (A) too complicated/high to foster congregational singing (B) contained lyrics with grave theological and moral issues. In much of the 1980s-2000s, American Catholics were frequently fed a steady diet of Protestant music from the Reformed Theology and Evangelical (offshoots of the overall reformation) traditions. The songs were catchier, easier to sing, had three or four chords on a guitar, and were of the “feel-good” variety. The lyrics often ran afoul of Catholic theology as these songs were not written for us. Obviously, as has been discussed in this particular forum dozens of times since the start of COVID, this type of music isn’t something that we would utilize during the sacred liturgy. It’s not a manner of my opinion/interpretation or even that of the pastor or bishop, but the law of the Holy Mother Church and following the Catechism.

The hymnal business is an interesting one. Hymnals typically live on a 15 to 20-year lifespan after publication to stay current with contemporary culture and liturgical/theological scholarship. By January 2020, before COVID and Haas, our hymnal was already being replaced just nine years into its lifespan because of the theological and liturgical issues presented. The Haas situation expedited the replacement process. His music was what really drove the product, and was one of the major reasons why we purchased that hymnal in 2018. With churches not buying or using hymnals due to COVID, Gather IV slated to come out, and the Haas situation, the publisher took the hymnal off the market. This presents yet another challenge for us: We cannot buy replacement copies. As the hymnals inevitably sprout feet and walk out the door or as new people join our choir, we are simply out of luck as we cannot buy additional or replacement copies of the hymnal. (Please do not take the books with you!)

With all of this in mind, Fr. Bob instructed me in May 2021 to find a parish that would buy our inventory at a considerable discount. I couldn’t find any takers. Father then instructed me to find a parish where we could donate the books. Again, no takers. By then, my daughter was born three months premature, and I was putting together the music for Bishop Gordon’s ordination to become a bishop. The books sat in storage. So where has all of the music come from these past three years?

We pivoted in the Fall of 2020 to the same hymnal that our Cathedral uses. It’s from the same publisher and is called Ritual Song II. Many of the popular and familiar post-Vatican II songs are included in it. This hymnal was released much more recently and includes many newer hymn texts to many familiar tunes, such as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Holst’s Jupiter, and the Americana tune BEECH SPRING. This hymnal also has a lot of great music from many new composers, including more representation of Hispanic, Asian American, African American, and female composers. Additionally, in 2020, I was an editor and reviewer on a massive Catholic hymnal project for another publisher that focused on all public-domain hymns, which we have also now pulled music from. With the use of our projectors these past three years, we’ve introduced a lot of great new music (true contemporary music – as a millennial, I always find it funny when someone claims music from the 70s is contemporary – or old hymns) alongside many of the old favorites that we still have been legally allowed to use.

So, by now, you’re wondering, why don’t we buy Ritual Song II for the pews and be done with the blue Gather III books?

Because that would be too easy. There is an impending new translation of the lectionary, or the book that contains the readings we use at Mass, that is imminent. It was to be implemented this December with the new liturgical year. The new lectionary has now been pushed to sometime no later than 2028. So any day now. It would be an improper use of parishioner funding even to consider procuring a new hymnal. Yes, we could easily go buy something, but then we’d have incorrect readings once the new translation comes out. Considering that a hymnal is [normally] a 15 to 20-year proposition, we cannot justify this expense.

After much deliberation, the solution we have come up with is to use what we have and continue to supplement with the projectors. The material in the blue book that is theologically and morally Catholic, that fosters congregational singing, and that we can use will be used. We’ll skip over the forbidden music and avoid the texts that are not Catholic or do not advance the liturgy. We will continue to use the projectors for parishioners that prefer them more. We will also supplement what we do have available to us in this now antiquated hymnal. Don’t worry; songs like “Called to the Supper of the Lamb,” “In Every Age,” “From the Many Make Us One,” and “In the Arms of God” are not going away. We are still going to make use of the antiphons and psalmody that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal asks all parishes to use.

While I’m sure some will rejoice at this news while others will be upset, let’s join in thanksgiving for having these resources available to us. Let us also pray for the continued healing of all victims of abuse.