Introducing the Revised English Hymnal


The Revised English Hymnal is anchored firmly in the tradition of the English Hymnal, first published in 1906.  Like its predecessor, it ‘is offered as a humble companion’ to the church’s common prayer and worship in an attempt ‘to combine in one volume the worthiest expressions of all that lies within the Christian creed, from those ‘ancient Fathers’ who were the earliest hymn writers down to exponents of modern aspirations and ideals’ (Preface, 1906). That said, this hymnal is a new collection, intended as the latest in a line of successors to the original book. Almost a third of the items in it will be new to those who used the widely appreciated New English Hymnal, published in 1986. Our editorial aims have been to remain classically Anglican, doctrinally orthodox, liturgically focused, musically and poetically intelligent, and ecumenically and chronologically diverse: thus providing a unique treasury for public worship, private devotion, and spiritual formation.

Congregations and musicians will find much that is familiar, from the green covers to the lasting influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is hard to imagine a hymn book without ‘Forest Green’, ‘Kingsfold’, ‘Monks Gate’ or ‘Rhuddlan’, but these tunes are only ‘traditional’ because we continue to sing them. It is equally hard to imagine who would gather such a comprehensive collection of these melodies nowadays had he not done so. We are proud of our place in that tradition and pleased to continue making such tunes available to the whole church.

Yet, despite the title, the English Hymnal was an extraordinarily international book, introducing to the Church of England hymns from North America (the first Anglican book to have done so), Continental Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Revised English Hymnal continues this tradition, expanding its geographical range further still.

We have also included several Welsh hymns in their original language as well as in English translation. In the English Hymnal, Vaughan Williams brought many Welsh tunes to English congregations, but they have not, so far, been able to enjoy some of the many fine Welsh texts. Two such have been specially translated into English for this collection. Bilingual hymns work best when English and Welsh speakers sing them simultaneously in their preferred language, without trying to alternate languages or merely include a token Welsh verse. The result is a wonderful and uplifting sound.  We hope that Welsh-speaking members of or visitors to predominately English-speaking congregations will feel empowered to sing the hymns we have provided in the language of their homeland.

The Revised English Hymnal, like its predecessors, is a companion to the liturgies not only of the Church of England but of other churches of the Anglican Communion, especially those, such as Scotland and Wales, which do not produce hymnals of their own. We hope that this collection will be valued by other Christian denominations as well, and by those many schools which still begin or end their day with an act of worship.

Over three hundred hymns are provided for the principal holy days, festivals and seasons of the Church’s year and a further sixty for the sacraments and pastoral offices she celebrates. A Liturgical Section of about fifty items provides other material specifically intended for the rites and ceremonies associated with particular days, including full provision for Holy Week. We have included material for use at the Eucharist, including eight Mass settings. Unlike the New English Hymnal, we have not provided responsorial psalms. But where psalms and canticles form part of the liturgical celebration of certain days (for example, for Candlemas and the Easter Vigil) we have made full provision for the proper keeping of such occasions.

The Church’s ‘voice of prayer is never silent’, and recent years have seen a welcome rediscovery of corporate daily prayer in many parishes. Common Worship Daily Prayer (2005) has re-introduced the practice of singing a hymn in the traditional place of the Office Hymn While we recognize that such a designation is no longer restricted to the ancient breviary hymns, we have continued to offer a complete set of such hymns, often with their traditional plainsong melodies, as well as contemporary compositions in the same style, including a new morning, midday and evening cycle for ordinary Sundays and weekdays. ‘In their scriptural simplicity and sober dignity they represent the Christian experience of more than a thousand years’ (Preface, 1906).  A table of these hymns, and the suggestion of alternative texts which follow the same objective pattern of an Office Hymn, will enable congregations large and small to enrich their celebrations of the Divine Office.

Contemplative and meditative chants are increasingly popular, and we are pleased to include a small selection from the distinctive worship of the international and ecumenical community at Taizé in France.  Similarly, a new generation is discovering that the use of simple plainsong melodies, either unaccompanied or sustained by a musical instrument, enhances worship in this contemporary style. 

Such worship might be set in the context of eucharistic adoration: another form of corporate prayer, valued in many communities, churches and cathedrals. Our ‘Order for Eucharistic Devotions’, the final item in the hymnal, could form a conclusion to such meditative prayer as well as to Sunday or Festal Evensong, or at the end of a quiet day, a parish festival, or a pilgrimage.

Within ‘General Hymns’ we have designated sections that focus on the nature of the Church, her mission and unity, and on the Kingdom of God and our prayer for its coming justice and righteousness, as well as for some very particular occasions and purposes. It has become necessary in recent decades to offer hymns for use ‘in times of persecution’ and, earlier in the book, an Office Hymn suitable for celebrating martyrs of our own day is provided. In order to respond to renewed concern for a right stewardship of God's creation, a number of hymns, within the section entitled ‘Times and Seasons’ have been placed together under the heading of ‘Creation’, and there are a number of equally suitable hymns elsewhere in the collection.

Like our predecessors, we have made every effort to include hymns in the form in which the original authors wrote them, while being sensitive to present perceptions and needs and ensuring that what is provided can be sung with sincerity. We have made small changes to some texts, both those which appeared in the New English Hymnal and those which are new to this collection. In some cases, we have restored the author’s original work. We have consistently replaced archaic spellings with modern forms in words such as ‘blessed’, ‘confessed’ and ‘possessed’ and greatly reduced the use of upper-case type for the initial letters of many words.

Altered texts, many of which have been in common use for a long time, are signified by the abbreviation altd. Where the alteration is slight, only concerning a single line or no more than four individual words, the abbreviation altd * is used.

We have been sensitive to the concerns of some worshippers about the non-inclusive nature of nouns such as ‘men’ and masculine pronouns and possessive adjectives such as ‘he’ and ‘his’. We have not amended classic or well-known texts, but in the case of translations, and of hymns written during the last hundred years or so, small changes have sometimes been made where this does not affect the integrity of the text. We have not systematically substituted, for example, ‘men’ with ‘we’ or ‘us’, as that can suggest non-inclusive language of a different kind. In some cases, we have rewritten a line of a hymn, while striving to be faithful to the text as a whole. We shall consider our work to have been successful if those who read or sing such hymns do not notice that we have made any change at all.

The usual range of indexes (of first lines, tunes, metre, authors and composers) appears at the end of the volume. We have also provided a scriptural index, a table of suggested hymns for Sundays and other holy days corresponding to the two most-widely used eucharistic lectionaries, and a short guide to choosing hymns. The ‘See also’ lists which appeared at the end of each section in the New English Hymnal have been combined into a single appendix. Where space on the page allows it, some of these lists are also printed on the page at the beginning of a section or above the relevant hymn as well.

The Editors wish to record their gratitude to Bishop Rowan Williams, Honorary President of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland and former Archbishop of Canterbury, for his introduction to this hymnal and for his translation of two Welsh hymn texts.  

A hymn book is not only for use in church services. In an age where many people no longer possess a printed prayer book of any kind, a hymnal is a rich source of prayer and an invitation to meditation and contemplation. The variety of the seasonal hymns, well-known and much loved texts, centuries-old compositions, and classic and near-contemporary poetry of depth and beauty can provide an almost inexhaustible treasury of prayer and devotion.

Priests will find the hymnal an invaluable source of material for suggesting a thanksgiving for forgiveness (‘penance’) after sacramental confession. Likewise, reading the words of a hymn such as Charles Wesley’s ‘O thou, who camest from above’, before retiring to bed on Saturday evening, is an excellent preparation for the public ministry they will exercise on the following day.

The Revised English Hymnal is offered to the Church for use in the worship of God ‘in the beauty of holiness’. In worship we are drawn closer to him through the power of his love and strengthened by it to live our lives to his greater glory.

                                                       Martin Draper

                                                         Gordon Giles

                                                         Jonathan Goodall

                                                         Simon Lindley

                                                         Michael Stoddart

                                                         Huw Williams

                                     Birth of St John the Baptist, 2020