Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - For the first time the Vietnamese bishops have had government permission to publish a collection of hymns. The initiative was presented during the week dedicated to the Conference of sacred music by Msgr. Paul Nguyen Van Hoa, who heads the special committee of the Episcopal Conference, last week in Ho Chi Minh City.
The first volume of the collection contains 500 songs - from among 4 thousand of the most loved - was greeted by thunderous applause from a group of a dozen priests, musicians and choir directors who collected the songs which date from the beginning of church music to the unification of Vietnam in 1975. The second volume should be submitted before the end of the jubilee of the Vietnamese Church, which ends in January 2011.
So far Catholics had not been able to publish a collection of their hymns, because of the usual vigilance of censorship on music, a harsh religious policy, and bureaucratic obstacles. The lack of an official hymnal has encouraged some communities to compose their songs, some of which do not correspond to theology. "The language used in some cases is worrying," said Peter Tran Minh, one of the conference participants. "Some of these authors - he explained - are so attentive to 'modernization' they use contemporary terminology and even the dialect. I think, however, the language of the hymns should be that of prayer, transparent and understandable. "
Mgr. Paul Nguyen reveals that in the past, the Committee of sacred music had invited the authors of hymns to submit compositions for its consideration, but the lack of government permission to publish a hymnal had led to the request being ignored.
The lack of authorization and funds has resulted in parish choirs using handwritten texts, sometimes with radical changes in relation to the original texts, far from the intentions of their authors.
The same Father Nguyen points out that the new collection includes only old songs, well known and loved. Some are more than a century old, and the Committee has spent more than four years collecting them in their original form.
A university student, Marie Pham, emphasizes instead how in some cases the words of some old hymns can be modified to make them more understandable, due to the evolution of language and to adapt them to the current context. Pham offers as an example what happened during the protests of the parish of Thai Ha, when "we changed the words of a well-known hymn. Every time we sing, we were so moved ...”. The passage to which the student refers, in its original form is: "Our Mother, have mercy on our nation. War clouds of destruction are gathering throughout our country". Instead it was changed to "Our Mother, have mercy on our nation. Injustice is raging throughout the land".