Why a hard-copy hymnal today?
First, a hymnal is a “canon,” or collection of hymnody, in one place that gathers together hymns from two thousand years of Christian worship. The very nature of this wide span of authors and musicians from various periods of history and life experience with the Scriptures provides a unified voice of who God is and who we are as His people that is far greater and more comprehensive than the ephemeral nature of digital texts that are displayed and then gone.
Second, the full journey of the text can be seen and grasped as a whole on a hymn page, with all of the verses that often unfold a progression of thought. Digital projections are confined to a few phrases at a time, disconnected from what preceded them or what will follow them. Thus, the flow of the unified thought is broken up into bite-sized pieces rather than seen as a whole, and the collective power of the full text is easily lost. The eye can take in the structural content and flow of thought at a glance on a hard copy page, but the nature of the digital form never gives the eye (or the brain) the opportunity to do so.
Third, the length of the full musical journey can be seen, as can the flow of the tune to be sung, the harmonization of collective voices for singing that tune, with confidence, and the ability to look back and reflect upon the text in meditation once the hymn is completed. Information about authorship, time period of history, tune and meter can also be easily found.
Fourth, a hymnal includes many resources other than sung worship. A hymnal provides responsive readings, historic creeds, sacramental liturgies, and indexes, which help to introduce previously unknown hymns to the church. These are just a few of the benefits of a hard-copy hymnal that should compel the church to never lose this vital means of grace.
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