Martyn Draper introduces the Revised English Hymnal and our new monthly series for 2022


‘The Revised English Hymnal is anchored firmly in the tradition of the English Hymnal, first published in 1906. Like its predecessor’, say the editors in the Preface, quoting their forebears, ‘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”.’

‘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.’ In addition, it features an essay by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, who has also translated two Welsh texts. 

The book will be published this year in three editions: Full music, melody and words, and words only. Here are some details which might be of particular interest.

The volume contains 625 hymns, 12 Taizé chants, and a Liturgical Section of 51 items which includes eight Mass settings. 470 of the 500 hymns in the New English Hymnal have been retained, with 155 texts from other sources, including 37 from the 2006 supplement New English Praise. So there is a lot of new material, while retaining most of what congregations already use. Many who were attached to the English Hymnal will be delighted that we have restored some hymns omitted in 1986 and altered others to conform more closely to their authors’ original texts.

Each edition of New Directions in 2022 will introduce the text of a hymn (occasionally two) with an opportunity in this regular column to say a little more about the book as a whole. The following is intended to provide an outline of features that may be of particular interest.

The framework of the book follows the same pattern of both English Hymnal and New English Hymnal, beginning with the Church’s Year, followed by ‘Times and Seasons’, Sacraments and other rites, and General Hymns, at the end of which a number of hymns are grouped together in a small number of thematic sub-sections.

‘Times and Seasons’ contains a much-enlarged section of Office Hymns for Daily Prayer during ‘ordinary time’ and a table of all the Office Hymns in the book (along with some suggested alternatives) is provided as an appendix.

The much-enlarged Liturgical Section provides material both for regular use (such as Gospel acclamations and Sprinkling with Baptismal Water) and for particular occasions in the Church’s year. We have generally provided versions in both traditional and Common Worship contemporary language, though for the Advent ‘O’ antiphons, owing to the constraints of space, we supply the Common Worship text alone. The traditional language text is, of course, still available in the New English Hymnal. Given that Common Worship is proper only to the Church of England, and we hope the volume will be welcomed and used more widely in the Church, we have sometimes provided our own contemporary language text, particularly for the rites of Holy Week and Easter.

No responsorial psalms and canticles are supplied for general use; a whole separate volume would be required to give the texts for every Sunday and feast in the three year lectionary. There is full provision, however, for occasions such as Candlemas and the Easter Vigil.

Several helpful indexes will be included: first lines, tunes by name and by metre, authors and composers, a scriptural index, and suggested hymns for the two most commonly-used lectionaries, as well as ideas and suggestions to help those whose responsibility it is to choose hymns for the services of the Church.

We have included eight Mass settings, four in traditional language and four for the Common Worship text of the Ordinary of the Mass. Just as hymns in traditional language are sung where the language of the rite is contemporary and vice versa, there is no reason at all why a similar principle cannot be applied to the Ordinary of the Mass, whether the language of the rest of the rite is traditional or contemporary.

There’s one order of service. It was not unusual some years back to find pasted on the inside pages of the back cover of the English Hymnal an order for Devotions or Benediction. A subtle, subversive act. The Editors decided that an ‘Order for Eucharistic Devotions (commonly called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament)’ should be properly included in the Revised English Hymnal – as the final item in the collection.

The editors know that many people are looking forward to this new volume and share that excitement. I likewise look forward to sharing more with you throughout the year.


Fr Martin Draper is Chairman of the English Hymnal Company and honorary assistant priest at St James’s, Sussex Gardens, W2. He was formerly Chaplain of St George’s, Paris, and Archdeacon of France. 


The complete text of the Preface, as well as a list of contents, in the order in which they appear in the book, and a video presentation by the author of this article can be found at:


A Hymn to God the Father


WILT thou forgive that sin, where I begun,

Which was my sin though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

For I have more.


2 Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

For I have more.


3 I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son

Shall shine, as he shines now and heretofore:

And, having done that, thou hast done:

I fear no more.


JOHN DONNE 1573-1631 


A feature of the English Hymnal is the inclusion of texts by major poets such as John Milton, Edmund Spenser, George Herbert and Joseph Addison. Many of these works have become well-known hymns, but their poetic quality means that they also provide good material for prayer and meditation. In an age when fewer people possess a prayer book of any kind, a hymn book is a rich resource for these things and, incidentally, a source of suitable texts for use in thanksgiving for forgiveness (penance) after sacramental confession. 

This poem by John Donne, chosen because 2022 is the 450th anniversary of his birth, was omitted from the New English Hymnal, so it is a delight to restore it to the ‘English Hymnal canon’ in the latest revision. He wrote it in 1623 during a serious illness, from which he thought he might die. The closeness and fear of death moved him to repentance. 

It is one of two poems which are almost identical, except for the person to whom they are addressed. The other text has the title ‘to Christ’ and, unfortunately, elements of it have been incorporated into hymnal versions. The third line of the third stanza, ‘to Christ’ has sun instead of Son, Christ had no son, so in a text addressed to him, it is clearly and only the sun which is meant, but in this poem there is a pun on the word Son, whose redemptive death shines like the sun ‘now and heretofore’.

There is also a pun (a feature of metaphysical poetry) on the word done, pronounced in the same way as the poet’s own name. So the fifth line in the first two verses means that when God has done forgiving, he still hasn’t got Donne on his side (or, perhaps hasn’t yet gained his soul), because he continues to sin: ‘for I have more (sin).’

The simple and emphatic alternating rhyming scheme suggests a debate between the poet and God the Father, a feature frequently found in the psalter. 

In verse 1, the subject is ‘original’ sin. Donne asks the Father if he can forgive the sin which has always existed, and in which the poet engages, even though he wasn’t the first (that is, Adam) to do so. And, he says, though he hates sin, he still commits it. There is an echo of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans here and a similar question and answer debate.

In verse 2, the poet moves on to the sins in his own life. Born into a recusant Catholic family, he reacted against the religion imposed on him by a devout mother, uncle and tutors. He seems to have accommodated his conscience to allow him to lead a life of indulgence and faith with equal passion. By the time he began to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, he had become a member of the Church of England. He was later encouraged by King James I to take holy orders and was ordained both deacon and priest in 1615. Donne was certainly no saint, in spite of his (optional) commemoration in the Common Worship calendar.

Yet in verse 2, now moved to repentance, he asks whether God can forgive the sins of those years, especially those which led others into sinful ways too. Will he forgive the sins which he hated for ‘a year or two’ but in which he has ‘wallowed’ for twenty? The final line repeats that of the first verse.

In the final verse, he contemplates his own death and says he fears ‘he shall perish’. But, he is able to believe (‘to swear’ by God) that through the forgiveness of sins effected by his death, Christ (the Son) shines, as the sun shines, so that forgiveness is available now and for ever. The fact that God has wrought (done) that is enough to win Donne to his side in the debate, and save his soul at the last. Hence, he fears no more.

This is obviously not a poem about putting off making your confession until you are on your death-bed; rather it is a psalmist-like struggle within the soul between the realities of fear and sin and the power of the love of God. And in that struggle, ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4.18).