There would seem to be three possible reasons for this
1 They don’t know the hymn very well
2 They don’t like the hymn and/or it’s not appropriate to the liturgy
3 They want to get through Mass and (if it’s the last hymn) get home as soon as possible.
I shall now comment on each of these options in turn!
- They don’t know the hymn very well. If they don’t know it very well, then how are they ever going to learn it unless they hear it played and sung and have an opportunity to join in! Surely there can be no better way to help people learn something new than to give them opportunities to try it. If all the verses are played, rather than just one or two, they are better equipped to join in the end verses, and are more likely to remember the hymn and the tune next time it is included.
- They don’t like the hymn and/or it’s not appropriate to the liturgy. If it’s not appropriate to the liturgy, then why is it being included? If the majority of the congregation don’t like it, is it so ‘important’ that it must be ‘forced’ upon them! If it’s a hymn that people are expected to like when they get more used to it then (as in the paragraph above) all of it should be included. If it’s thought that some people like it and others don’t, then where is tolerance? (Those that don’t like it will probably like hymns that some others don’t like, etc).
- They want to get through Mass and (if it’s the last hymn) get home as soon as possible. The recessional hymn is usually included after Mass has finished, and people can (and do) leave at any stage before or during it. But do the other hymns greatly extend the duration of Mass? The entrance hymn should accompany the entrance procession, but if its text is appropriate, does it really matter if it extends slightly longer than that. (Given that the verses of most hymns last 20 - 50 seconds; even three extra verses is unlikely to ‘extend’ Mass more than two minutes.) The hymn that is usually sung either as the collection is taken up, during the preparation of gifts, or both (which should fit in with movements in the liturgy) is usually not too long, but perhaps this is one point where care could be taken and a planned number of verses chosen in advance of Mass.
Which brings me to another question? When verses are cut, they are usually done so without much consideration of whether what remains makes ‘sense’. For example ‘The Spirit lives to set us free’ is often cut after the third verse, and the fourth begins ‘We know his death was not the end . . .’! Quite often the last verse of a hymn has appropriate words and/or brings the hymn to an appropriate conclusion. If verses are to be cut, then cannot those that are to be sung be ‘chosen’ in some more definite manner, either by printing word sheets, making announcements, or information on the bulletin?
Matthew Wright writes about cutting verses:
There are some reasons for this. The Leeds Catholic Hymnal and the Notre Dame Hymnal cut and chopped verses out of everything as have Hymns Old and New. However the singing of vernacular hymns was not actually allowed by the rubrics during the old Latin Mass, but this was generally ignored with the excuse that the Mass didn’t start until the priest reached the Altar so the hymns were sung until this point which in small churches was about two verses.
The final hymn (which technically was ‘after’ Mass not at Mass) will have been cut short as those who had not left at the ‘last Gospel’ (which was the last time the priest with his back to the people was able to see the congregation) would be leaving anyway as they had fulfilled their obligation and he wouldn’t know who was scurrying away - something that still happens today.
As well as that there were no Sunday schools for children where they were taken out of church; they were where the community worshipped together - the eldest and the youngest. With seven or eight children (the average size of some Catholic families) it was probably better to get them home to change the babies as quick as possible.
Although as I said, hymns were not strictly allowed, they probably sung them during Holy Communion to give people something to do to concentrate devotion as the distribution of Holy Communion would have been longer than it is today. In 1900 in St Francis Xavier, Liverpool and Mount St Mary’s, Leeds the congregations at one Mass are recorded as being over 2000, so Communion took much longer than today.
I as an organist am frustrated at being asked for ‘just two verses’. In fact one week I was so infuriated I went through all twelve verses of ‘Immaculate Mary’ for the last hymn!