Religion / First Puerto Rican Hymnals
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Hymns do not fall from heaven. They are the products of the experiences of faith and the Christian life of their authors and composers in various circumstances and particular moments. Their theological content reflects the thinking and doctrines of the Church in the specific setting in which they arise. They are an artistic expression of faith, of spreading the Gospel and worshiping God. Many hymns have importance beyond the setting in which they were written and are sung universally. Others have more limited reach. As examples of the former, Puerto Rican Protestant churches drew on a wealth of foreign hymns that served evangelical and liturgical needs well. Over the course of the century, churches felt the need to create new hymns, whether foreign or local in origin. In the measure that the churches have developed their theological thinking, developed their liturgical activity and have taken into account the cultural environment, composers and authors began to create new hymns that responded to new needs and ecclesiastical focuses. This phenomenon can be seen as the natural result of the development of the churches and as a result of good missionary training through the legacy of model hymns.

A modest Puerto Rican hymnal developed in the 1930s during the so-called revival, especially among the Disciples of ChristDisciples of Christ: Christian denomination founded by Thomas and Alexander Campbell in the United States in the early 19th century. churches. Although there was nothing greatly new in the theological content, some noted that these hymns used the rhythms of popular music, such as the waltz, the bolero, the criolla, the guarachaguaracha: A fast-paced Cuban dance of Andalusian origin, in which the music has a 2/4 or 4/8 meter. and others. Most of the composers were musicians skilled in playing instruments such as the guitar and the cuatro. They discovered in the end that these instruments were also appropriate for the liturgy of the church. Previously, the use of the organ and piano had been preferred, or singing without accompaniment, because instruments such as the guitar and the cuatro were associated with popular music, which was rejected as mundane, compared to the church hymns.

After this beginning, the Puerto Rican hymnal muse produced new expressions. In the 1950s, Rafael Cuna produced the hymnal Cuna de flores,(Cradle of Flowers), which can be considered the first collection of Puerto Rican hymns by a single author. Notable in this collection was the hymn El que habita al abrigo de Dios (He Who Wears the Coat of God), the first Puerto Rican hymn published in an internationally circulated hymnal. This was the beginning of the Puerto Rican presence in hymnals, both in Spanish and in English. Other authors contributed to the development of Protestant hymns, such as ángel M. Mergal, Luis ángel Toro, Noel Estrada, Juan Pacheco, Juan Concepción, Antonio Rivera Martínez and, more recently, Bienvenido Güisao, Carlos Pastor López and Pablo Fernández Badillo.

Without setting aside the use of regular hymnals such as Himnos de Gloria (Hymns of Glory), Himnos de la vida cristiana (Hymns of Christian Life), and El nuevo himnario evangélico (The New Evangelical Hymnal), some church leaders saw the need to publish the new hymns in editions of text only, including a collection of the best known hymns, especially from Hymns of Glory. Some outstanding examples are Nueva salmodia evangélica (New Evangelical Psalms) (1938) by the Rev. Virgilio I. González of the Disciples of Christ Church; Himnos de salvación, santidad y servicio (Hymns of Salvation, Holiness and Service) (2nd edition, 1944), by the Rev. Mateo Cruz of the Defenders of the Faith Church; Himnario voz de júbilo y salvación (Voice of Jubilation and Salvation Hymnal), (4th edition 1964) by the Rev. Benigno R. Colón, used widely in the Pentecostal churches; and Lira misionera (Missionary Lyrics) (s.f) by the Missionary Church of Christ. The most interesting collection of hymns of this type is Ecos de vida (Echoes of Life), published in New York in the 1960s by Juan Concepción of the Pentecostal Church of God. Most of the hymns are by Hispanic authors, especially the editor himself, Juan Concepción, and his collaborator, William Lugo. Unfortunately, it is a text-only edition, but the editor took care to identify the author of each hymn. Many of these hymns were widely known and sung in Pentecostal churches.

With the movement toward liturgical reform in the 1960s, both in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in the Protestant churches, liturgists and musicians gave special attention to music. Instruments other than the organ and piano were more tolerated by the church. A new interest in the use of folk music elements produced an innovative repertoire of liturgical music. Some liturgical leaders called for new hymns that would offer refreshing melodies and a broader range of topics. The eventual restoration of the celebration of the Christian year in the liturgy of the churches placed new demands on the contents of the hymnals. The lyrics of the hymns began to reflect the new theological focuses not only in Puerto Rico but also in other countries in the hemisphere. Different denominations began working to revise their hymnals and incorporate the best of the crop of new hymns from Latin America and Spain. The first to do this, though timidly, are the hymnals Cántico nuevo (New Canticle), in 1962, and Himnos de la vida cristiana (Hymns of Christian Life), in its 1967 edition. The latter was preferred by the churches because it was a revision of the 1939 edition, contained a wide selection of favorite gospel songs, and was published in a text-only edition that was preferred by most people over the edition with music.

This article was adapted by the Editorial Team.

Autor: Luis Oliveri
Published: March 30, 2016.

Version: 16032901 Rev. 1
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