Saturday, 7 May 2011

Patrimonial Hymns

Great mirth at Allen Hall this week when, to the question "any difficulties you've met?", came the answer "the music". Why is it that the Catholic Church is so prescriptive about its liturgy, yet seems to allow any hymns/songs/ditties at Mass? I have been coopted to the little group in my local catholic parish which selects hymns for Sunday worship. The problems seems to be (1) the available hymn book and (2) the congregation's small familiar repertoire. Perhaps Ed Tomlinson has the answer; appeal for copies of English Hymnal. That could be right if you are setting up an Ordinariate church. But many of us will be trying to bring something of our Patrimony into an existing Catholic congregation. There seems to be genuine goodwill among many of those congregations to improve their standard of music - and the answer cannot be Gregorian Chant all round. Yet when on Easter Day the best anyone can come up with is "This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made that the Lord has made" ... and so on ad nauseam, there really must be something better.

Will the rite eventually approved for groups of former Anglicans include any help over the matter of Hymnody? Surely it is part of our Patrimony; not just because there are good tunes and decent verse, but because we have learned the faith from our treasury of hymns almost as much as from Sacred Scripture. Perhaps the Ordinary could make a start by banning all hymn books which contain more by Estelle M White than by Charles Wesley?

Today, though, great encouragement; the Organist at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Southbourne, where our local Ordinariate Group will make its home, has written in our parish newsletter "God gave you the voice you've got. Use it to praise Him! It doesn't matter if you don't think you can sing.. if you are still singing a hymn on the way home after Mass, you are carrying on with your prayer." My only addendum would be "provided the Hymn you are still singing is addressed to God, about God, not focussed on 'me' and 'I'".

PS does anyone else hate "here I am, Lord - Look at me, Lord..."?


  1. I absolutely agree with you. I have no experience of what RC churches are singing, but in Anglican and Housechurch circles there are far too many 'hymns' which are about 'me' and how I feel. Wesley wrote some fine hymns, but there are SOME good new ones, especially those by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith.

  2. A not inconsiderable part of the problem is that we have become obsessed with congregational hymn singing. It was almost completely unknown within the Eucharistic tradition on the Latin Rite until 40 years ago - just at the time of the emergence of a demotic cultural hegemony. So, instead of listening to the teaching of the Council Fathers on the subject, what we got was Estelle White, Damian Lundy and instead of a strengthening of liturgical sensibilities we got Shine Jesus Shine.

  3. The hymn book used by the London Oratory would seem to set an appropriate standard, (but then the priests there have always had predominantly Anglican origins).

  4. Many of the modern hymns are total trash and deserve to go into the dustbin of history. Not only are the words doggerel but the tunes are totally unworthy of worship. Used with some caution I can recommend the Royal School of Church Music Guide which covers all Sundays and most hymn books and is issued quarterly to affliated choirs etc.

  5. Much better to create a new culture where the Mass parts are sung as the norm and - perhaps occasionally - a hymn or two added in. Not the other way round. This is what Sacrosanctum Concilium envisaged and encouraged. That was nearly fifty years ago and we're still dogged by dreadful hymn sandwiches where the 'sandwich' is dreadful hymns.

  6. Dear Father

    I paste below a list of the hymns in our parish for the first four Sundays of Eastertide. All are in 'Celebration for Everyone' - a standard Catholic hymnbook - and all are in common use in the Catholic Church, at least in this part of the world.

    With great affection, Fr Bill East.


    INTROIT 68 Battle is o’er
    SEQUENCE 100 Bring, all ye dear-bought nations, bring
    OFFERTORY 246 He is Lord
    COMMUNION 578 One bread, one body
    FINAL 322 Jesus Christ is risen today


    INTROIT 690 The day of resurrection
    OFFERTORY 39 Almighty Father, Lord most high
    COMMUNION 32 Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord
    FINAL 728 Thine be the glory
    INTROIT 101 Bring flowers of the rarest
    OFFERTORY 756 Upon thy table
    COMMUNION 399 Love is his word
    FINAL 300 Immaculate Mary

    SUNDAY 15th MAY – EASTER 4

    INTROIT 22 All people that on earth do dwell

    OFFERTORY 678 Take our bread, we ask you

    COMMUNION 77 Because the Lord is my shepherd

    FINAL 140 Daily daily, sing to Mary

  7. Father - the biggest battles that take place here in a Spanish seminary are over music! The only time when students want to sing modern ditties are when a number of G&Ts have been taken! Modern seminarians have strong ideas on church music - and it doesn't include modern pap!

  8. Thanks for some very helpful and practical comments.

  9. Concentration on hymns has diverted many Catholic parishes from singing the mass to singing at mass. As Maurice remarks, this was not the intention of the Council. It is not a problem with which members of the Ordinariat will, on the whole, be familiar, but it is a serious one, and any resposnse to it that concentrates on improving the quality of the hymnody (desirable as such an initiative is) misses the greater issue, to which Gregorian chant - the Latin Rite's own music - is an excellent, beautiful and Catholic response.

    One of the things I trust the Ordinariat will bring to our notice is a patrimony that takes the need to sing the liturgy well to good music as a given, to which it also adds a tradition of excellent hymns. As you're discovering, Fr. Edwin, we're not starting from the same place.

  10. What a marvellous article! It mirrors very much what one of our priests said in a letter to our Catholic Newspaper, the Southern Cross, in South Africa. I also fully agree with Ian W's comment that people don't sing the Mass but sing at Mass.

    I'm going to reproduce this on my blog....I already have a link to yours....with the appropriate.....acknowledgements, of course! blog is

  11. Whilst agreeing in general, it is possible for some of the modern stuff to be used intelligently. For example since worshipping with our local Catholic parish we have only sung 'Shine, Jesus, shine' once - in Lent on Transfiguration Sunday! Perfect.