Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hymnal for the Hours--a Review

When you read what the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours has to say about hymns, you are left scratching your heard, wondering what all this has to do with the hymns we are actually given to sing (or, for the unmusical, read) each day.

Today, for example, the choices given to us for Morning Prayer today  are "This Day God Gives Me" (tune: Morning Has Broken) or "God Father, Praise and Glory" .  There's nothing wrong with either of these hymns. I like the lyrics to "This Day God Gives Me", although the melody is  slightly grating because it is overused at my parish and has a bad 70s vibe dues to the popular cover of this hymn by Cat Stevens at that time. (yes, I know how much this dates me. I was in junior high at the time.)  But that's just me. For all I know, these lyrics combined with that melody is veritable spiritual manna for some. Moving on to "God Father, Praise and Glory" I decide to select this one. It has a traditional melody, is a bit  easier to sing if I have someone else doing Morning Prayer with me, and I also notice that the lyrics are more oriented towards God than the is "This Day God Gives Me". It's more about the greatness and goodness of God, the need to praise and adore Him, whereas the first selection is more about  Me and how God is going to help Me today.

So I sing or say the hymn I've chosen. But I never really feel that I'm actually praying the day's liturgy until the hymn is done and I've started the psalms. And the General Instruction gives me some hints as to why I feel this way.

 #173 says that the hymns of the LOTH are the "principal poetic part [of the Office] composed by the Church"    The selections in our breviaries have been composed by various Christian composers, some of them of fairly recent copyright, some of them by non-catholics. They were not, by and large, composed specifically for the Divine Office. So  that "composed by the Church" part is a little...fuzzy as it applies to what's in our breviaries.

#174 says the hymn is "traditionally concluded by a doxology" (a verse invoking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, simliar to the Glory Be)  Although this morning's two hymn choices do have this feature, there are many days in the four week psalter where the hymn choices do not end with a doxology.

#  175 and 176 says there are "two series" of hymns for each hour, and for when the Office of Readings is said either during the day or as a vigil during the night. I don't see any hymns denoted in my breviary as belonging to one series or another.

#178 refers to "the Latin hymns" being adapted to the nature of  vernacular languages. This means that the ancient hymns written specifically for the Liturgy of the Hours, once having been translated into the vernacular, can have their ancient, traditional melodies adjusted or changed in order to accomodate the differences in syllable stress or grammatical structure or the vernacular language. We never get to see these hymns in our breviaries, whether in Latin or in translation. #178 does give permission to "introduce new compositions, provided that they suit the spirit of the hour" but does that mean we should only get new compositions and never see the old ones? Our bishops have made use of a legitimate "option" when they compiled our breviary in 1971, but their use of a single option has deprived the faithful of any other option.  And, although I don't want to give more examples here, some of the choices we are given seem to be less suitable to the spirit of the hour than one might wish.

But the good news is that I can quit complaining! It is now possible to access the ancient, traditional, official hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours, translated from Latin and even, if you like to sing them, set to Gregorian melodies.
Hymnal for the Hours
Thanks be to God for Father Samuel Weber and the Benedict XVI Institute for producing the Hymnal for the Hours.  This hymnal contains hundreds of hymns from the Roman breviary--the traditional hymns that have been largely withheld from us. Each has been translated into English. These are translations that either have been gathered from other sources, or in some cases, translations made by Fr. Weber himself. Each has been set to Gregorian melodies.  There are hymns for Morning and Evening Prayer (a two week cycle, so that you use one hymn for weeks 1&III; another for weeks II & IV), and also for Office of Readings, with both "daytime" and "vigil" cycles.  There are hymns for the holy seasons, for the commons of saints, and also for each solemnity, feast, and many individual saint's memorials. There's even hymns for the daytime hours and for Night Prayer.

You know what? You don't need my boring review. What you need to read is this recent interview with Fr. Weber about the hymnal. It's far more interesting than anything I could say.

The Hymnal for the Hours is not the only way to access these beautiful, official liturgical hymns.(It's just the most complete.) I've already written about the Mundelein psalter, a single volume breviary which includes the same selections for the 4-week psalter and a smaller selection of the seasonal hymns.  And if you are mainly interested in the texts rather than the music of these hymns, the ibreviary app generally includes a translation of the Roman hymn as its alternative (second) choice for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

If you do buy the Hymnal for the Hours and are put off by the Gregorian notation (four line staff, square notes, movable clefs) then just get the iChant app, which gives you a virtual keyboard with a Gregorian staff superimposed on it. These chant melodies are for most part very easy to memorize, so once you've plunked them out a few times on iChant, and then sung them, they should stay with you forever.

And many thanks to alert reader Sid Cundiff who alerted me to the existence of the hymnal.


  1. The hymns this morning have a HUGE problem, in fact--they are not hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours. They are not to be found in the official, normative Latin book.

    Rather, they were just put in there by the English editions without any regard for actually translating properly.

    1. Well, that's the point I was trying (gently) to make. Although the General Instruction gives some leeway for using other than the official hymns #178, it couldn't have been meant as permission for a wholesale usurpation of the official hymns. That's why the Hymnal I review is such a godsend.

  2. I've found it more than a little concerning when seeing a hymn written by Martin Luther. I wonder if it was written before or after he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church.
    Do the breviaries for each country have to receive Vatican approval as the translations for the Mass, or is it up to the country's conference of Bishops?

    1. Well, J.S. Bach was a Lutheran but I'd welcome some of his music at mass. And if the Church has a history of co-opting and baptizing pagan customs, I guess we could tolerate decent protestant music, assuming it's okay doctrinally. A couple of our favorite Christmas carols were written by John Wesley. But my point was not that any individual hymn is bad, but that there are hymns written for the breviary that are far more appropriate than any of these others.
      Ed, I'm not sure what the approval process was for the ICEL translation and US Bishop's layout of the breviary back in (approximately) 1970. I was way to young to be following such things back then! I do know that our recent re-translation of the Roman missal had considerable Vatican oversight and had to be formally approved, and something similar will happen with the revision of the American breviary.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree on welcoming some of J.S. Bach's music at Mass! A fuller description of my reaction when seeing hymns written by Marin Luther would be: surprised AND concerned. Not a name I expected to see in a Catholic book of prayer. :)

      Thank you for your informative posts and replies, as usual!

      God Bless,

    3. Yeah, I guess there are limits to ecumenism. Imagine if there were something in the breviary attributed to Julian the Apostate!

    4. Daria,

      My friend who used to work at the ICEl told me that it was a deliberate choice not to translate the Roman hymns in order to rush the LOTH out. Certain folks who translated literally were also removed by Msgr. Frederick McManus, who essentially was the man who oversaw the mass translation and the LOTH translation. Father John Rotelle, O.S.A. was the architect for the LOTH translation, but his choice were ubject to McManus. What McManus ignored was the translations of the Office of Reading, which were primarily the work of Sister Maria Boulding, O.S.B. of Stanbrooke Abbey. That Father Rotelle father a more literal translation is shown by his Little Office of the Virgin Mary. One reason that Bishop Bernadin came down so hard on the 1975 Short Breviary of St. John's Abbey is that they contained paraphrased translations of the Roman hymns -- there very existence put the ICEL work to shame.

  3. One reason I've really been liking iBreviary is often having the hymn. Today there was a nice one for the feast of Pope St Gregory the Great. I'm definitely adding this hymnal to my wish list. Oh yes I am.

    I do have to put in a word for This Day God Gives Me. I do rather like it since it's a snippet of the longer St Patrick's Breastplate/Lorica/Deer's Cry. So it is composed by a saint. And though the part in this particular hymn is more me-focused, it is really about putting on Christ as your armor at the beginning of the day. I rather like the imagery of wearing Christ and also the connection it draws between the wonders of the natural world and God's providence.

    1. You're right, Melanie, and I like that one too. I didn't mean to be straining at gnats and might have looked ahead and chosen examples that were more clearly...infelicitous, shall we say? And my overall point was that the hymns that are really designed for the LOTH ought to be available, and now are.

  4. Thank you Daria for the information on the hymnal !!! WONDERFUL !!! Just what I was wishing for. Thank you. May GOD bless you!!!
    Chuck Little

  5. Sorry, me again, sticking up for the hymns. I really like A Mighty Fortress Is Our God even if it is by Luther. I think we judge the hymn on its own merits and not by who wrote it. Shouldn't the criteria be whether it is a good prayer, good music, free from error, teaching truth, etc.? Does it really matter who the author is, if you couldn't pick it out of a lineup as a bad hymn without the author's name on it?

    My childhood parish chose to spend money to hire a professional choir director instead of relying on well-meaning amateurs. Thus by happy accident the choir director was really great musician and also a Lutheran. We sang a few hymns by Protestant authors on Sundays, but only the ones that didn't offend a Catholic sensitivity. The choir was amazing, the music always reverent and appropriate. And in his later years the choir director was received into the Catholic Church. All those Sundays at Mass must have done some good.

    My point being, that there's a much longer tradition of hymnody in English by Protestants than by Catholics and a lot of the older stuff is really good. It can be both/and, right? Latin hymns translated as well as the best of the hymns written in English.

    1. No need to stick up for the hymns on my account.
      I trust what's approved by the Church when praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Yeah, my _initial_ reaction was one of concern, but that went away after reminded myself that it's part of the official prayer and worship of THE Church.

  6. Melanie,

    If you saw the treasures of hymns that exist in the Liturgia Horarum you would not waste your time with many of the hymns. They are quite beautiful and Father Weber's work is the basis for what will be found in the new translation of the LOTH. Even reading the paraphrased version found in the 1975 Short Breviary shows a depth not found in these hymns ("Morning has Broken" is way too cheesy for the dignity and sacredness of the LOTH and reminds me of the 1970s when I heard that with Day by Day, Superstar, Let it Be, Sister Janet Mead's Our Father, My Sweet Lord, and Here comes the Sun at mass). As for the Lorica of St. Patrick, the translation in the LOTH is superb, and I see no reason why we should not keep it as liturgical poetry. As for Luther's work, why not keep it in the appendix? We have brought Cranmer's work into the mass (Anglican Ordinariate use), so why not re-Catholize it?

  7. Daria,

    An example of a paraphrased hymn from theShort Breviary, THursday of Week II
    Lord, Cleanse us with your precious Blood
    And grant that grace our souls may flood
    That we may cast all sin aside
    And not meet death through sinful pride

    Let sin and guilt no one oppress!
    Let not vain pride our souls possess!
    Let not our broken souls despair!
    Nor grief our joyful souls ensnare.

    The translations were done by Father Roger Schoenbelcher, O.S.B.

  8. Sound like a great resource. I'll have to check it out. - Thanks Daria.

  9. Thanks so much for the useful information about the Hymnal and about the notes availabel on LULU. I have purchased a copy of the Hymnal and it is now becoming part of my daily prayer. The notes are some good, I have been reading them since I downloaded them. Very thorough, readable, some older than I thought, but informative, and for someone who loves praying the Office, giving me more energy to carry on. Am trying now to see if we can start some parish celebration of Vespers or Lauds during the Advent Season...might be a way of lighting a small candle of hope.
    Thanks again for the info...would not have known it if I didn't check your blog from time to time.

  10. Thanks to sharing such a good post also share about Budget Hotel Booking