Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Hymn Primer for Breviary Beginners

"I don't know the tune to this hymn."

Well, join the club. But there's several things you can do about that.

1. Just recite the hymn lyrics, like a poem. This is the obvious solution unless you have time for one of the following:

2. Choose a different hymn that you do know, so long as it's appropriate to the season. For example, during ordinary time you could always pick "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" or any other general hymn of praise. During lent, do "O Sacred Head Surrounded" or "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" or "The Glory of these Forty Days."

3. Get acquainted with the meter posted at the beginning or the end of the hymn. That's the little series of numbers and periods.   For example, if it says """  The tune that we use for "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" or "From All that Dwell Below the Skies" will fit those lyrics. If you get "77.77" and know the hymn "On this Day, the First of Days" then you can plug that tune into the strange lyrics. If it says "76.76" then go with "Sing Praise to Our Creator, O sons of Adam's race"  If you go to Cyber Hymnal  you can find tunes to go with every meter imaginable.

4. Better yet.  Go to Kevin Shaw's wonderful Breviary Hymns blog. There you can look up just about any hymns you want, and find a video performance thereof, as well as notes about the hymn's background and history.

Okay...time for  and comments and questions from newcomers or oldcomers who are in search of information that will improve their understanding and recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.


  1. It's worth reiterating here that Fr. Samuel Weber OSB's "Hymnal for the Hours," available for about $25 from Lulu.com, is an absolutely invaluable resource. (Here is the hardcover version: http://www.lulu.com/shop/fr-samuel-f-weber-osb/hymnal-for-the-hours-hardcover/hardcover/product-21799520.html)

    It contains all the official hymns of the reformed Liturgy of the Hours in English translation and set to their proper tones (with Gregorian chant notation).

    Hymnal for the Hours has:

    - The complete two-week hymn cycle (Weeks I and III, II and IV) for Office of Readings, Lauds and Vespers for the ferial psalter, along with an alternative one-week Lauds hymn cycle;
    - Hymns for Terce, Sext, None and Compline with different tones suitable for ferias, memorials, feasts, solemnities, and special seasons;
    - Hymns for every Common,
    - Hymns for select Propers of more important feasts.

    Some of the hymns have two options for translation (usually an older and a more modern one).

    In addition, as a "bonus," it also includes the proper tones for all the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for the ferial office.

    It is a very versatile publication, and worth every penny, even if you don't pray the regular LOTH. I use it for the Daily Office of the Ordinariate.

    1. Perhaps it also bears mentioning for readers newer to the Office that the "official" American breviaries (whether the four- or the one-volume versions) have almost none of the actual Office hymnody. They have replaced most of the proper Office hymns in the official Latin Liturgia Horarum with other compositions from various sources, making for a very eclectic medley. That's what makes "Hymnal for the Hours" so invaluable.

  2. speak the truth, to You speak the truth, Tom. I have written about the sorry lack in our breviaries, and have also recommended Fr. Weber hymnal, which I use daily. But since using that hymnal takes a modicum of musical ability, and strong concern about using the Roman hymns, I did. It include this in a post meant for relative beginners.

    1. I understand; obviously, my comment was not meant as a reproof for why you haven't included it! Just an additional $0.02 for those interested.

      And, I should add, one could always just read the lyrics from the Weber hymnal much like from the breviary, per your advice #1, and still improve the content and relevance.

      I should add one more thing: for an even more cost-effective option, and for those who prefer the modern musical notation to Gregorian, I would also recommend the Episcopal Church's 1940 Hymnal. You can snag a copy from eBay for anywhere between $5 and $15. It actually includes many Roman breviary hymns, as well as the best gems of English hymnody from the last 500 years.

      It has sections labeled "Morning" and "Evening" that can always be used ad lib with OOR/Lauds/Terce and with Vespers/Compline, respectively. I actually use the 1940 Hymnal alternatively with Fr Weber's. (It's certainly smaller and much more portable/convenient.)