Apr 15, 2007

National Hymn

Online Edition – April 2007

Vol. XIII, No. 2

The Birth and Death of a National Hymnal — 1973-1976

Part II — Seeking a "Core Repertoire"

by Susan Benofy

Summary: The first section of this two-part essay summarized the history of an attempt in the mid-1970s to assemble a National Hymnal for Catholics in the United States. The project was begun in 1973 by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) in cooperation with music publishers. The idea of a hymnal was met with much initial enthusiasm. However, opposition grew as more details of its contents became known, and disagreements surfaced. By 1976 the project was abandoned.

Part 2 compares that failed project to the current effort of the US bishops to produce a “core repertoire” of hymns for liturgical use, in accordance with Liturgiam authenticam §108, which said bishops’ conferences should “provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing”.


The National Hymnal Project was dead. “It was feared that a substantial number of parishes would no longer seek the new, the creative, once the book was in the pew”, wrote Father William Bauman, then chairman of the music committee of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), explaining its demise. “A second reason was the discovery that we really don’t agree on what we want yet”.

Father Bauman thought such a project might succeed in the future, however, perhaps in the 1980s or 1990s “when there has been time for the necessary growth and experimentation” (“The National Hymnal is Dead” Pastoral Music, February-March 1977, p 21).

Is three decades enough time for sufficient liturgical “maturity” to develop? We’re about to find out the answer.

The “Directory for Music in the Liturgy”, approved by the US bishops last November, calls for assembling a “core repertoire” — a basic collection of music considered essential for a proper celebration of the liturgy — within three years.

This project differs from the national hymnal proposal of the 1970s in two major ways. First, the “core repertoire” project was initiated by the bishops’ conference, unlike the national hymnal project, which was begun and carried out by the FDLC with no consultation or oversight from the bishops. Second, the “core repertoire” is not destined to become a single national Catholic hymnal; rather this repertory is to be included in all published collections of liturgical music.

Yet the “core repertoire” proposal has much in common with the National Hymnal Project. Some of the issues that caused the demise of that effort are still with us. For example, the fear that “creativity” in liturgical music might be discouraged surfaced during the bishops’ discussion surrounding the approval of a “Directory for Music and the Liturgy” at their meeting last November.

Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), explained why his committee decided not to compile a list of specific texts and songs in the “Directory for Music in the Liturgy”, but only to set out norms that sung texts must satisfy:

The final collection of liturgical songs would have to be voted and approved by this body of bishops. The ramifications of such an approach would lead to the virtual elimination of companies dedicated to the publication of liturgical participation aids since the number of songs would be too extensive to include. This would also lead to a stark reduction in the creation of new liturgical songs and the loss of significant income for Catholic liturgical music composers.

Apparently, we have not yet reached a stage of “maturity” concerning liturgical music that Father Bauman expected in 1977. There are, of course, those who favor the music of current composers, and claim that it is superior to that written in earlier decades. Some more extreme “folk” songs have virtually disappeared. But maturity does not come automatically with the passing of time. (Bishop Trautman’s comments also allude to a new problem that has developed since the 1970s — the economic concerns of the liturgical publishing industry.)

What we have not had in the intervening decades is a serious consideration of what sort of music is appropriate for the liturgy; of whether the supposedly popular music enables participation in the liturgy or only in community singing. It is probably impossible to come to agreement until a still more basic question is answered. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) explained in a talk to a 1985 international conference on sacred music:

The controversy about church music has become symptomatic for the deeper question about what liturgical worship is. [Published in A New Song for the Lord (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), p. 112]

What is liturgical worship?

The question “what is liturgical worship?” would probably receive at least as many different answers today as in the 1970s. As Father Bauman found, “we really don’t know what we want yet”. So long as the question is still discussed in terms of “what we want” rather than what the liturgy requires, we are unlikely to make any real progress.

The selection of a core repertoire should begin by asking what sort of music enables “that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).

To answer this question it is necessary to study the official liturgical documents. On the question of music such a study cannot ignore the Graduale Romanum, the official collection of music for the Roman Rite. This could be considered a sort of “international Catholic hymnal”, but it does not contain primarily strophic or metrical (verse/chorus or verse/refrain) “hymns”. It does include the musical settings of prescribed liturgical texts: Introits, Offertories, Communion verses, as well as several settings of the Ordinary of Mass, and some hymns, canticles and antiphons.

Jubilate Deo’s “core repertoire”

There is even a “core repertoire” for the Roman Rite.

In 1974 Pope Paul VI sent to every bishop in the world a booklet of some of the simplest selections of Gregorian Chant, much of it drawn from the Graduale Romanum. This booklet, called Jubilate Deo, was intended as a “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant”. It is, in other words, an official Latin “core repertoire” for the Roman Rite. The collection was prepared in order

to make it easier for Christians to achieve unity and spiritual harmony with their brothers and with the living tradition of the past. Hence it is that those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse Gregorian chant the place which is due to it. (Pope Paul VI, Voluntati Obsequens, April 14, 1974)

Pope Paul VI gave permission for the selections in Jubilate Deo to be freely reprinted. The booklet was accompanied by a letter in which the Holy Father made the following request of the bishops:

Would you therefore, in collaboration with the competent diocesan and national agencies for the liturgy, sacred music and catechetics, decide on the best ways of teaching the faithful the Latin chants of Jubilate Deo and of having them sing them…. You will thus be performing a new service for the Church in the domain of liturgical renewal. (Pope Paul VI, Voluntati Obsequens, April 14, 1974)

A new, expanded edition of Jubilate Deo was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1987. Unfortunately, the faithful were not taught these chants, and it is rare to hear any music from this collection sung in parishes.

The decision of the bishops to assemble a core repertoire and the anticipated introduction of a new English translation of the Mass provide an opportunity to reconsider the Jubilate Deo collection. Its Latin selections, since they form a minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant, would allow us to finally fulfill the provision of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

[S]teps should be taken enabling the faithful to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass belonging to them. (§54)

This is reiterated in the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy.…

Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies. (GIRM §41)

Most recently, Pope Benedict in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, based on the October 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, said:

I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy. (§42)

The contents of Jubilate Deo also give us a model of what sort of music should be included in a vernacular “core repertoire”. Jubilate Deo includes simple settings of the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Agnus Dei. It also gives settings for the dialogues between priest and people such as the one before the Preface, and the Ite Missa est, the response to the Prayer of the Faithful, and others.

Thus Jubilate Deo includes primarily selections that allow congregations to sing the parts of the Mass that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls “of greatest importance”

In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together. (GIRM §40)

In this, the GIRM follows the 1967 instruction on sacred music, Musicam Sacram §7, which says

However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together.

What is “of greater importance”?

Musicam Sacram goes into greater detail, defining three degrees of importance for sung portions of the Mass.

28. … These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first.…
29. The following belong to the first degree:
(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

The Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Agnus Dei and Prayer of the Faithful belong to the second degree, and the Introit, Offertory and Communion chants, responsorial Psalm, Gospel Alleluia and Scripture readings belong to the third degree.

This ranking applies to all Masses, whether in Latin or the vernacular. Unfortunately, these parts of the Mass, especially many of those in the first degree, are rarely sung, despite the explicit norm of GIRM §40.

Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

Certainly the core of any liturgical repertoire must include simple settings (Latin and vernacular) of these important dialogues that can be sung by any congregation, unaccompanied, so that even when no organist or cantor is available the norm of GIRM §40 may be satisfied.

Moreover, with the introduction of the new translation of the Mass the “core repertoire” can serve as a model for musical settings of these texts.

Jubilate Deo also contains some hymns, canticles and other items. Such selections are also needed in the core repertoire, in keeping with Liturgiam authenticam §61:

The hymns and canticles contained in the modern editiones typicae constitute a minimal part of the historic treasury of the Latin Church, and it is especially advantageous that they be preserved in the printed vernacular editions, even if placed there in addition to hymns composed originally in the vernacular language.

Vernacular versions of such liturgical hymns as the Pange Lingua and Veni Creator, prescribed for particular liturgies, should certainly be part of the core repertoire. Musical settings of the official translation of the Magnificat, Benedictus, Salve Regina and other canticles and antiphons for the Liturgy of the Hours should also be known by every Catholic.

Since the bishops’ discussion of the core repertoire made it clear that the core is not intended to be the exclusive repertoire for liturgy, the core should probably be a fairly small selection with few hymns beyond those actually in the liturgical books. It should be small enough that it is possible for all Catholics to learn and use all of it. Then it would be available for use for liturgies at diocesan and national meeting, retreats and the like.

A small repertoire of simple settings should not, in any way, discourage composers from providing other, more elaborate settings to supplement the core repertoire. The best way to avoid the disagreement about “what we want”, which doomed the National Hymnal Project, would be to select music from the liturgical books themselves that respects the musical heritage of the universal Church.

As Pope Benedict XVI proclaims in Sacramentum Caritatis:

The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. (§42)

This — our musical heritage — is indeed our true “core repertoire”.


Also see: Part I

Also see: Jubilate Deo page


Susan Benofy is research editor of the Adoremus Bulletin. Dr. Benofy, along with AB editor Helen Hull Hitchcock, was a participant in the music consultation sponsored by the BCL Subcommittee on Music, held in Chicago last October.



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.