About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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The representative Protestant collection, entitled “Hymns, Ancient and Modern”—in substance a compromise between the various sections of conflicting religious thought in the Establishment—is a typical instance. That collection is indebted to Catholic writers for a large fractional part of its contents. If the hymns be estimated which are taken from Catholic sources, directly or imitatively, the greater and more valuable part of its contents owes its origin to the Church.
— Orby Shipley (1884)

Six Things To Know About USCCB Hymn Approval
published 10 March 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

179 GIRM approval OMEDY WOULDN’T be as funny if comedians said, before each joke, “I’m about to say something that hopefully makes you laugh.” Yet, that statement would be true. Imagine cantors at Mass saying, before each hymn, “I’ve decided to replace the Church’s assigned text with a song I hope you enjoy.” That’s also true, but admitting it sounds funky.

Today, I will speak from the heart, 1 causing me to employ a few words I’d normally eschew, such as “absurd.”

I have pondered Dan Craig’s landmark article—released on 9 FEB 2015—offering initial reactions about “tacit approval” before our contributors created a series: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07.

Printed in bold red letters (BELOW) are the facts based on Mr. Craig’s documentation. Each is followed by my commentary.

1. The phrase “Published with the approval of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy.”

This wording is printed on the front page of many hymnals, but the BCL Secretariat and others have repeatedly made clear that this APPROVAL does not apply to any hymns or songs contained therein. It is indisputable that most Catholics would naturally assume this approval does apply to the musical selections. However, that assumption is false. On the other hand, there has been no effort to correct this misunderstanding, which is reprehensible.

2. The notion of “tacit approval” as described by the BCL clarification dated 11/20/2012.

As I explained in my article, the notion of “tacit approval” can only be described as a farce. Any musician who writes to the local bishop describing this “tacit” use of his authority would quickly receive a response. That response—in no uncertain terms—would say that musicians cannot assume such “tacit” approval. Some might accuse me of making assumptions, but I can assure you that bishops become angry when their names are used without permission, even regarding relatively small matters.

3. The supposed BCL policy where “automatic” permission is granted for any substitute song, until that song is published in a collection.

This policy seems quite reasonable at first, but upon reflection falls apart completely. The main problem is that a song becomes “unapproved” once it’s published in a collection. Consider a hypothetical scenario in which “Joe Smith” composes a song for Church. The parish sings it for a few years and begins to enjoy singing it. Then Joe’s song is published in a collection which lacks approval. Remember: there could be 1,000 legitimate reasons why the collection lacks approval—for instance, if it’s associated with an ecumenical group. All of a sudden, Joe’s parish can no longer use his song, because it’s part of an unapproved collection.

Those who have not carefully studied Mr. Craig’s documentation might be tempted to claim that Joe’s parish can still use that song, even if it’s part of an unapproved collection. If that’s true, then what is the purpose of approval? And how can Joe’s parish lawfully use that song while a parish down the road cannot use it, because it’s part of an unapproved collection? This example shows the utter absurdity of the BCL policy. Moreover, the policy directly contradicts the GIRM.

4. The peculiar USSCB reading of the GIRM which leads to a “one-for-all” policy.

Andrew Motyka drew attention to this in Part 5 of the series (SEE ABOVE). Instead of accepting the clear meaning of GIRM 48—where “local bishop” means “local bishop”—the BCL interprets “local bishop” as something different. Monsignor Hilgartner, formerly Executive Director for the BCL, has said Rome is aware of this interpretation, but did not offer documentation supporting his claim. I have no reason to doubt Msgr. Hilgartner’s assertion, but I still find the “one-for-all” policy troubling.

Why should a bishop in Alaska approve substitute music for churches in Florida? Why should a bishop in Memphis approve liturgical texts for Detroit? Wasn’t Vatican II supposed to give more power to the local bishops? Moreover, this approval never expires! Imagine a bishop who’s deposed in 1985 for doing something scandalous. According to this funky policy, all the alternate texts & music he approved can still replace the official texts in any USA diocese forever! I suppose the BCL can use whatever interpretation it wants—although “the local bishop” doesn’t seem ambiguous to my mind—but a question remains as to whether individual bishops have to accept such interpretations in light of official rulings from Rome. All of these problems vanish if the natural interpretation of the GIRM is accepted, where “local bishop” means “local bishop.”

5. The Executive Director of the BCL said the situation is “complicated.”

With regard to what is happening in 99% of Catholic parishes, Msgr. Hilgartner’s assessment (“complicated”) cannot be doubted. Unbelievable ignorance about the Propers and the GIRM abounds, and almost no parish anywhere is following the rules. This confusion has existed for decades and now seems to trigger candid statements from the BCL which disregard Church law. The justification often given for disobedience is that following the rules is “impossible.”

6. The Executive Director of the BCL blamed “custom that had been in place” formerly.

Without question, the BCL is in a difficult situation because for decades the rules have been ignored. However, the BCL has an obligation—based on Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46—to clearly admit what’s happening. As we saw from the lack of response to Mr. Craig’s 70+ letters, the BCL is reluctant to clearly delineate the current situation. Moreover, false information is constantly disseminated by various parties, and this must cease because conscientious Catholics trying to follow the rules are being misled in a shameful way.

To cite one example, the former executive director for the BCL, who served in the early 1990s, has continually spread false information about a publication which has been given an imprimatur three times by three different bishops. (Because of the particular nature of this publication, even one imprimatur would have been overkill.) I will not here reproduce all his erroneous statements, since one will suffice. On 23 November 2013, this person declared: “Only the Apostolic See and the conference of bishops can approve anything for liturgical use; a diocesan bishop cannot.” Obviously, such a statement is absurd in light of GIRM 48. However, here’s the point: Wouldn’t most people (rightly) tend to side with someone who served as BCL Executive Director?

In so many ways, the solution seems obvious. The BCL should clearly state that the permission required by the GIRM is null and void. That is to say, GIRM 48 can be ignored, and de facto has been ignored for decades. This is not a secret: anyone who’s been in Church music realizes what happens in 99% of Catholic parishes.

However, a reality must be grasped, whether we like it or not: The USA bishops will never publicly contradict the GIRM. Therein lies the dilemma.

176 Catholic Pew Book Propers I PROMISED TO SPEAK from the heart, and I’ve done so. I even brought up the insurmountable problem, which is not supposed to be mentioned in public. So, where does that leave us? What can be said of the approval process? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer that will satisfy you. However, I do have two suggestions.

The ultimate answer is the production of more collections of the Propers. Already, many options are available (eleven of which can be found here) but more are needed. Consider providing for your congregation a pew book containing Propers, such as the Jogues Lectionary. 2 When congregations see the official texts each Sunday, the notion of Propers will begin to grow in their consciousness:

      * *  PDF Download • Sample pages from the Jogues Lectionary

Eventually, people will ask, “Why don’t we pray the official texts? Is there something wrong with them?” They’ll begin to instinctively sense what is right, prescribed, and ancient.

My second solution will be less popular with some readers, but might resonate with some of the younger OF priests. Simply stated: stop playing around. Explain to your congregation that Vatican II wanted to pray THE Mass, not pray AT Mass. The desire for participation was supposed to help congregations pray the actual Mass prayers, not extraneous devotional texts chosen by an organist or cantor. Replacing the official texts with hymns/songs chosen by the musician is silly, since the official prayers are not flawed, and have worked well for 1500+ years. A priest who takes this approach can meet with his bishop and see which collections he has approved for Entrance, Offertory, and Communion. If the bishop is unwilling to grant the required permission, other options can be explored.


1   It’s not always easy to speak from the heart on the internet, where character assassination and demagoguery are prevalent. Adding to the danger is the fact that we at CCW use our real names, whereas so many hide behind the invincible-yet-cowardly shield of anonymity, failing to realize that Almighty God still sees each and every one of our actions.

2   I helped produce the Jogues Lectionary, so some will dismiss my comments as biased. However, as someone who spent years making xerox copies of Propers each Sunday for congregations, let me assure you: THAT OPTION IS NO FUN.