HE INTERNET is a vicious place; probably because people communicate without looking each other in the eye. Even in “traditional” circles, jealousy and dishonesty abound (which is very sad). Sometimes, it feels like the Catholic Church is a circular firing squad, whereas enemies of the Faith seem united and powerful. Online Catholic music circles are even worse: everyone has strong opinions, and if someone dares to suggest a different approach, out come the knives! Today, however, I desire to do something positive. I wish to pay tribute to the creators of the ADOREMUS HYMNAL, which in 1997 was a real game changer.
The CMAA recently posted a fascinating article by Dr. Kurt Poterack, describing its origin:
Recall the environment of 1997. The internet existed, but barely. Just a few years earlier (25 December 1991) the Soviet Union fell. The television show “Full House” had just ended. Michael Jordan was at his zenith, and DVDs started to appear. Most Catholic choirmasters in those days who supported authentic sacred music were isolated. The rotten ICEL translation was in its heyday. What ADOREMUS accomplished in 1997 was daring and powerful, and they deserve our gratitude.
This honest and well-written article by Dr. Poterack hit home with me, especially where he speaks of how much work goes into producing a hymnal. Like Poterack, I serve on a committee, which is creating the St. Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal. Our book—finally!—is almost complete and being proofread, but it took five years of grueling work.
TEN YEARS AGO, when I had to choose a hymnal for the Catholic high school choral program I was running, I chose Adoremus. I do feel it has shortcomings—but before I say anything further, let me repeat:
When the Adoremus Hymnal appeared in 1997, it was by far the best hymnal created by a major USA publisher. The brave people who produced it are to be commended.
Now that I have made it clear how seminal this book was, let me mention a few unsatisfactory things. First, in my humble opinion, it was extremely limited—in terms of the number of hymns. Secondly, there were tons of “missing numbers,” and our school principal kept insisting that we send the books back because “they are missing pages.” (Dr. Poterack explains this mystery in the article above.) Thirdly, the hymns almost always required a page turn right in the middle—forcing the singers to keep turning back and forth.
My main objection to the book, however, was this: the hymnody is too Protestant. “What?” you exclaim. “Too Protestant? But isn’t the best hymnody Protestant?” No, it isn’t. If one carefully examines the situation, one discovers that Catholics have written tons of really tremendous hymns. In particular, the ancient Breviary hymns have been translated by numerous Catholic priests—and frequently what they produce is outstanding.
If a Catholic priest has written an English translation for a Breviary hymn—one which is more beautiful, more accurate, and more theologically correct than a translation by a Protestant—why wouldn’t we choose that one? When the St. Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal is released, I feel that people will be blown away by how Catholic it is. Yet, the quality is extremely high. We never accepted anything just because it was written by a Catholic. What I’m saying is, we looked for the most excellent hymns, and (surprisingly!) the vast majority turned out to be Roman Catholic!
Did the Brébeuf committee have to search and search? Absolutely. Have we unearthed Catholic treasures we never dreamed of? You bet! Was it worth all the trouble? Oh, yes! Does it stand on the shoulders of books like the Adoremus hymnal? It does.