OR YEARS, I have served (and continue to serve) as cantor at my local parish. Like at most Catholic parishes, I am provided with the typical resources from “the big three” music publishers. However, my personal journey as a Catholic has taken me to realize how important it is to find supplemental materials. 1 So when my husband asked if we could buy the Brébeuf hymnal when it was released last winter, I didn’t dissuade him. We are longtime supporters and followers of the good work of CCWatershed, and I thought it would be a good addition to my repertoire. I didn’t expect to be so surprised…to find something so wonderfully different.
First, I found the index (in the middle!) to have a lot of information, but I didn’t need the ANCIENT HYMNS yet. What I needed was the music in the second part 2 of the hymnal. Called ADDITIONAL SONGS, these songs are familiar to our congregation, such as “Holy God, we praise Thy name.” Second, while this hymnal is a treasure trove of resources, I can’t sing most of it…yet. That means questions arose: What can I choose for next Sunday? Is there a list of the hymns organized by liturgical season? We are not Extraordinary Form, so what can I choose for the Ordinary Form of the Mass?
At this stage of my liturgical development, I much prefer a chart like this:
* * PDF Download • SEASONAL INDEX (for personal use)
…whereas the so-called “professional” indices are less helpful:
* * PDF Download • COMPLETE INDICES (Brébeuf Hymnal)
From the seasonal index, it’s clear the Brébeuf hymnal contains an abundance of hymns for the Ordinary Form.
My Preference Is The Seasonal Index
To give a concrete example why I like the Seasonal Index: we recently celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension. I had already found three songs in the book’s index for the Ascension, but the Seasonal Index (above) showed another hymn: Jesu Nostra Redemptio. I would have never known this hymn was a possibility! 3 The second stanza is particularly powerful:
While my parish isn’t in a position to invest in changing hymnals yet, the Brébeuf research is already informing my own personal decisions as I prepare to cantor at the weekend Mass. I wish I could fully explain how passionate I am in singing at my local parish, in trying to provide the very best that I can. I homeschool my children and try to maintain a tidy home. I love my faith, but no one taught me Latin or shared the ancient chants of the Church. We grew up without this treasure that should have been my inheritance passed down from my family members, or better yet, from my Church. With this book in my hand, I will make sure my children never lament not knowing their heritage as Catholics of the Roman Rite. I have begun to explore the footnotes toward the bottom of each page:
The font size is tiny, so footnotes like these don’t distract during Mass.
Avoiding the “Classic Bait and Switch”
A homeschooling mother in search of the best Advent/Christmas poem from our tradition might choose the Veni Redemptor Gentium by Saint Ambrose. Right at our dining table, I might decide to have my kiddos read the poem, or even memorize it. If I feel daring, I might have them learn a hymn based on the original Latin. Basic research on Google shows the most popular translation into English is a hymn called Savior of the Nations, Come. But when we open up a “Spirit of Vatican II” hymnal, we are immediately presented with a dangerous deception:
* * “Savior of the Nations, Come” – Collegeville (Bait and Switch)
The Collegeville “translation” is a total sham, except for the first verse:
Suppose there was no Brébeuf Hymnal, so I only had access to the Collegeville version. “Creation groaning” might be difficult to explain to my children, but at least the verse is recognizable to the one written by St. Ambrose. Then this homeschooling mom would find a nice line about “dew from heaven” and wonder if the Ambrosian poetry is connected somehow to “Rorate Caeli” (the famous Advent chant). But by the end of the verse, I’d start wondering why St. Ambrose talks about terraforming hills and plains. (“Melt our mountains?” …do they suddenly turn to lava?) Perhaps they were attempting a spin on the powerful verse from Psalm 96:5 (“The mountains melted like wax, at the presence of the Lord…”)—but again, where is that found in the text by St. Ambrose? Verses 3-4 continue to get away from the original text and unless I came across a better translation I’d never realize what my family is missing. Adding insult to injury, the Collegeville version omits many stanzas, which I discovered by examining the Brébeuf version.
The first line really is the only accurate line! That begs the question: Why was it necessary to destroy what Monsignor Charles Pope considers to be the greatest Advent hymn ever written? Would any serious person defend the Collegeville translation as accurate? The choice is obvious: in our home this winter, we’ll pick one of the Brébeuf melodies, and I just hope we’ll have a recording in time for Advent.
“Bait and Switch”—More Common Than You Think
This next example (Adóro Te, Devóte) breaks my heart in two special ways. First, we love the hymn since we’re so familiar with it! It is one of those few ancient texts that could be found at our Ordinary Form Mass growing up. And it is by Thomas Aquinas—we named our second son after the saint! And second:
Why did St. Michael Hymnal editors censor the “loving Pelican” imagery? Why in the world?!!
In my life as a mother, this has been such a source of inspiration! St. Thomas Aquinas is evoking an ancient image of a “Divine Pelican,” but it is nowhere in the St. Michael Hymnal version. According to the legend, the pelican mother wounds herself to feed her young if they are starving. As a mom, this is particularly moving. Even more so when it is displayed in church architecture around the world. For four years, as I sat in our parish pews before we moved to our new building, an image of the “Divine Pelican” stood front and center. The St. Michael Hymnal got rid of all that, and I’d like to know why they have the “bait and switch.” What is so unacceptable about the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas?
Take a moment to read through some examples:
Every stanza in the St. Michael “translation” is very different from what Aquinas actually wrote! They even copyrighted the forgery:
* * PDF Download • “Bait And Switch” (St. Michael Hymnal)
I don’t have time to research and certify translations against forgery. I might come across something like the CCWatershed article describing similar deceptions. As I began writing these blogs this year, I’ve found so many examples in the hymnals I’ve come across. My children need me engaging with them, so I simply don’t have time to deal with “bait and switch.” Up until now, the only choice I’ve had was to use and trust the resources my parish provides. 4
What A Faithful Translation Should Do
Naturally, no translation can perfectly capture the original after being transformed into rhyming English. Still, devout poets can surely come close! Consider the superb Sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Lauda Sion Salvatorem, written by St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). Notice how this CCW score gives you the Latin, literal meaning, and a rhyming version by the Jesuit Martyr, Fr. Robert Southwell:
* * PDF Download • Latin + Literal + Poetic
I encourage you to read the entire thing, but here are two sample stanzas:
A Bold Proposal: In Need Of Feedback
As I have described earlier, I cantor at my local parish. I have a musical background, but my Catholic generation was raised on “praise and worship” pop music. I am only now learning the rich musical traditions of our Faith. I can’t always recognize a hymn tune by its name, especially when the Missalette only provides lyrics. Please don’t judge me, but that’s the honest truth. I e-mailed Mr. Ostrowski for some help, and he sent the beginning of an experimental approach. In it, he prints a small snippet of each hymn tune:
* * PDF Download • “Tune Index” (Experimental Proposal)
Again, don’t judge me too harshly, but I didn’t really know what “OLD HUNDREDTH” meant when it was written underneath a hymn title. As I continue to learn, I find myself beginning to memorize some, but with the attachment Mr. Ostrowski made, it becomes crystal clear for me. And if I need to hear it, I can easily plunk it out on a keyboard. I do not want to impose on Mr. Ostrowski’s time, but if anyone else finds this useful, please e-mail me. I don’t want him to spend so much time building this document if I am the only one who needs it. So far as I know, such an index has never been created—and I don’t even know what to call it. Would “snippet index” fit the bill? Do you see how it gives a recognizable snippet of each melody?.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 This is my diplomatic way of saying that, “I try to make the best of the situation that currently exists in our local area.” We have great people and great priests, but are stuck with decades of implementing “the innovations” of the 1970s and 1980s.
2 The hymnal is two parts: the “ANCIENT HYMNS” first, the “ADDITIONAL HYMNS” second. While the Ancient Hymns are an excellent resource, in my specific parish situation, I could only begin with the second part of the hymnal, containing the typical hymns we sing.
3 It is one of those treasures made accessible by the Brébeuf hymnal. It is a song for Vespers on the Feast of the Ascension from the 7th century!
4 That same article revealed this page from the “People’s Mass Book” published in 1964, so this monkey business is apparently nothing new.