ERY SOON AFTER its release, I ordered a copy of the St. Jean de Brébeuf hymnal, and have been utterly in love with this resource since it arrived in my mailbox. Indeed, between the dark, hard bound book with soft matte texture lies some of the Catholic Church’s most treasured jewels. It feels like a well loved first edition of a favorite novel which you cherish and re-read time and time again.
THE LITURGICAL WONK IN ME adores the numerous scholarly treatments of texts. From inclusion of the original Latin urtext, to historical and canonically backed translations, to modern “singable” versions that do not lose the lustre of the poetic imagery, the primacy of the text is apparent on each page. In light of the 2010 revisions to the English language Roman Missal, made to eliminate paraphrasing in our liturgies, the St. Jean de Brébeuf hymnal takes the same direction from the Liturgiam Authenticam:
“The translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.”
However, where the Brébeuf hymnal differs is that its texts do in fact adhere to a very high style of poetic meter as well as theological clarity—and for that, our congregations can be intensely grateful. The modern hymnody of other major hymnals profits off of paraphrase and shaky theological textual footing, some hymns even straying into the heretical. The Brébeuf ancient texts and authoritative translations will offer no such abuse to worshippers.
THE MUSICAL WONK IN ME adores the multiple settings of each text, which can be interchanged as required by seasonal and festal usage. Indeed, there are over 20 different settings and translations to sing some version of “Pange Lingua Gloriosi”—by both Bishop Fortunatus and St. Thomas Aquinas—each with its own textual intricacies and utilizing poetic foot and word painting. Can you imagine more versatility within prescribed liturgical hymnody as a music director? Many of the tunes are already familiar to most Catholic congregations, but restore a sense of dignity and timelessness to the music for worship which has been discarded in the past 50+ years of intentionally adolescent liturgical practice.
Finally, the Brébeuf Hymnal treats Catholic music in English as the wealth and treasury of thought and substance that it is. It strikes the perfect balance of theologically sound texts, sublime and timeless musical treatment and thoughtful research that our congregations can mature into. This is a hymnal that not only will inspire our congregations to sing, but to delve deeper into their spiritual life with a solid foundation in two millennia of artistic excellence.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by Jennifer D. Behnke.