EARCH GOOGLE, and you’ll often find this description of the Brébeuf hymnal: A Catholic hymnal that doesn’t mimic Protestant hymnals. But what exactly does that mean? One aspect concerns what is sometimes called the “Non-Heretical Fifty” (NHF). If you own hymnals like the Saint Michael Hymnal (to which I contributed), the Vatican II Hymnal (to which I contributed), the Lumen Christi Hymnal, the Adoremus Hymnal (which I assisted with in a small way), the London Oratory hymn book, the Mediator Dei Hymnal, the Campion Hymnal (to which I contributed), the Ignatius Pew Missal, or the Collegeville Hymnal, you’ve already seen the NHF because those books basically contain the same fifty hymns, which are: (a) mainly Protestant; (b) based almost exclusively on 19th-century tonality; (c) sometimes extremely “dated” sounding; (d) not technically heretical. While the Brébeuf hymnal contains the NHF, it goes far beyond that repertoire—in a magnificent way. Not only are the Brébeuf texts Roman Catholic—Non Abluunt Lymphae Deum, Rebus Creatis Nil Egens, Rex Sempiterne Domine, Corde Natus Ex Parentis, Salve Caput Cruentatum, Sancti Venite, Victis Sibi Cognomina, Agnoscat Omne Saeculum, Hoste Dum Victo Triumphans, Jam Desinant Suspiria, Ave Vivens Hostia—but the translations are by Roman Catholic priests and bishops, such as Father John Fitzpatrick, Monsignor Ronald Knox, Father Dominic Popplewell, Father Dylan Shrader, Father Adrian Fortescue, and Archbishop Bagshawe. There is something so comforting about knowing the translations in the Brébeuf hymnal were created by Catholic priests. As Andrew Motyka wrote: “Be careful what words you put into the mouths of the people of God.”
T IS FINE to use Protestant hymns, as long as they’re not heretical. Certainly the NHF are preferable to what is heard in too many Catholic Churches. The Glory & Praise Hymnal by OCP contained outright heretical lyrics, such as “Look beyond the bread you eat.” But the Roman Catholic hymns in the Brébeuf hymnal are even more beautiful and theologically rich than many in the NHF. (Needless to say, the NHF contains excellent hymns which are absolutely essential for a Parish music program, and the Brébeuf hymnal made sure to include all of those.)
The first hymnal with IMPRIMATUR to contain the NHF has been out of print for 60 years:
* PDF Download • “Hymnal of Christian Unity” (113 Pages)
—Harmony Edition; Published in 1964 by Clifford A. Bennett and Paul C. Hume.
There is just no comparison between a book like that and the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal. For example, the Brébeuf editors carefully chose harmonizations that would sound beautiful sung by volunteers choirs, whereas this 1964 hymnal has difficult intervals such as:
Approximately 95% of the hymns in this 1964 hymnal only have 2-3 verses. The Brébeuf hymnal rarely deletes verses because it destroys the poetry and annoys the congregation, because by the time they find the right page, the hymn is already over. Not one critic has mentioned this fact about the Brébeuf hymnal, yet it’s a powerful fact! The 1964 book doesn’t list the Latin title, so when somebody is singing “At The Lamb’s High Feast” (#28) that person would never know it’s an ancient Breviary hymn—whereas the Brébeuf hymnal gives copious—almost excessive—information about each hymn.
Read some recent testimonies by Catholics who use the Brébeuf hymnal at their parishes.
The Authors of the 1964 Book
Clifford A. Bennett • You can read about Dr. Bennett’s interesting life on page 11 (“The Passing Of An Era”). This man founded the Gregorian Institute of America, which was later bought by a private family with quite a different vision of Sacred music. Dr. Bennett was behind a very interesting publication called The Gregorian Review.
Paul C. Hume • We have often spoken of Paul Hume (1915-2001), who converted from Protestantism to the Catholic Faith. He served as music editor for the Washington Post from 1946 to 1982. What many do not realize is that Paul Hume was active in the “Church Music Group” (for lack of a better term) of the 1950s and 1960s: people such as J. Robert Carroll, Rev. Francis J. Guentner, Theodore Marier, Rev. Richard J. Schuler, Rev. Robert Skeris, C. Alexander Peloquin, and others. He wrote a 1956 book which some consider the greatest book on Catholic Church music ever written. It was Paul Hume who wrote as follows (in that 1956 book):
Using the shoddiest, sleaziest material we have for the purpose of glorifying God is not very sound theology or even very good common sense. […] (In general, when you see a diminished seventh chord in a hymn, run.) And these chords are usually used in bad hymns in precisely the same order in which they occur in “Sweet Adeline.”
Paul Hume was once sent hate mail by President Harry S. Truman, after Hume criticized the singing of Truman’s daughter. This nasty letter made Hume world famous.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
* In this article, I mentioned (small) contributions I made to several popular hymnals. Please note: My intention was not to brag! I just wanted to demonstrate that I have knowledge of other projects. That is all. Thank you for not trying to “read between the lines.”