Editor’s Note: Each contributor is reflecting upon Comparison of 15 Traditional Catholic Hymnals. Rather than rehashing Mr. Craig’s article, they were given freedom to “expand upon” this vast subject. Click here to read all the installments that have appeared so far.
ANY OF OUR READERS have had the experience of speaking in public. What I’m about to describe has probably happened to you at least once. You get ready for your big speech and type what you’re going to say. Your speech ends up being nine pages in length, and you walk out on stage pretty confident. However, you suddenly realize your speech is way too long. There is no way you can read all nine pages without putting everyone in the audience to sleep. Something similar has happened during Mass—especially Masses on Saturday or Sunday evening when no choir is present—and once it happens, you never want it to allow it to happen again! I’m talking about when you choose what you *think* is an excellent hymn. The trouble is, once you start singing, nobody—and I mean nobody—in the congregation joins in! …you’re left singing a solo!
When I read Daniel Craig’s exhaustive and excellent article comparing 15 different hymnals, I noticed attention was drawn to the “common tune technique” featured in the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal. Many people don’t understand what “common tunes” are all about, and why the advertising materials for the Brébeuf Hymnal underscore their importance.
Today I will explain beyond
a shadow of a doubt what
“common tunes” are all about.
It takes congregations a long time—a very long time—to become extremely comfortable with a melody. Once you teach your congregation a particular melody—such as GONFALON ROYAL, one of Daniel Tucker’s favorite tunes—you can use that tune for various texts (depending on the season) because the Brébeuf Hymnal uses “common tunes.”
For example, in Lent you can use Hymn #90—a unison melody—with an English translation by Father John Fitzpatrick (a Catholic priest) for Pope Gregory the Great’s ancient Lenten hymn: Audi Benigne Conditor. This video demonstrates, but you have to put up with my (not very good) singing voice:
Since your congregation knows that tune, you can choose another hymn for Lent, viz. #222 in the Brébeuf Hymnal, which is an English translation of Ex More Docti Mystico, as shown in this video:
Yet another hymn for Lent would be #242 in the Brébeuf Hymnal, an English translation of Jam Christe Sol Justitiae (a.k.a. O Sol Salutis Intimis), as shown in this video:
For feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Brébeuf Hymnal provides #382—an English translation of Quem Terra, Pontus, Aethera—as shown in this video:
In the time leading up to Lent, which is traditionally known as “Septuagesimatide,” you can use #402 in the Brébeuf Hymnal, which is an English translation for the proper Septuagesima hymn: Rebus Creatis Nil Egens. Here’s a video showing that:
For Passiontide, feasts of the Holy Cross, and general feasts, consider using the “proper” text (ahem!) for GONFALON ROYAL, which is Vexilla Regis Prodeunt. In the Brébeuf Hymnal, #528 has an English translation by Father Frederick Charles Husenbeth, a Catholic priest. The CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA describes Father Husenbeth as follows: “Dr. Husenbeth’s personal character was attractive, for he possessed not only piety, learning, and culture, but also a singularly kind heart, agreeable manners, conversational powers of a high order, and a sense of humour which made him a very pleasant companion.” Here’s how #528 sounds:
When Pentecost arrives, you can use an English translation of the beautiful hymn to the Holy Spirit: Veni Creator Spiritus. (The Brébeuf Hymnal contains many translations and tunes for that ancient hymn, because it’s quite important.) In the Brébeuf Hymnal, GONFALON ROYAL is #502 as shown in this video:
Finally, throughout the entire year, you can use Rex Sempiterne Domine. An English translation is found at #428 in the Brébeuf Hymnal, as you can see in this video:
There are many other texts in the Brébeuf Hymnal that can be used with GONFALON ROYAL, and that is merely one of the numerous “common tunes” found there.
Congregations like to sing good melodies they know! Period. Full stop. In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever had someone from the congregation come to me and complain that we sing a particular melody “too frequently.” Congregations like singing songs they know.
I’m not going to lie: the Brébeuf Hymnal makes my life very easy on Sundays because of the “common tunes” and also because each verse is written out for the organist (when the organist has to simultaneously serve as cantor while playing). Daniel Craig’s article ranked as NUMBER ONE the Brébeuf hymnal, and the blog of the Church Music Association of America called it “hands down, the best Catholic hymnal ever published.”