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.
RADITIONAL CATHOLIC music is hard to come by in most parish settings. This is compounded by the economic challenges of the publishing business. The Church in the United States has for decades relegated music publishing to independent companies. With some exceptions, publishers of Roman Catholic music in the late Twentieth Century largely mirrored the popular music industry, if on a smaller scale. This development was not entirely negative. However, a byproduct of the “Roman Catholic music business” is the elevating of some artists into stars and minor celebrities. Many of these “stars” are genuinely good and holy people who truly serve the Church. But the business reality points to a larger problem: the commercialization and frequent secularization of liturgical music.
The Servant Composer
In contrast to such commercialization, DR. THEODORE MARIER can be described as a “servant composer.” This is evidenced by his hymnal Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles (HPSC). First published in 1974, it is better known in its second edition printed in 1983. It is a fact that this was no lucrative venture for Marier. In Mr. Daniel Craig’s comparison of 15 hymnals, he refers to Marier as a “hero” in the United States. This characterization is shared by many. To understand this iconic status, one must consider the history of sacred music in the 1970s and in the United States in particular. A time of societal upheaval, the 1970s was quite arguably the time of greatest liturgical turmoil, setting trends for experimentation and self-expression in the sacred liturgy. It is taking decades to recover.
In contrast, it appears Theodore Marier was among the few composers and editors in the U.S. who fully understood the continuity between the Tridentine Rite and the Novus Ordo Mass—and acted on it. His comprehensive and skillful production was unmatched. It is also important to understand HPSC was not Marier’s first hymnal. He contributed significantly and helped edit to the the widely used POPE PIUS X HYMNAL published in 1953 and edited the Cantus Populi hymnal (1963). He took a pragmatic approach, composing chant-based settings in English to fill the void. The need was dire, freshly created by Vatican II. In stark contrast to liturgical trends of the 1970s, his works were entrenched in our Roman Catholic traditions.
Still a Sung Prayer
He understood the Novus Ordo Mass is still a sung prayer. This was a natural direction for him. While others uprooted or at times distorted the purpose of sacred music in the liturgy, Marier developed continuity within the guidelines of Pope Saint Pius X: that the purpose of sacred music is the “glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” Secondly, that music for the sacred liturgy must be beautiful, sacred, and universal (cf. Saint Pius X: 1903 Motu Proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini). Marier’s approach was likely logical to him. But taking this path in the 1970s was countercultural and revolutionary.
What is also most remarkable about the hymnal, are not necessarily the hymns themselves, but that the hymnal demonstrates the sung Novus Ordo Mass in its fullness. For a young musician, this hymnal is a teacher and model. For example, the hymnal includes settings for singing the GREETING, COLLECT, GOSPEL, INTERCESSIONS, CREED, DIALOGUES, and so forth. Few hymnals place such emphasis on these elements. Many of these settings are composed by Marier himself out of practical necessity. Furthermore, Marier includes instructions on specific liturgies such as the funerals, confirmation, baptism, the Chrism Mass, ordination, etc. The inclusion of these essential liturgical details in a hymnal is what makes it unique and a valuable reference. As such it is rarely on the shelf and always on my desk.
“Developments” • The Marier Psalter
Arguably the most impactful aspect of the hymnal is its psalter. It will likely be its most lasting. The Gregorian-based antiphons possess sublime elegance that can be sung with both lightness and energy. (Of course they sit perfectly for treble voices.) The organ accompaniments support the chants in English superbly. The antiphons are filled with Gregorian Chant clichés and formulae. This was intentional—as Marier felt it was his mission to keep chant alive in the English language. Furthermore, they color and emphasize the English language in the ICEL translation naturally—not always an easy accomplishment. At times he even quotes certain gems in the antiphons, such as RORATE CAELI for Psalm 85 during Advent or CHRISTUS VINCIT for Psalm 93 on Christ the King. To enrich the liturgy with chant in English—with continuity in Roman Catholic aesthetic and tradition—was a providential decision made immediately in the wake of Vatican II.
Like the antiphons, the verses are faithful to the Gregorian modes composed in all eight modes. To add further to this variety, Marier makes use of the tonus peregrinus and formulae from the Graduale Simplex. In Mode III, Marier has set psalms using the ancient ti reciting tone as well as the more common do. (Don’t forget, he was a chant scholar!) Marier provides an option to sing a FAUX BOURDON on the second half of verses. These align perfectly with the Gregorian psalm tone. Otherwise, a single psalmist or unison schola can proclaim the text throughout. In addition, the hymnal includes non-chant faux bourdons by Palestrina, Viadana, and Marier. In its totality, the Marier Psalter willfully draws from the entire breadth and depth deeply of traditional Gregorian Chant psalmody.
2020 Edition by John Dunn
AESTRO JOHN DUNN, Director Emeritus of the St. Paul Choir School, is updating the Marier Psalter to use the Abbey Psalms and Canticles text, a new translation prepared by the monks of Conception Abbey. This will be the official text of the Divine Office and Lectionary Psalms in a few years. (See Gary Penkala’s article: “Sing a New Psalm—and Canticle”.) Paul J. Murray, St. Paul Choir School alum and Director of Music and Organist at Church of Our Saviour, New York City is the assistant editor on this project. His work faithfully retains the look and feel of the 1983 edition. For Murray, this work is a labor of love.
I have been blessed to use a provisional edition. These updated settings have been sung regularly at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross since Lent of 2020. (Marier psalms have been a staple at the Cathedral for decades under the direction of Leo Abbott. Furthermore, I made extensive use of Marier’s psalter at St. Cecilia Parish, Boston during the 1990s.) Maestro Dunn is making additional refinements to his editions. Dunn emphasizes that every single note of the updated psalm editions is composed by Dr. Marier. Dunn states:
“…there are antiphon texts in the revision which do not appear in either edition of HPSC [Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles.] These are texts selected after TM’s death. I have managed to find TM antiphons which fit all these ‘new’ texts. That is to say that the revision is all pure TM. There are some minor adaptations, but there is no JD [John Dunn] composition included.”
Having worked with Marier since 1960 when he was a freshman at Harvard, Dunn knows Marier’s work intimately. Dunn later became the full-time Assistant Music Director in 1966. (Marier began his work at St. Paul’s in Harvard Square in 1934 and founded the The St. Paul’s Choir School 1963.) He worked closely with Marier on the production of both 1974 and 1983 editions of Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Canticles. When Marier retired in 1986, Dunn succeeded him as Music Director, remaining until his retirement in 2010.
When Will This New Edition Appear?
My hope is that the updated Marier Psalter will be published as a collection when the editions are complete to Dunn’s satisfaction. The demand for Marier’s psalms is far higher now than it ever was when the works were new. The world was not ready for Marier’s work in the 1970s or anytime in the Twentieth Century. A new generation of Church musicians has emerged, many hungry to connect with our traditions. Many are ready to discover Marier’s work that unapologetically carved a lonely path in the the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The refinement of Marier’s psalmody and its relationship with chant is exquisite. Like ancient chant, they bear repetition. They may appear too melismatic for congregations fed on mainstream published works. This is not a judgment but a reality. However, after living with them for a time, these melodies find a way into one’s psyche feeding the soul. They draw us deeply into sacred scripture again and again.
Click here for a sneak peek:
* PDF Download • THREE VERSIONS (1974, 1983, 2020)
—Psalm 104, Marier “evolution” of a Psalm setting.
You’ll see the progression from the first edition (1974—notes are Leo Abbott’s!) to the second (1983) and the recent update (2020). This Mode VII antiphon sits higher than most in range, but soars majestically—ideal for treble voices. You will also note the comprehensive inclusion of the varying texts depending on the specific liturgical use. (In addition, there is an elaborate through-composed SATB alternate setting in the 1983 hymnal with the same antiphon.)
Most Influential Post-Vatican II Hymnal
While many have hoped 1 for an updated edition of Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles, I’m not certain if this will be a reality. The publishing process—entirely independent—was not picked up or distributed by any company, large or small. Somewhat well known is that Marier self-published the hymnal. In fact, the first edition was entirely in Marier’s hand with much of it having been created on Dunn’s IBM Selectric Typewriter! (I have seen Leo Abbott’s first edition copy at the Cathedral, so I can attest to its veracity!) The book was financed with help from parishioner donations; a few churches did purchase the hymnal. Theodore Marier himself paid for the engraving of the second edition of the 1983 hymnal. This was a labor of love for God and love of the Church. That this was an independent production, its impact is astonishing. Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles is easily the most influential post-Vatican II Roman Catholic hymnal given its lasting impression on Roman Catholic composers, music directors, and educators. This effect has been amplified in the last fifteen years with a greater awareness of our Roman Catholic traditions—awareness that has bled into mainstream Roman Catholic publishing, e.g. published settings of the propers by entities that never before would have considered doing so.
As Catholics, our tradition is our birthright. Gregorian Chant and the Roman Rite grew up together inseparably. Therefore, chant is a pivotal part of our Catholic identity. Marier’s vision in the 1970s of preserving the beauty of chant in English is slowly creeping back into more conventional avenues. It is extraordinary that HPSC was never distributed or printed by any large publisher. Because copies are hard to come by, many church musicians consider finding one single copy a great treasure. Marier created in this hymnal a link between the old rite and the new. It was a starting point in 1974. Forty-six years after the first edition, there is much to revisit and reevaluate. The Marier Psalter is a focal point of renewal.
I hope a collection of Marier’s choral works may also come to light. Current Music Director of the Saint Paul Choir School, James Kennerley regularly includes a number of Marier’s choral compositions and arrangements into the Sunday liturgies, some not found in the hymnal. He augments this with weekly use of the Introit and Communio from the Graduale Romanum. Perhaps in time, the fullness of Marier’s contribution to sacred music will come to bear, understood, and appreciated. I suspect for Marier, it was never about drawing attention to himself, but to God. Not only a servant composer, he was a servant conductor, and servant educator. His love for the Church is his ultimate legacy.
Soli Deo gloria
Addendum + Contact
I wish to thank Maestro John Dunn for enormous generosity providing great musical and historical insight. If anyone wishes to contact Maestro Dunn with any inquiries, click here to email me; I will forward your message to him. He will respond promptly.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 In 1996, Father Robert Skeris wrote: “…one hears with satisfaction that the great noble lion of the newer Catholic hymnals in the United States—Dr. Marier’s Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Canticles—may soon be reprinted by a reputable college press. That would be a very positive step in the right direction, for this book, which contains all the music for any service that a normal parish would need, has one great advantage: The homogeneous style of its contents makes for instant learning of new musical settings.”