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.
KNOW MAMAS, we just began the school year and have barely gotten past All Saint’s Day, but ADVENT is nigh! In an attempt to tackle planning before the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving (and all that proceeds), I’ve compiled a list of hymns and chants that you can browse through, at your own leisure, and choose a few to start learning with the kiddos during hymn and chant study! You can refer back to my previous article if you have any questions about what a hymn and chant study is…or how to implement it in your own domestic monastery!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think its a solid start to having an array of Advent hymns and chants to sing with the family throughout Adventide. You can access all these hymns and chants via hymnals, CD compilations, or good ole’ YouTube (parents ONLY please).
The Brébeuf Hymnal
First up is the lovely Brébeuf Hymnal, which contains beautiful Catholic hymns for the entire liturgical year. This hymnal alone contains ten Advent hymns, including some of our favorites. (If you want to know how the Brébeuf compares to other Catholic hymnals, please check out Daniel Craig’s comparison of 15 traditional hymnals.) Most of the Brébeuf Advent hymns have been recorded for your listening (and learning!) pleasure, complete with SATB parts if you feel adventurous and want the family to work on harmonization skills! The Advent songs found on the Brébeuf Hymnal website and in the “Snippets Index” include:
• no video yet • Hymn #656 | “The Coming of our God”
• no video yet • Hymn #658 | “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”
• no video yet • Hymn #660 | “Gabriel Saluting, Heaven Thee Recruiting”
Take special notice of the ancient “Conditor Alme Siderum,” a hauntingly beautiful 7th century hymn, which is found in its original and altered (1687) forms. The Brébeuf provides a plethora of tunes for this popular Advent hymn, not to mention a few different translations by Msgr. Ronald Knox and Robert Campbell of Skerrington. So, if you’re already familiar with the most popular tune used, you can learn a new melody with the same awesome lyrics! For example, a few of the hymn tunes used for this text include: WHITEHALL, KEMPEN, LA ROCHELLE, MONKLAND, and more!
Also, let’s not forget that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Hark! A Voice in Urgent Warning” (“Vox Clara Ecce Intonant”) are hymns commonly sung in Latin and can be found via a quick Google search. Additionally, for those interested in something a bit more challenging, here you can find a 2 voice setting of “Veni Veni Emmanuel,” which is the original, ancient melody!
Since our Blessed Mother Mary plays a vital role in the Advent narrative, it’s no surprise that including Marian hymns can be a fruitful addition to this time of preparation. Below are just a handful of Marian hymns that would be beautiful additions for Adventide singing.
“Alma Redemptoris Mater” is one the four seasonal Marian antiphons that are sung to conclude Compline throughout the liturgical year. It is said to be written by Blessed Hermann of Reichenau (1013-1054), a Benedictine monk and scholar. The chant is sung from the first Sunday in Advent until Candlemas (2nd of February) and the lyrics are quite beautiful to meditate on or have the children recite, in Latin or English. Below is a beautiful translation by the great St. John Henry Newmann:
Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people,
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth,
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator,
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel’s mouth
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.
V: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary
R: And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
This chant has a solemn and simple tone, both beautiful. I’m most familiar with the simple tone and my children learned it quickly.
“Ave Maria” may be one of the best known texts, in the secular and Catholic world. The beautiful “Hail Mary” prayer, set to Shubert’s “Ellens dritter Gesang” is most popular, but the simple chant is quite mesmerizing. I personally prefer the Gregorian chant version, but this is just my humble opinion. “Ave Maria” is a quick meditation on the words spoken at the Annunciation and the Visitation (first two Joyful Mysteries) – the beginning of our Lord’s journey on earth – and a great piece to sing during the first weeks of Advent.
In the same vein, the “Magnificat” tells of our Lady’s words – her canticle – praising the Lord’s infinite goodness after the Angel Gabriel has delivered news of the Incarnation. What a brilliant moment for us to reflect upon; the moment our one, true Hope became flesh and dwelt among us. It is easy for me to imagine Mary’s awe and wonder at the Annunciation, perfectly articulated in these beginning verses:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
This year we are learning the medieval carol “Angelus ad Virginum,” which describes the Annunciation. The original carol is said to have had 27 stanzas and was even referred to in “The Miller’s Tale” from Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales. The carol has a bright and bouncy sound, which makes it fun for the children to learn, but there are some melodic differences depending on which version you find and listen to. Here is the rendition we have enjoyed!
The music teacher at my elementary school (run by the wonderful Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles) always included the following song for our Christmas program: “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came.” As a child, the hymn was a favorite of mine because of the vivid description of the Angel Gabriel and its majestic “Gloria” at the end of each verse. It’s a traditional Basque carol that was translated into English by Sabine Baring-Gould, has a captivating melody, and was based on the medieval hymn, “Angelus ad Virginem” (mentioned above). For those with dramatically inclined children, this hymn would be a great opportunity for them to dress up and ‘act out’ the words. Who wouldn’t enjoy dressing up as Mother Mary and a winged seraph with “eyes as flame”?
Last But Not Least
Adding the “Angelus” prayer into your Advent traditions would be an excellent idea. The “Angelus” is a short and sweet prayer, traditionally prayed at noon, that allows us a moment to stop and pay homage to God and Mary in the midst of our busy day. Its comprised of verses from the Gospel account of the Incarnation alternating with the Hail Mary. This is a small way that my family tries to order our day around prayer, in addition to a family rosary and prayers before/after meals. Additionally, my colleague has created a pdf and practice video of a plainsong setting of the Angelus, attributed to Dom Charpentier, OSB.