VEN THOUGH I’m not a theologian, I was still allowed to witness arguments over which texts were to be included in the Brébeuf hymnal. My expertise is music; but we had Catholic priests who did the heavy lifting regarding anything touching theology. The hymn below (Number 787) elicited a discussion I’ll attempt to describe—accurately, I hope. Essentially, Protestants reject certain teachings when it comes to the saints. Protestants are comfortable saying we should imitate holy men and women; but the problem is that many Protestants deny Church teaching when it comes to invoking the intercession of the saints.
Can A Hymnal Be Too Catholic? The following hymn isn’t by a Catholic—and if you look hard enough, you will notice the Brébeuf hymnal does include a tiny percentage of Protestant hymns. There was a discussion regarding whether to include it, since (as is typical with Protestant texts) it focuses on imitating the lives of the saints, rather than invoking their heavenly intercession. In the end, a few changes were made to the text and it was adopted. In a nutshell, it was decided that nothing is wrong with a hymn encouraging us to imitate the lives of the saints. While it does not explicate the entire Catholic teaching on Church Triumphant, no single hymn can. 1
A recording by our volunteer choir:
A Compelling Argument: The marvelous Sophia Institute Press has begun a series of papers dealing with authentic hymnody. The following document (available as free PDF file) deals with whether Protestant translations of the ancient Catholic hymns can be dangerous:
In particular, that paper cites books by Protestants which translate the ancient hymns of the Breviary—but the authors admit they bowdlerize the texts when they found them to be “too Catholic.”
Let’s Get Serious: Some people say: “As long as a hymn is free of heresy” it’s okay to use at Mass; but I disagree. After all, there is such a thing as a Catholic Sensibility. Moreover, certain phrases and certain texts are strongly associated with Protestantism—and that’s undeniable. Furthermore, emphasis is important, as is context. Protestants erroneously emphasize certain truths while downplaying others—and we must be aware of this. The Mass is serious business; the purity and holiness of our Redeemer is not something we should play around with. On the other hand, as time passes, certain things can lose their associations. I have argued that although “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is technically Protestant, it no longer has strong Protestant associations. (I realize that good people can sincerely disagree about some of these rather subjective evaluations.)
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Furthermore, the Brébeuf hymnal contains a multitude of hymns which invoke the saints in heaven.