2002-05-05 Many of the hymns most familiar to the English-speaking world
May 5, 2002
Many of the hymns most familiar to the English-speaking world were written by in the nineteenth century by Cardinal Newman, Father Caswell and Father Faber, all of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. When Saint Philip started the Congregation of the Oratory in Rome he promoted the singing of "laudi" which were songs in Italian with attractive tunes to encourage the praise of God and knowledge of doctrine. The form of music known as the "Oratorio" and popularized in our culture by such composers as Handel, was named for that cheerful saint's foundation. Father Faber founded the London Oratory (popularly known as the "Brompton Oratory") which has some of the finest music sung in the Catholic world. With "The Catholic Hymn Book", the priests of the Oratory have produced what arguably is the best book for congregational singing in print today. Starting May 5, our parish will be the first in the Archdiocese, possibly in the nation, to use it. Each book is handsomely printed and bound and engraved with the name of our parish whose beauty these volumes will fittingly serve.
This collection provides about twice the number of hymns found in the former hymn book, including many old favorites which were "lost awhile" and some of the finest new compositions. They will go along way to improving the level of musical taste which in many American parishes has hit bottom. At the end of the book are Mass settings which make it easy to sing the sacred texts.
Saint Augustine said, "He who sings prays twice." The Second Vatican Council says, "the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art....Religious singing by the faithful is to be fostered. The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine." As I once was a choirboy, I got to know many of the venerable hymns by heart. Hearing the bowldlerized translations of them with which many editions are afflicted, becomes offensive to anyone familiar with the authentic texts. I should hope that our parish will become a model of the high standard the Second Vatican Council envisioned.
In planning the parish May crowning, we were going to copy up one or two familiar hymns that were not in the old books. Now we do not have to because this new book has them and many more. We may not sing all of the hymns now included, but it will be good to become acquainted with some of the less well known, including the fine old Celtic ones and tunes originally meant for the texts. As this was edited in England, a few of the works apply particularly to the churches of Britain and Ireland, but most are useful to us. It was a pleasant exercise for me to write a book a couple of years ago on the background of some of the great hymns, (called Brightest and Best) and I hope from time to time to preach on their authors and composers in a way that fosters appreciation of this magnificent heritage.
Fr. George W. Rutler