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Hymnography Unbound

Singing itself is almost like flying, rising up to God; it is in some way an anticipation of eternity when we will be able to "unceasingly sing God's praise." Pope Benedict XVI

Updated: 2018-02-19T14:00:15.800-05:00


The Liturgical Generatiin Gap and "Authenticity"


The following article is reprinted from 2014.

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to the fact that more formal worship styles appeal to a surprising demographic: the young. 

While many youth liturgical outreaches continue to focus on the casual and the near-secular in order to attract young people, this type of pastoral programming seems to be doing less well in many cases than those using more traditional forms. 

Not long ago I visited a parish that within a couple of years had built up a large group of young servers and a sizable youth schola for the traditional Mass--celebrated on a weekday evening. And this is hardly a unique case, just in the parishes I've personally visited.

There was a time, a naive time, when it seemed there was a desire among the young for an authenticity that had as its heart a certain casualness and spontanaiety. In the 60s and 70s, it was the fashion to speak one's mind, follow one's heart, and go with the flow. 

I believe that it is likely that today's young people are likewise interested in authenticity--but in authenticity that has a much different character. Spontanaiety is wonderful, in its place. Casualness, chattiness, hanging out--these are activities as popular among young people as they have ever been. But there seems to be a growing sensibility that not every place is the same. Mass is not the place for relaxed, casual activities. The true liturgical joys can be found by going deeper, by being more quiet, and by experiencing more and richer beauty.

When I was young there was no leadership in the Church of my experience for this kind of liturgical experience, which leads to a second and more practical reason that young people are enjoying good liturgy: it is available. If a teenager would like to attend a polyphonic Mass on a given Sunday, and if s/he is willing to travel a bit, it is available. If a family has been singing chant at home and would like to join a schola to improve their skills, it is possible--not always at the local parish, but somewhere.

I sometimes wonder why there was this enormous temporal gap in leadership of the sacred liturgy. I suppose some of the reason was political, some was a misunderstanding about the aims of the Second Vatican Council, and some was a skill vacuum of a kind that we are thankfully not likely to see again soon, if all the young people now involved in liturgy continue to persevere and serve.

Madrid's "The Escorial" Boys' Choir


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Liturgy and the New Evangelization


Today the Holy Father appointed four consultors to the dicastery for New Evangelization. Three are liturgists, including the American Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., an expert with the Vox Clara Committee.

Appointed as consultors of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation: Fr. Marco Frisina, president of the Commission for Sacred Art of the diocese of Rome, and professor at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross; Fr. Jeremy Driscoll O.S.B., professor at the Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, U.S.A., and at the Theological Faculty of Rome's St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum; Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik S.J., director of the Aletti Centre, and professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome's St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum, and Salvatore Martinez, president of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit Association, Italy.

Here is an illuminating interview with Fr. Rupnick. "It’s not enough for someone to say: wonderful! [Liturgical art] needs an inner life, that makes it possible for one to be aware of the Mystery present."



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On Hymn Translation


I have an article on hymn translation in the January issue of Usus Antiquior. It was a bit difficult to write, until one evening, pulling into the Texaco station, I heard a radio announcer praising a great Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This incident gave me the introduction, which sort of pulled everything together.


From The Incarnation by St. John of the Cross


When the time had come
for Him to be born
He went forth like the bridegroom
from his bridal chamber,
embracing His bride,
holding her in His arms,
Whom the gracious Mother
laid in a manger
among some animals
that were there at that time.

Men sang songs
and angels melodies
celebrating the marriage
of Two such as these.

But God there in the manger
cried and moaned;
and those tears were jewels
the bride brought to the wedding.
The Mother gazed in sheer wonder
on such an exchange:
In God, man's weeping,
and in man, gladness;
to the one and the other
things usually so strange.

St. John of the Cross

An Advent Calendar of Hymn Tune Propers


I hope that some parishes will find this Advent Calendar useful. It is designed for parishes that have little familiarity with the proper texts of the liturgy, and especially with chant.

The hymn-tune format allows Pastors and Music Directors to make an easy initial transition towards the singing of the propers. Anyone can sing these texts to already-established hymn tunes in Long Meter, such as Creator Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night), Old 100th (All People That on Earth Do Dwell), Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign), or Jesu Dulcis Memoria (O Radiant Light, O Sun Divine).

I have found the proper texts of the Mass to be nourishing, and am happy to provide this for anyone's use.

Christmastide Hymn Tune Propers


The Hymn Tune Propers project continues, this time with the Introits for the festivals of Christmas.

The Christmas Vigil and Christmas Midnight introits are in a shorter meter ( than the others (, in order to express anticipation.

Christmas Vigil

Today, you know the Lord
Will come to set us free.
And when the morning comes at last,
You shall His glory see.

Christmas Midnight

The Lord has said to me:
Today, you are my son.
Today I have begotten you.
I have begotten you.

Christmas Mass at Dawn

Light shines today; the Lord is born:
The wondrous God, the Prince of Peace,
The Father of all future times:
Dominion that shall never cease.

Christmas Mass during the Day

A Child is born for us today.
To us today is giv'n a Son.
Upon His shoulder, power rests,
The Counsellor, the Wondrous One.

Holy Family

The shepherds rose without delay
And speedily they made their way
To Mary, Joseph, and the Child
Who in a manger-cradle lay.

Mary, the Mother of God

O, Holy Mother, hail to you,
For you have brought our King to birth,
And He is King eternally,
Forever, over heav'n and earth.

Christmas 2 (often replaced by Epiphany)

When silence covered everything
When half its course the night had run
O Lord, Your Word, all-powerful
Leapt down from heaven's royal throne.

Epiphany Vigil

Arise, Jerusalem, arise.
Look to the East: your children come!
From sunrise, they are gathered in,
And to the setting of the sun.


Behold, the coming of the Lord
Who rules by universal right.
He grasps His kingship in His hand,
And His dominion, and His might.


The Lord was baptized. Heav'n unfurled.
The Spirit came down like a dove.
"My Son, in whom I am well pleased,"
The Father said. "The one I love."

Hymn Tune Introits


It occurs to me that there is a way to combine the joy of singing hymns, with the deeper riches that are gained by mining the proper texts of the Catholic liturgy--and in the process, to write something liturgically useful.

What if the entrance procession of Mass began with a single verse, an antiphon, set to a familiar hymn tune? The congregation could sing the antiphon just as easily as singing any hymn. After the antiphon, the choir would sing the first verse of a Psalm, set to a Psalm tone. Then back to the congregation for a repeat of the antiphon. This antiphony would continue throughout the procession, ending with a rousing Gloria Patri, set to the same hymn tune.

Here are some early drafts of Hymn Tune Introits for the Sundays of Advent, all in "Church meter" or Long Meter, iambic.

Advent 1

To you, O Lord, I lift my soul
I trust in You, save me from shame.
Let not my foes boast over me.
Save those who trust in you from shame. -or- Protect the ones who trust your name.

Advent 2

Let Zion's people see the Lord
Who comes to set the nations free.
The Lord will sound His glorious voice.
Your heart will hear Him joyfully.

Advent 3

Rejoice at all times in the Lord.
Be glad, rejoice, I say again.
Let your unselfishness be seen.
Indeed, the Lord is near at hand.

Advent 4:

Let dew fall down from heav'n above.
O clouds, rain down the Righteous One.
And let the earth be opened up,
And let the longed-for Savior come.



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VATICAN CITY, 22 OCT 2011 (VIS) -  This evening in the Vatican's  Paul VI Hall, the Bavarian State Opera gave a concert in honour of Benedict  XVI. The programme included the Ninth Symphony and the "Te Deum" by  Anton Bruckner, played by the Bavarian State Orchestra and the "Audi  Jugendchorakademie", conducted respectively by Kent Nagano and Martin  Steidler.

  At the end of the  performance the Pope rose to thank the musicians. Listening to Bruckner's  music, he said, "is like finding oneself in a great cathedral,  surrounded by its imposing structures which arouse emotion and lift us to the  heights. There is however an element that lies at the foundations of  Bruckner's music, both the symphonic and the sacred: the simple, solid,  genuine faith he conserved throughout his life".

  "The great conductor  Bruno Walter used to say that 'Mahler always sought after God, while Bruckner  had found Him'. The symphony we have just heard has a very specific title:  'Dem lieben Gott' (To the Beloved God), almost as if he wished to dedicate  and entrust the last and most mature fruit of his art to the One in Whom he  had always believed, the One Who had become his only true interlocutor in the  last stage of his life", the Holy Father said.

  "Bruckner asked this  beloved God to let him enter His mystery, ... to let him praise the Lord in  heaven as he had on earth with his music. 'Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum  confitemur'; this great work we have just heard - written at one sitting then  reworked over fifteen years as if reconsidering how better to thank and  praise God - sums up the faith of this great musician", Pope Benedict  concluded. "It is also a reminder for us to open our horizons and think  of eternal life, not so as to escape the present, though burdened with  problems and difficulties, but to experience it more intensely, bringing a  little light, hope and love into the reality in which we live".

Vatican Information Service

Hymn for St. Teresa


To the tune ISTE CONFESSOR: the hymn tune for Doctors of the Universal Church

This is the feast day of the Lord's true witness, (image)
Lover of Jesus, leading others to Him,
Woman of wisdom, passionate and truthful,
Filled with God's favor.

God gave her grace like water from the heavens.
She drank it deeply, even as she suffered;
Perfectly docile, saint and holy teacher:
Light for the ages.

Mantle around us, Mary, flow'r of Carmel,
Pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
That They may give us, with the great Teresa,
Life everlasting.

Kathy Pluth, 2003

O Bread of Heaven


I wrote here about the beautiful hymn sung as a Communion meditation at the Holy Father's Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

Someone has now made a video available. Enjoy!

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A beautiful accomplishment


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The Blessed John Henry Newman Institute of Liturgical Music


I keep hearing the most wonderful things about Catholicism in the UK these days, and this is no exception. The Institute will provide parish-oriented formation for clergy and musicians in truly sacred music. The Birmingham Oratory is known for its fine liturgies, and will be well qualified to teach. Hymn fans like me will be glad to know that the Oratory's heritage includes the hymns of Frs. Faber, Caswell, and of course Newman.

Here is the plan for the first term:

•a practical instruction on singing the Mass;
•the theological and historical background to Church Music;
•the Celebration of the sung Blessed John Henry Newman Pilgrim Mass.

--with "evening sessions for the clergy, offering them the opportunity to know how to sing the different parts of the Mass in Latin and in English. Each of these sessions will be repeated to enable more priests and deacons to attend. There will also be a new choir for children at the Sunday 12 noon Mass for Families at the Oratory."

From the Inaugural Address:"This may well frighten some people. Music, they may say, is for the experts, for the choir or the music group, but not for the priest, deacon, lector, or even the entire congregation. Some may object that it is simply too difficult or too unfamiliar, but if you look closely at the Missal without prejudice, it is possible to see that the music written there is not designed to be sung by experts, but by anybody. It is designed to be an ordinary and familiar expression of the faith of the Church in action. It may seem unfamiliar at first, because we have long since grown to be unfamiliar with the idea of singing the Mass, as opposed to singing during the Mass. What the Church invites us to do in receiving the new translation is to learn to recognise it as something “beyond the prosaic” . Music, even very simple chants, help to achieve that end."

Sounds like a great plan! In the words of Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL, the Institute represents "probably the most significant enterprise in liturgical music in the UK since the Council." Best wishes on this new beginning! Please export as soon as practicable.

Hymn to St. Anne


(image) The morning star is on the rise
And soon the dawn will fill the skies,
Foretelling of the coming Sun
Whose light will shine on everyone.

The Sun of justice, Christ, true Light,
And Mary, grace's dawning bright,
And Anna, reddening the sky,
Have caused the night of Law to fly.

O mother Anna, fruitful root,
From you came your salvation's shoot,
For you brought forth the flow'ring rod
That bore for us the Christ of God.

Christ's mother's mother, by the grace
Your daughter's birth brought to our race,
And by her merits and her prayer
May we her favors come to share.

O Jesus, Virgin-born, to You
All glory is forever due.
To Father and the Spirit, praise
Be sung through everlasting days.

Trans. c. 2009 Kathleen Pluth. All rights reserved.

Behold the Glories of the Lamb


(image) A young boy complains to his father that most of the church hymns are boring to him because they are so far behind the times. His father becomes angry and states that "the hymns are good enough for your grandfather and me, and they will serve you just as well." But the teenager says that not only are the tunes boring, but the words are meaningless ... the songs are just too old fashioned. Putting an end to the discussion, his father says to him, "Well, if you think you can write better hymns, then why don't you?" The son says that he will. He goes to his room and writes his first hymn.

The year was 1690, the teenager was Isaac Watts, and the hymn was "Behold the Glories of the Lamb." During the next few years he wrote other songs. "We're marching to Zion", "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", and "Joy to the World" are among the almost 350 hymns he created. The lyrics were his own but sometimes the melodies were similar in origin to Luther's ... seized from the streets or from popular theatre.

Larry Norman
Liner Notes, In Another Land

Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne.
Prepare new honors for His Name,
And songs before unknown.

Let elders worship at His feet,
The Church adore around,
With vials full of odors sweet,
And harps of sweeter sound.

Those are the prayers of the saints,
And these the hymns they raise;
Jesus is kind to our complaints,
He loves to hear our praise.

Eternal Father, who shall look
Into Thy secret will?
Who but the Son should take that Book
And open every seal?

He shall fulfill Thy great decrees,
The Son deserves it well;
Lo, in His hand the sovereign keys
Of Heav’n, and death, and hell!

Now to the Lamb that once was slain
Be endless blessings paid;
Salvation, glory, joy remain
Forever on Thy head.

Thou hast redeemed our souls with blood,
Hast set the prisoner free;
Hast made us kings and priests to God,
And we shall reign with Thee.

The worlds of nature and of grace
Are put beneath Thy power;
Then shorten these delaying days,
And bring the promised hour.

Appeal to Artists


"I would like to renew a friendly and impassioned appeal to all artists", he said. "Never separate artistic creativity from truth and charity, never seek beauty distant from truth and charity, but with your genius and creative drive always seek courageously after truth and bear witness to charity. Make the truth shine forth in your works, ensuring that their beauty arouses in the eyes and hearts of the people who admire them the desire and the need to make life, each individual life, more beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure which never runs out, which makes life a masterpiece and each man an extraordinary artist: charity, love. May the Holy Spirit, architect of all that is beautiful in the world, illuminate you and guide you towards the definitive and ultimate Beauty". --Pope Benedict XVI, today

Verses by a Country Curate Signing Himself H.


A googlebook of hymn translations by John William Hewett.

Note that a navigation system runs as a bar across the bottom of the page.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity



O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, I wish to be a bride for Your Heart; I wish to cover You with glory; I wish to love You...even unto death! But I feel my weakness, and I ask You to "clothe me with Yourself," to identify my soul with all the movements of Your Soul, to overwhelm me, to possess me, to substitute yourself for me that my life may be but a radiance of Your Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior.

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.

O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, "come upon me," and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery. And You, O Father, bend lovingly over Your poor little crature; "cover her with Your shadow," seeing in her only the "Beloved in whom You are well pleased."

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness.

St. Ephrem the Syrian



Today is the feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian, my patron.

Here is what some folks are saying:

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel


Today in his Wednesday catechesis on prayer, Pope Benedict interpreted the story of Jacob's wrestling with an angel. He said, "The Church’s spiritual tradition has seen in this story a symbol of prayer as a faith-filled struggle which takes place at times in darkness, calls for perseverance, and is crowned by interior renewal and God’s blessing. This struggle demands our unremitting effort, yet ends by surrender to God’s mercy and gift." I'm reminded of Charles Wesley's verse treatment of this same story, which reads the passage in a similar way. Of special interest are first of all the Christological dimension, and secondly, the recurrences of the word "nature." The wrestling is about the surrender of human nature to the divine nature. In Christian life, this dynamic is very interesting, because the human nature is not undone by its surrender. It is wounded by the encounter, but is not annihilated by it. The fear is that God's overwhelming strength will make an end of human nature, rather than saving it. But God loves what He has made. We see God face to face and live!COME, O thou Traveller unknown,Whom still I hold, but cannot see!My company before is gone,And I am left alone with thee;With thee all night I mean to stay,And wrestle till the break of day.I need not tell thee who I am,My misery and sin declare;Thyself hast called me by my name,Look on thy hands, and read it there;But who, I ask thee, who art Thou?Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.In vain thou strugglest to get free,I never will unloose my hold!Art thou the Man that died for me?The secret of thy love unfold;Wrestling, I will not let thee go,Till I thy name, thy nature know.Wilt thou not yet to me revealThy new, unutterable name?Tell me, I still beseech thee, tell;To know it now resolved I am;Wrestling, I will not let thee go,Till I thy name, thy nature know.’Tis all in vain to hold thy tongueOr touch the hollow of my thigh;Though every sinew be unstrung,Out of my arms thou shalt not fly;Wrestling I will not let thee goTill I thy name, thy nature know.What though my shrinking flesh complain,And murmur to contend so long?I rise superior to my pain,When I am weak, then I am strongAnd when my all of strength shall fail,I shall with the God-man prevail.My strength is gone, my nature dies,I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,Faint to revive, and fall to rise;I fall, and yet by faith I stand;I stand and will not let Thee goTill I Thy Name, Thy nature know.Yield to me now, for I am weak,But confident in self-despair;Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,Be conquered by my instant prayer;Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,And tell me if thy name is Love.‘Tis Love! ’tis Love! thou diedst for me!I hear thy whisper in my heart;The morning breaks, the shadows flee,Pure, universal love thou art;To me, to all, thy bowels move;Thy nature and thy name is Love.My prayer hath power with God; the graceUnspeakable I now receive;Through faith I see thee face to face,I see thee face to face, and live!In vain I have not wept and strove;Thy nature and thy name is Love.I know thee, Saviour, who thou art.Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;Nor wilt thou with the night depart.But stay and love me to the end,Thy mercies never shall remove;Thy nature and thy name is Love.The Sun of righteousness on meHath rose with healing in his wings,Withered my nature’s strength; from theeMy soul its life and succour brings;My help is all laid up above;Thy nature and thy name is Love.Contented now upon my thighI halt, till life’s short journey end;[...]

Universae ecclesiae


On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Letter “motu proprio” Summorum Pontificum. The Letter gave broad permission for priests and faithful to celebrate Mass according to an earlier form of the Roman Rite, according to the Missal of 1962. At the same time, the bishops of the world were asked to send to the Holy See, after three years, an account of their experiences of having both forms of the Roman Rite, the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary (1962) Form, in their dioceses. Today, taking into account the bishops’ input, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei issued a clarifying instruction, Universae Ecclesiae.

The instruction confirms the permission for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the rite. The English translation of the Latin instruction may be found here:

The Instruction bases itself, first, on the principle of continuity that also underlay Summorum Pontificum, and which has been a hallmark of the current pontificate. Something that was sacred in the past cannot be suddenly harmful in the present. Secondly, there are serious pastoral concerns. Some of the faithful have requested this form of worship. If there is nothing harmful, if in fact it is a positive good, then they should have it.

Today’s clarification is technical. Rather than changing the norms of SP, it generally specifies their implementation. For example, it clarifies which priests should be presumed competent to say the older form. Priests should not only be able to pronounce Latin, but also understand its meaning. However, any priest who has said the Mass in the older form already can be presumed competent. Another example has to do with the groups of the faithful who can request the older form of the Mass. They might come from outside of the parish or diocese. Overall it is a mild document, not earth-shattering. It simply responds to the expressed concerns of bishops regarding sacraments and administration. Its strongest message is the confirmation it gives that this co-existence of the two forms is not going away anytime soon.

The Gothic Revolution


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Cardinal Burke's Lecture: "The Theo-Centric Character of the Catholic Liturgy"


This afternoon I had the privilege of being among a small group of guests invited to hear Raymond Cardinal Burke lecture on The Theo-Centric Character of the Catholic Liturgy. The Cardinal spoke on liturgy from the unusual perspective of a canonist: he spoke about God’s right to our worship.
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Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke from Province of Saint Joseph on Vimeo.

Fr. Jolly's Daydream