The liturgical blogosphere is all atwitter over the announcement that the US bishops will vote on norms for hymns at Mass next month. The usual heavyweights (I mean amy and Rock, not OCP and GIA) and my various internet musical colleagues are all over this like piranha on bleeding sardines.

Three specific norms are listed on the USCCB site, and I have comments on all of them, particularly the last one listed.

1. The approval of liturgical songs is reserved to the Diocesan Bishop in whose diocese an individual song is published. He is supported in his work by this directory and by the USCCB Secretariat on the Liturgy.

Suddenly, the heat is on the sees of Chicago and Portland, Oregon. But there are other players in this market, too: Collegeville MN, and St Louis, to name two. Bishops there won’t be getting off easy; they still have to review that content. One can imagine that if a composer or two felt they got an unfair shake in one place, they could pack up and move somehwere else, publishing off the net or something. Which of course brings to mind the reality that many liturgical composers abjure the major outfits and self-publish. Will a parish musician need his or her bishop’s go-ahead to cut a recording of original liturgical music? Or will such items just go out without the official seal of approval? I wonder if religious orders will have any control in this.

2. The Diocesan Bishop is assisted in his review of individual texts through the formation of a committee for the review of liturgical songs consisting of theologians, liturgists, and musicians. The committee shall assure that each text is suitable for liturgical use based on the principles articulated in this directory.

It would be interesting to see if there’s a rush to join these committees in Oregon and Illinois.

3. Within three years, the Committee on the Liturgy will formulate a Common Repertoire of Liturgical Songs for use in all places where the Roman liturgy is celebrated in the United States of America. While songs outside the core repertoire may also be used in the Liturgy, this core repertoire will be included in all worship aids used in the dioceses of the United States of America.

A few thoughts on core repertoire: just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it will be completely absorbed by the parish in question. Also, note this covers songs, not psalms or acclamations.

That aside, I have a question for small publishers in general, as well as outfits that print to a specialized clientele. Will the Adoremus Hymnal’s next edition, for example, be required to contain the entire common repertoire? Or will publishers all and each print a volume of common repertoire as a supplement to be added to “worship aids” found wanting?

If a parish has a traditional supplement of some kind, will it be required to buy into the common repertoire?

The commentariat in a few places is already gnashing their teeth over this announcement, saying it will never be enforced, saying it doesn’t go far enough, hoping it will be the end of Everything Bad in Liturgical Music. Nobody bothered to respond to the Adoremus question when I brought it up at open book.

I have a suspicion this is going to be a big headache for a lot of people all across the board. And if the conservatives are already whining, I think this common repertoire will be notable for having great entertainment value, above anything else.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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