GILH 173-178: Hymnody

We touch on music a bit in this post, but don’t get too excited yet. Certainly post comments, though, if you care to do so.

173. A very ancient tradition gives hymns the place in the office that they still retain. [See SC 93.] By their mystical and poetic character they are specifically designed for God’s praise. But they also are an element for the people; in fact more often than the other parts of the office the hymns bring out the proper theme of individual hours or feasts and incline and draw the spirit to a devout celebration. The beauty of their language often adds to this power. Furthermore, in the office hymns are the main poetic element created by the Church.

So we read that the Church does possess a tradition for hymnody. It’s major locus is the Liturgy of the Hours.

174. A hymn follows the traditional rule of ending with a doxology, usually addressed to the same divine person as the hymn itself.

Hymns are addressed to God directly. And please, please, don’t truncate the hymn at the LH. Be sure you sing the final verse.

175. In the office for Ordinary Time, to ensure variety, a twofold cycle of hymns is given for each hour, for use in alternate weeks.

These traditional hymns are placed in a two-week cycle

176. In addition, a twofold cycle of hymns has been introduced into the office of readings for Ordinary Time, one for use at night and the other for use during the day.

People praying the Office of Readings get a choice.

177. New hymns can be set to traditional melodies of the same rhythm and meter.

Interesting that the preference is for retaining the melody, isn’t it?

178. For vernacular celebration, the conferences of bishops may adapt the Latin hymns to suit the character of their own language and introduce fresh compositions, [See SC 38.] provided these are in complete harmony with the spirit of the hour, season, or feast. Great care must be taken not to allow popular songs that have no artistic merit and are not in keeping with the dignity of the liturgy.

Now you can get excited a bit. Church legislation on sacred music is relatively scarce, so whenever one finds specifics in a document, it’s usually instructive to pay attention to it. This is an important paragraph, as it gives some choices and even better, some of the reasonings behind these choices.

First, note that GILH speaks of adaptation, not translation. This might be a sensible approach to the added difficulties of translating poetry. But then again, it gives some insight as to the stature of adaptation for sacred music in general.

Second, those who might be inclined to fling any old spiritual song are asked to put on the brakes. “Complete harmony” with the liturgy is the first-mentioned value for new compositions.

And lastly, popular songs are criticized for lacking artistry or dignity, though it would seem that sacred music composed in a popular style or genre that does satisfy the stated prescriptions would be valid possibilities for worship, as they are not expressly excluded, and most musicians, especially secular ones, would not characterize church music as “popular.”


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to GILH 173-178: Hymnody

  1. Liam says:

    If I am not mistaken, the term “popular songs” in the Latin would simply mean songs that the people (as opposed to schola or choir alone) sing. So I would read less into that as a genre description.

  2. FrMichael says:

    I have never understood the two hymns for the Office of Readings, one for the day and one for the night. In our current breviary, the hymns as presented don’t exactly scream out “sing me during the day” and “sing me during the night.” Is that the fault of our English edition, is it a fault of the Latin typical edition, or am I just obtuse?

  3. Rob F. says:

    Liam, The IGLH calls these “cantiunculas populares”. A cantiuncula is jingle or other catchy tune. Popularis can mean a variety of things, but since it’s modifying cantiuncula, I don’t think it means a hymn sung by the people in this context. I think the phrase might best be tranlated as “pop tunes” or “folk melodies” or “common sing-song”.

    Father, the Latin editio typica altera gives two hymns, one clearly labelled for “nocte” and the other “diurno tempore”; they are indeed differing in character, sometimes strikingly so. The midnight hymn for Sunday tells how midnight is the time that brought terror and death to the Egyptians, but to God’s Israel, whom the angel dared not strike because of the Blood, it brought joy and liberation. A hymn like that tends to focus my bleary mind at midnight.

  4. FrMichael says:

    Rob F: thanks for the info!

  5. Rob F. says:

    It turns out that the text of this hymn is available on the internet:

  6. Rob F. says:

    The diurnal hymn for last Sunday, on the other hand, was “Hail o Day, glory of days”. The text is here:

  7. alhaimy says:




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