Catholic Hymnody At The Service, A Larger Repertoire

Check this link to the USCCB Doctrine Committee’s “Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church: An Aid for Evaluating Hymn Lyrics.”

I’d like to affirm this thought, one that has long guided by attempts to build a parish repertoire of liturgical music.

These guidelines can also be helpful in assessing a grouping of hymns and other songs, such as those commonly used in a given parish for the Communion Hymn (for example). Different hymns may legitimately express or reflect different aspects of one doctrine, but if all of the hymns relevant to a particular doctrine express only one dimension of the doctrine to the exclusion of others, then the catechesis offered by the hymnody would, as a whole, not be in conformity with Catholic doctrine. For example, a collection of hymns that emphasized the Eucharist as table fellowship to the exclusion of the vocabulary of sacrifice, altar, and priesthood, would not represent the fullness of Catholic teaching and therefore would catechize those singing such hymns every Sunday with a deficient sacramental theology.

I think this is true, but it can be difficult to judge over a period shorter than a few months. In my experience, many of my colleagues are looking at the smaller details: Is the next song a superior piece in terms of the judgments (musical, liturgical, pastoral) and the bigger picture doesn’t always get expressed. I suspect homilists are the same way. We human beings have our favored and comfortable territory. Social justice homilies. Chant. Discipleship. Toe-tapping entrances and exits. Bringing in more money.

That said, I agree in principle with the need for a look at developing a broad repertoire within a parish. (A hymnal too, but that’s beyond my interest or consultative reach.)

I do note that the suggestion that a Communion song (or any song) needs always to teach is a flawed premise. One of my friends on social media complained about “always” singing “bread, bread, bread, bread.” I found that a surprise because I know him to be a music director. Sort of his own fault unless the priest is picking his music.

As something of a contrarian, I avoid songs about gathering at entrance, about mission (exclusively) at exit, and songs about offering and banquet/sacrifice at the interior “movements” of the four-hymn sandwich. I’d encourage my peers to consider a wider palette, and not just the psalms. Texts that communicate and express something of Jesus work at any time of the Mass. Likewise, looking to the patterns of the psalms–lament, praise, thanksgiving–even if the piece is not a psalm as such. One can’t go wrong with the pattern.

I know I’ve fallen into the rut–being too dogmatic about my choices. It takes a wider view, sometimes from outside of myself. Musicians and composers would do well to look at some aspects of this document.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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