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Venite Adoremus - Fitting Music for the New Translation of the Mass

Thursday, November 17, 2011 1:21 PM Comments (15)

“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church.”  With these words Pope John Paul II opened his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

The Second Vatican Council said that sacred music “is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 112).

In our liturgical worship, Christians unite the sacred words of chants and hymns with our human voices lifted in gratitude and praise to God. There is a close connection between this music and our contemplation of the divine mysteries through the liturgical prayer of the Eucharist. Truly sacred music, music for the liturgy, then, must always express this beauty united to truth. Musical expression of praise – by our human voices and use of musical instruments ¬– has always had the power to draw our human hearts to “the heart of the mystery of the Church”.

However, we have not always succeeded in this lofty (and necessary) union of sacred words with the sacred musical expression in our Eucharistic worship. Mistakes have been made. Secular musical style and “pop” tunes rarely convey the sacredness and solemnity the liturgy requires.

The new translation of the Missal offers all Catholics an opportunity to begin recover this “treasure of inestimable value” – of uniting the profound truth of the words of the Mass with the beauty of music that expresses this truth. Very recently there have been encouraging signs of renewed interest in genuinely sacred music — including Gregorian chant.

In order to cultivate a sacred atmosphere for worship, a hymnal — a collection of the best of sacred music, ancient and new — can provide an invaluable aid. A hymnal should help to encourage proper liturgical solemnity. It should weave together a liturgical experience whereby the individual is caught up in the mystery and beauty of the Eucharist. One hymnal that has done this is The Adoremus Hymnal.

The revised English translation of the Roman Missal, which is faithful to the original Latin and more sacred-sounding, occasioned the revised version of The Adoremus Hymnal. The newly revised hymnal retains the original three-part structure: the Order of Mass, the musical settings for the Ordinaries, and the collection of hymns.

The Order of Mass is presented in both Latin and English (on facing pages), and incorporate the liturgical music of the Mass, the acclamations and the responses. The Latin and English texts of the Mass presented together in this way helps to illuminate the linguistic wealth we have inherited from our forefathers.

The second section, the musical settings for the Order of Mass, reflects the Church’s emphasis on Gregorian Chant as “proper to the Roman Rite,” and that “steps should be taken so that the faithful, may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them”.  The eight traditional Latin chant settings and the four newly composed Mass settings in English—in addition to the new English chants that now appear within the texts of the Mass – provide parishes with ample choices for singing the Mass for the various liturgical seasons and occasions.

The third section, the selection of hymns, reflects the long-standing commitment of the Adoremus society to cultivate a renewal of beauty and solemnity proper to a sacrament-centered celebration of the liturgy. “The hymns were chosen on the basis of holiness, theological orthodoxy, beauty, Catholic tradition, and insofar as possible, familiarly”, we read in the Introduction to the Second Edition. by Helen Hull Hitchcock, general editor of the new edition of The Adoremus Hymnal and editor of The Adoremus Bulletin.

As with the chants for the Mass, there are hymns both in Latin and in English — including hymns by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose, and St. Francis. The English-language hymns include classic hymns by Joann Sebastian Bach, and John Henry Newman, and works by composers such as Ralph Vaughn Williams and Gustav Holst. Adoremus “has not tampered” with the English hymn texts, Mrs. Hitchcock explains, nor have they “been modified, or usages updated to conform to any contemporary sensibility or ideology”.

The Adoremus Hymnal offers a welcome and useful resource for parishes working toward liturgical excellence. Crafted in fidelity to “the heart of the mystery of the Church” — and in a spirit that seeks to raise the standard of our parish celebrations of Mass, the hymnal is a must-have for any parish seeking to revitalize its sacred worship.

In the words of the new hymnal’s Introduction: “From its inception, Adoremus has been dedicated to authentic implementation of the liturgical reformed of the Second Vatican Council in continuity with the Church’s entire history, and to the recovery of sacredness and beauty in Catholic worship”.

Helen Hull Hitchcock will be discussing the The Adoremus Hymnal  on EWTN’s Bookmark program on November 27th. Bookmark airs on Sunday at 9:30am ET and then again at 11:30pm ET. If you miss these you can catch them again on Monday at 5:30am ET and then Wednesday at 5:30pm ET.

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About Dan Burke

Dan Burke
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Dan Burke is an award winning author, speaker, regular voice on Register Radio, the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register and founder of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. Dan has appeared on EWTN's Journey Home program, blogs on the spiritual life over at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction and his latest book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God is available through EWTN's Religious Catalogue. Dan's journey began in Judaism, matured into a living relationship with Christ as a Protestant, and after fifteen years of exploration has found his home in the Catholic Church.