Building a Bridge to Sacred Music

BOOK PICK: Real Music

(photo: Register Files)


A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church

By Anthony Esolen

TAN Books/St. Benedict Press, 2016

$29.95 (280-page hardcover with CD)

To order: tanbooks com or (800) 437-5876


Pope Francis has encouraged the Church to make sure that liturgical music fulfills its purpose.

As he told participants in an international conference on sacred music March 4, church music should “help the People of God to perceive and participate, with all the senses, physical and spiritual, in God’s mystery. Sacred music and [in particular] liturgical chant have the task of giving us a sense of the glory of God, of his beauty, of his holiness, which wraps us in a ‘luminous cloud.’”

Unfortunately, the clouds around churches today tend not be very illuminating. How many Catholics in the past 50 years have not thought the music at their parish could be improved? Very few, I submit. I think the same could be said of Protestant music, as well. Sadly, the quality of music across the spiritual spectrum has dramatically declined in recent decades.

Anthony Esolen attempts to build a bridge between artistic debasement and artistic propriety in Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church. The book, which includes an 18-track CD from the St. Cecilia Choir at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, is an explanation of well-known English hymns like Of the Father’s Love Begotten and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.

Such hymns would probably be an improvement for 75% of parishes in the country, but the mainstays of Catholic liturgical music are Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. Real Music does not cover these topics, however. It is more of a generalized, Mere Christianity presentation of song, with works by mostly Protestant composers. This is fitting for Esolen, senior editor at Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

Real Music is for anyone — but especially musicians, poets and historians — seeking a deeper knowledge of the theology contained in popular English hymns.

I’m eagerly awaiting the sacred music counterpart to Real Music that explains the roles of Latin chant and polyphony in official Catholic worship. That will mean entering into a heavenly realm that has been almost forgotten for 50 years. Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth …


Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.