Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal - Review by Fr. Christopher Smith, Ph.D.
  • The following appeared on the New Liturgical Movement, but would seem of general interest to this forum.

    Review of the Brébeuf Hymnal by Fr. Christopher Smith, Ph.D.

    The celebration of the Mass that best corresponds to its true nature, and to the Church’s magisterial teaching, is a fully sung liturgy, with pride of place given to Gregorian chant, and the Ordinary and Propers sung according to their proper texts. The all-too-common “Four Hymn Sandwich” is a curious holdover from a Low Mass culture in which people sang pieces unrelated to the liturgical texts, often in the vernacular, while the Mass was in Latin. It is a curious blindspot of the liturgical influence-makers of a certain age that they would keep this disconnect only to advance another part of their agenda, but this is the world we inhabit.

    There are voices crying in the wilderness that the propers must be restored to their pride of place, and they are being heard. The melodies of the Graduale Romanum with their Latin texts are being heard in more and more places; vernacular adaptations of them, and new compositions, metrical and more chant-like, are coming forth and being used. This is creating a desire for better liturgy and better music, but we all know that sometimes we have to make baby steps towards our ideals.

    Hymns have become such a part of Catholics’ expectation of their Mass experience that calls for their removal and replacement with antiphons alone are often met with suspicion or anger. And so they remain. But the question about the hymns is then reduced to, “What texts, what melodies, what styles are appropriate?” The unseemly battles in liturgy committee meetings over whether young people want Isaac Watts, Marty Haugen or Matt Maher at Mass all miss the point: the relative merits of those varied styles are all paltry in comparison with the treasury of hymnody which the Church already has, still, unfortunately, largely untapped.

    How then do the discerning musician and pastor mine the tradition for hymns to introduce to Catholics? How can we unlock the treasury and unleash the riches?

    Enter the Saint John de Brébeuf Hymnal for Both Forms of the Roman Rite, published by the John Paul II Institute for Liturgical Renewal in 2018. Those familiar with the other projects which Corpus Christi Watershed has assisted with, will note a familiar design. But this is not the ordinary run of the mill “collection of hymns that people know with a few they don’t know.” This hymnal is a work of incredible scholarship, and one which puts the fruit of that scholarship to work in a practical vehicle for opening the treasures of Catholic hymnody to the people.

    The first part of the book, entitled, “Ancient Hymns of the Catholic Church,” contains many of the hymns of the breviary. But these are presented in such a way as to provide several tunes and several texts in English, often taken or adapted from a wealth of English translations from centuries past, some of them even taken from English Catholic primers of the Renaissance and Baroque era. But they are not just borrowed from these sources wholesale. Discerning editors have given great thought to how a large swath of people in our pews would take to singing certain words or turns of phrase, and carefully adapting to what people might actually get their mouths around in singing!

    The second part of the book, entitled “Additional Hymns”, will be attractive to those who are open to introducing these “old but new for most” hymns, but want a resource that also contains appropriate hymns for the liturgical year, as well as general use hymns more familiar to English-speaking congregations.

    An interesting feature of the book is that the index is placed not at the back, but in the middle of the book, after an attractive set of color plates exploring hymnals. The indices are quite well thought out. They provide the ability to search for name, hymn tune, and occasion in an admirable way, and their placement in the middle makes looking for them easier than wrangling the book at the end. There is also a section at the end with several versions of the Stations of the Cross, which is useful to have, in the same volumes as the hymns for many parishes, text and hymns without the multiplication of more little booklets.

    A good choir program will of course contain many pieces of complexity, whether by Palestrina, Bach, or Duruflé. But the mature choirmaster knows well that simple pieces—such as the magnificent hymn tunes in the Brébeuf Hymnal—can be utterly sublime. Moreover, these simple melodies can always be enhanced by new harmonizations, descants, counter-melodies, and SATB arrangements.

    This volume is useful to have in any music library or pastor’s office for reference, but is also the kind of volume which can be profitably sought out for choirs and for congregations. As a hymnal without the readings in it, which provides ample resources both old and new, it can truly be said to mark a new and exciting phase in the recovery of ancient liturgical texts for the use of the faithful in a practical way for all involved!

    Photographs are here:
  • I wonder if I'm the only one that feels, after viewing the exquisite work on the rest of the book, that the music typesetting itself is quite lackluster. Boilerplate, even.
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • I am very excited about the all-new "Saint Jean De Brefeuf Hymnal" and I can't wait to get one myself! I was blessed to be able to attend CCWatershed's 2018 Sacred Music Symposium where the organizer announced the new hymnal. Some of the hymns sung at the Symposium were from the new St. Jean de Brebeuf Hymnal, including Iste Confessor. Many participants, including myself, loved the hymn and its arrangement, which we sang for evening vespers. This new Catholic hymnal contains many well-known hymns and even very old ones worth learning. I love that it has hymns from the Breviary. The text and images are beautiful as well. I do believe that the new St. Jean de Brebeuf Hymnal will be a treasure for years to come!

  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,090

    At least this hymnal has the music in a normal layout. Did you see the bizarre layout of the "Vatican II Hymnal"?
  • Salieri, I see what they're trying to do, but it just really doesn't work at all. Especially for #226 - if you're going to print the verses in paragraph form below anyways, then just print the melody once.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,090
    Yes, I agree; and it was a completely silly idea. The thing is, all the hymns in the Vatican II Hymnal were set like that, which is completely different from any other hymnal in creation. I am at least happy to see a normal layout in the Brebuf Hymnal, whatever the shortcomings of the typography might be.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,938
    For No. 226, also, why make v.2 the Latin "Veni, veni..." only to be followed by the remaining seven English verses (with no Latin equivalents)? The comment about printing the melody twice when it should be only done once given that three verses are printed in paragraph on the next page is still the most glaring error.
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,090
    Also, did you notice that verse 8 is another translation of "Radix Jesse", which already appeared as verse 4?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,051
    Apart from the antiphons for the Magnificat as they appear in the Office, there was much other use of them, including Latin metrical paraphrases as a hymn. So verse 4 in the hymnal no 226 is from a well known translation of a five verse hymn of uncertain date, while verse 8 is a more accurate translation of the office antiphon, and substantially different.
    But I agree, the whole presentation is different to the point of being unsettling.
    Latin for verse 8, a prose antiphon
    O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
    super quem continebunt reges os suum,
    quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
    veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

    Latin for verse 4, a metrical hymn verse
    Veni o Jesse virgula!
    Ex hostis tuos ungula,
    De specu tuos tartari
    Educ, et antro barathri.
  • Also, why "thou" in later vss., but no "comest" in v.3?