Catholic Hymn Tunes
  • Discussion topic:

    Text notwithstanding, are there any hymn TUNES that are so associated with other faiths that you would never use them in a Catholic church?

    EIN FESTE BURG is certainly one of the most famous hymn tunes, and I've heard it in Catholic churches before with various texts, but I'm hesitant to ever sing it, even with a different text than "A Mighty Fortress" because I have so many converts in my parish, and I think I'd get emails. It almost seems like the tune itself is, for many Protestant churches, a symbol of the reformation and celebration of Protestantism. (feel free to correct if I'm wrong on this conjecture)

    REPTON is one of my very favorite tunes now, but one that I didn't know existed until very recently, after growing up in a very hymn-based Catholic church and working professionally in church music for almost 10 years. It was then I came to find out that it is a very culturally Anglican tune. It exists in Worship III, albeit not with it's traditional text, but I'm still hesitant to use it for some reason. Is it just not that well known to Americans?

    Are there those that would argue that we shouldn't sing the harmonizations of Bach or the tunes of Vaughan Williams, no matter the text, because they didn't write for the Catholic church?

    How about Sacred Harp tunes, or those that are more "culturally American"? Abide with me, It is well with my soul, etc... Even Amazing Grace!

    Again, this is from a tune perspective- I'm fully aware that every text is not created equal, and that some have objectively inaccurate and non-Catholic theology. Wondering if tunes can be the same way.

    Interested to hear thoughts on this, as my knowledge of hymnody, best practice in Catholic churches, theology, and religious history is far eclipsed by the collective of the other members here!
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,025
    Related, I once had a music director who believed that "Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, Adore Him" (AUSTRIAN HYMN) was inappropriate for Mass because of the tune's association with "Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles".

    Also, not associated with other faiths, but STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN is an Irish drinking song whose melody Rory Cooney used for his "Canticle of the Turning". Not really a good choice for Mass, all things considered. Don't know why someone would do that.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,943
    It's 1970. My father, who grew up in a German national parish whose flocks sang their hearts out for Mass and devotions back in the day, is an avid singer at Mass. For the first time, we sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God at Mass. I will never forget the joy on my father's face that morning. He was grateful not to have that hymn relegated to the exclusive use of Protestants during worship, as it expressed his faith, which was most definitely not Protestant. If anything, I think he even considered this something of a salvage in his mind, much as the Church salvaged other things from even worse contexts over the course of its history.

    And, two years ago, we sang it at his funeral Mass.

    YMMV. There are plenty of folks on these boards who have expressed strong opinions about it, and you will see some of that in response, to be sure. And, in your parish, your concerns about congregants received into full communion with the Catholic church is a valid consideration. As well as the consideration of hymns to be sung in connection with Mass versus other liturgical and devotional occasions.

    And you'll have to pry shape note tunes and their kith and kin from my cold, weaponized hands. We must remember that those who received valid baptism are, in the eyes of our Church, Christians. Not all in full communion, but in fact the Church asserts jurisdiction over them as within its walls, as it were.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,767
    One had better beware "A mighty fortress" in places, Catholic or not, with the first-verse-only mentality. I've actually heard this, ending with a triumphant Satan. At least there was no time allowed to add "Amen."
  • I was confronted for singing Lutheran hymns once, when I programmed, "Faith of Our Fathers". One never knows what associations people have made... best to program solid hymnody, see what happens, and fix what's faulty that emerges from the assembly's response.
  • Ein feste Burg is, one might say, the 'national anthem' of the Lutheran world. This is no reason not to sing it now and then in the Catholic world on a day on which its text compliments the lectionary. It is a stirring and potent expression of the might and power of God, our refuge and defender. It is difficult to separate tunes and texts, especially when a tune and a text (like Adeste fideles) are culturally inseparable. One could hardly find a more stirring act of faith than Austria paired with 'Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken'. With such a powerful match of tune and text Deutschland... uber Alles never enters one's mind. Besides, Austria (composed by Haydn for the Holy Roman emperor as a sort of Austrian 'God save the King') is also sung with Austria's national anthem, so fascist Germany hardly has a monopoly on it.

    It is notable that while high church Anglicans and Protestants who use incense and Catholic ritual do not turn into Catholics, the reverse is true: singing 'Protestant' tunes does not turn a Catholic into a Protestant. If a tune and/or text can beautifully grace Catholic worship and expresses no heresy, there is no reason why we should not use it.

    You asked about tunes only. It is really difficult to think of tunes as textless, since they exist as bearers of a text. While one understands the gist of your query, one also observes that a tune, in and of itself, is confessionally neuter. It has no meaning without a text.

    Many years ago I introduced Austria as a new tune to the Lutherans whom I served at that time. I expected them to recognise it but they didn't. They immediately 'took to it' but said they never had heard it before and did not associate it with that sad period in German and world history.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,295
    Faith of Our Fathers was written by Fr Faber, was it not? One of the greatest Catholic devotional hymn writers of any age!
  • Correct, hence my point.

    The people don't always have correct associations. For example, how come we never get to sing any "traditional Catholic hymns?" Be Not Afraid, for instance.
  • >> I was confronted for singing Lutheran hymns once, when I programmed, "Faith of Our Fathers".

    Nihil Nominis - Me too!! :-)
  • Ha!
    Even Protestants think 'Faith of Our Fathers' is Protestant.
    It's curious that with a song such as this the Catholic will sing it whilst keeping in mind the persecution of Catholics at the hand of Protestants, and the Protestant will sing it whilst keeping in mind the persecution of Protestants at the hand of Catholics.
    The lesson is that both suffered at the hands of the other, and both could, as well, 'dish it out' to the other.

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,150
    Just where does one draw the line with tunes associated with other faiths? For examples:

    Down Ampney ("Come Down O Love Divine") - Vaughan Williams

    Sine Nomine ("For All the Saints") - Vaughan Williams

    Thaxted ("O God Beyond All Praising") - Gustav Holst

    Passion Chorale ("O Sacred Head Sore Wounded") - Hans Leo Hassler

    Aurelia ("The Church's One Foundation") - Samuel Sebastian Wesley

    Old Hundredth ("Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow") - Louis Bourgeois

    Lobe den Herren ("Praise to the Lord the Almighty:) - Joachim Neander

    Hyfrydol ("Alleluia Sing to Jesus") - Rowland Prichard

    Not a single composer above was Catholic, and the tunes are closely identified variously with the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Calvinists, the Welsh. Yet all of these tunes are present in some, if not many, Catholic churches.

    Is it "blame Bach" (the notorious Lutheran), "blame Vaughan Williams" (the agnostic composer for the Anglicans), "blame Holst" (the planetary Anglican), "blame Hassler" (the Protestant whose melody was made most famous by that notorious Lutheran, Bach), "blame Wesley" (of the Methodist founding family), "blame Bourgeois" (the Calvinist), "blame Neander" (another Calvinist), or "blame Prichard" (the Welsh tune maker) time? ... all because none of them was a Catholic. Or is it blame their tunes time? I seriously doubt it.
  • Carol
    Posts: 849
    I had not sung most of these tunes until fairly recently, I think when they began to appear in OCP. The only tunes in the list above that I have sung most all my life are "O Sacred Head Surrounded," Old 100th, and "Praise to the Lord the Almighty."
    My mother who is a long ago converted Baptist was thrilled when some of these "Protestant" began to crop up in our parish.
  • First, an answer to the OP:

    Amazing Grace's tune, whatever it's called, is so irredeemably associated with Calvinism and Della Reese and Barack Obama that it has no place under any rubric being sung at Mass. Full stop.

    I used to have the same approach to Brother James' Air, but I'm not so sure anymore.

    I wonder seriously if the Old Hundredth should fall into this category.

    To expand the category, just for a moment, would the OP consider, for example, preludes and postludes based on the(se) tunes also within his framework?


    Are you sure that Samuel Wesley wasn't Catholic? I was told once that he was the sole member of the family who reclaimed the faith of the Fathers.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,943
    Forgive my utter ignorance, but being as old as I currently am, I missed the erstwhile factoid that Amazing Grace is so irredeemably associated with, of all persons, Della Reese and Barack Obama.

    By that ostensible standard (if it can be dignified with such status) of irredeemable association, there's a much vaster array of music to be shunned.

    On the other hand, were one to cite a more indelible earworm association, such as the the bagpipe, I might be persuaded to be more indulgent. Catholics can be indulgent. We have fun with it. Because we're . . . not part of the ill-humored sub-tribe of Calvinists. The pipes are calling for ye. They've got ye'll be at their mercy. There's no escapin' 'em.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,943
    As for me, I prefer the original form of NEW BRITAIN - a white spiritual, as it were:

    I cannot but be spiritually edified by this exemplum. The Spirit moves where it wills. Amazing Grace has become part of the foundational musical heritage of the English-speaking peoples, who are almost all hymn-singing peoples (yes, because of the Reformation; but likewise, German and Austrian Catholics are as well). And its place in that heritage was cemented by the associations with the former slaver who penned the text, and his conversion away from that awful sin. (It saddens me greatly today to witness a certain fringe of Catholicism become latter-day defenders of slavery. I never expected to live to see that. May Providence allow that the recurrence of this moral virus to help boost our moral immunity against it.)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam,

    Della Reese was a famous singer and actress. Barack Obama managed to sing Amazing Grace at a famous funeral while in office.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,943

    I know each of those facts. But that hardly qualifies them to taint Amazing Grace. I doubt either of those facts is the first to come to mind with Amazing Grace for most folks other than perhaps you.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,150
    Chris G-Z: Samuel Sebastian was Charles Wesley's grandson, the eldest son of the second family of Samuel Wesley. Indeed it was Samuel who, along with some unconventional marital and romantic history, seems to have privately converted (at age 18) to Roman Catholicism and even wrote a Mass Missa de Spiritu Sancto dedicated to Pope Pius VI, although his obituary says he subsequently denied any such conversion.

    On the other hand, Samuel Wesley's son Samuel Sebastian sang and trained at the Chapel Royal and subsequently went on to hold several cathedral and parish positions (Hereford, Exeter, Leeds, Winchester, Gloucester), and he composed extensively for the Church of England. Samuel Sebastian is known especially for the hymn tunes AURELIA and HEREFORD.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,704
    Passion Chorale ("O Sacred Head Sore Wounded") - Hans Leo Hassler

    We sing "O Caput Cruentatum" to this melody on Good Friday, our congregation love it.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I draw a line at old hundredth (even instrumental), and "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"...

    and I draw more than a line, more like a wall (call it a physical barrier, call it what you want) at Amazing Grace. As Catholics, just what kind of grace are we singing about here? Actual grace does not save, and as for sacramental grace, there's no mention of sacraments (or Church), just you en me, God.

    OK, getting off soapbox now, thanyouvermuch
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,158
    It may be hard to sort out what is to be attributed to Samuel Wesley, inasmuch as there were three Samuels Wesley: one a poet, the father of Charles Wesley; then his grandson, an organist and composer, who indeed became Catholic but later disavowed the faith; and then the latter's son Samuel Sebastian Wesley, another organist and composer.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Liam,

    How does one "taint" the music or the text....? I'm at a loss. With Madame here, I refuse to have anything to do with it.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,150
    @chonak: It is quite clear that Samuel Sebastian Wesley composed AURELIA & HEREFORD, just as it is clear that his father, Samuel Wesley composed the Missa de Spiritu Sancto. And, yes, the father of Charles Wesley was also named Samuel and was a poet. Samuel Sebastian got his middle name because of the admiration his father had for J.S. Bach; indeed, his father advocated for Bach with his contemporaries.

    Personally, I have no problems with what is to be attributed to which Samuel Wesley ... but then I spent the first half of my life as a Methodist.
  • Faith of Our Fathers was written by Fr Faber, was it not? One of the greatest Catholic devotional hymn writers of any age!

    The text was.

    The composer of the correct tune (defined for this purpose as the tune used in the country where it was written) is unknown - the name is from a village in England. Does that make it a Catholic tune, or an Anglican one?

    Personally the only tune which I have reservations about due to denomination association is the so called EASTER HYMN of Jesus Christ is Risen Today fame: it is so well suited to the Salvation Army's brass bands that it's hard to imagine it otherwise.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,767
    Well, there you have it: at least in birther-communities, NEW BRITAN is now officially a Muslim tune.

    I'm sure I've never heard a Salvation Army band, if a production of Major Barbara doesn't count. Wikipedia lists a West Coast chapter, but there's no active link here. All I know about General Booth I've learned from Vachel Lindsay's poem.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,150
    With respect to "Faith of our fathers, living still" ... the standard tune ST CATHERINE, was written by Henri Frederick Hemy, about whom, here is some information:

    Born: November 12, 1818, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
    Died: June 10, 1888, Hartlepool, Cleveland, England.
    Buried: St. Andrew’s churchyard, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

    Hemy played the organ at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in Newcastle, and later taught music at Tynemouth and at St. Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, Durham. His published works include:

    Easy Hymn Tunes for Catholic Schools, 1851
    Royal Modern Tutor for the Pianoforte, 1858
    Crown of Jesus Music, 1864

    Given that he was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, played organ at St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church there, and is buried in its churchyard, it seems quite likely, although not certain, that Hemy was Roman Catholic.
  • raph
    Posts: 9
    I like to use "Tra Le Sollecitudini" as a general guideline:

    Instruction on Sacred Music

    I General principles

    1. Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries.

    2. Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.

    It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.

    It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

    But it must, at the same time, be universal in the sense that while every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good on hearing them.

    I think the last paragraph is a bit problematic, but the rest of this section is very good.
    I believe the tunes we use should be sacred and stimulate reverence, meditation and prayer.
    Many protestant tunes actually fit those criteria, and I wouldn't mind hearing them being played at mass, except for, maybe, Ein Feste Burg.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,704
    With respect to "Faith of our fathers, living still" ... the standard tune ST CATHERINE, was written by Henri Frederick Hemy, about whom, here is some information:

    The Westminster Hymnal (new and revised edition 1939) gives COLERAINE as the melody, although the appendix also gives the melody now commonly used in England SAWSTON.

    As for ST CATHERINE in the Westminster the same? melody is called TYNEMOUTH and is used for 'O Bread of Heaven', I remember this Hymn being sung to this melody when I was a child and we still sing this hymn to this melody at our OF deanery Corpus Christi procession.

    In the 'Parish Hymn Book' 1965 SAWTON is given as the melody for 'Faith of our Fathers' and TYNEMOUTH for 'O Bread of Heaven' and 'Father within Thy House today'.

    N.B. 'The Parish Hymn book' was used by the Oratory, my own parish and St. Bede's, I suspect it was used very widely indeed. It has a forward by +John Cardinal Heenan who worked so hard to preserve the English Catholic traditions in regard to Church music.

    In the 'Westminster' H. F. Hemy is given as the author of the following melodies,

    The 1912 ed. of the Westminster can be found here,
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • ST CATHERINE is used by Americans who adopted FooF for their own (Protestant / Pilgrim Fathers) purposes. FooF is natively a hymn of Catholics in England, and the tune they use should be regarded as the standard.
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 393
    I was born and brought up in the north of England and now live in Scotland. I have never heard any tune but Sawston used for Faith of our Fathers. I have even heard it played on bagpipes (don't ask) In Scotland the original line 'England shall then indeed be free' is changed to 'this land' or even 'Scotland'. Back home the hymn was always sung with great fervour.
    St Catherine and Tynemouth are the same tune, and in my experience always for 'O bread of heaven'. Hemy was a convert to Catholicism, and responsible for the Crown of Jesus Hymnbook (c1864) in which both Sawston and St Catherine/Tynemouth appear. Sir Richard Terry described this hymnal as 'terrible' (with some justification).For instance, there is a hymn in it called 'I am a faithful Catholic' for which the tune chosen by Hemy is Papageno's aria from the Magic Flute (!) He also wrote a popular piano tutor book. He had thirteen children, and being a convert, therefore very keen, he gave them the names of old English saints such as Oswin and Bede.
    PS the Parish Hymnbook is wonderful. I still use it for its harmonies, and some hymns which are hard to find elsewhere.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,158
    A score and a recording of "I am a faithful Catholic" are available over at, the website I have built for forum user 'oldhymns'.


    Audio on this page (hymn #6:)

    Thanked by 2Viola Don9of11
  • oldhymnsoldhymns
    Posts: 220
    Yes, Father Faber’s original work (1849) does use the words “England shall then indeed be free.” Faber, though, wrote another version of the hymn “for Ireland.” It consists of seven verses with quite different words. In Hemy’s 1864 CROWN OF JESUS MUSIC, three different melodies for this hymn can be found. However, instead of using “England shall then indeed be free,” he uses “Oh then indeed shall we be free.” This hymnal was produced right on the heels of Catholic emancipation in England (1829), so it is no wonder so many of the hymns have references to the church militant! Many of Faber’s hymns can be found in the hymnal, and it was the most widely used Catholic hymnal for the remainder of the 19th century (although there were others) in England.

    A few years ago I participated in a “Hymn Fest” conducted by Rev. Carl Daw, an Episcopalian priest, and former Executive Director of the Hymn Society of America and a compiler of Hymnal 1982. Currently, he is a professor of hymnology at Boston University’s School of Theology. One of the hymns utilized at the hymn fest was “Faith of Our Fathers.” Rev. Daw stated that, contrary to what most people would think, the reference to “fathers” in the hymn is not to our biological fathers—but to the faith of priests! This factoid surprised me very much but was quite interesting nevertheless.
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 393
    At our convent school in Catholic NW Lancashire it was actually drummed into us that Faith of our Fathers is indeed about our priests. They had a tough time. My brother, who is a priest, tried out one of the 'priest holes' in an old house recently. He said it was a terrible experience to think of crouching there in complete darkness while people were searching the house for you, to drag you off to execution. It did happen to a member of our family and another one only escaped it by dying in prison before the date set for his execution. We owe a vast debt to all those courageous men who kept the faith alive in difficult times.
  • We use the Laudate hymn book as published by Decani Music - and it has many hymns using music by composers from other faiths but with presumably Catholic lyrics as it has an Imprimatur.
  • Whose imprimatur?
  • ViolaViola
    Posts: 393
    Nihil Obstat David Bulmer STL, Censor deputatus 2nd Feb 2012
    Imprimatur David Bagstaff, Apostolic Administrator, East Anglia 24th Feb 2012