Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A New Hymnal for St. John’s Seminary


Last Fall a new hymnal made an appearance in Saint John’s Seminary Chapel.  The St. Michael Hymnal was first published in 1998 by St. Boniface Church in Lafayette, Indiana, growing out of the parish’s need for congregational music that was liturgically appropriate, doctrinally precise, and accessible to all parishioners.  The St. Michael Hymnal is now in its fourth edition and is used by parishes and communities nationwide.

I am very grateful to Dr. Janet Hunt for the great work she did in researching a new hymnal for use at the Seminary.  Patrick Fiorillo, one of our seminarians who has assisted Dr. Hunt, describes the new Hymnal for us:

The hymnal begins with the complete order of mass and music for all of the sung dialogues, with Latin on the left and English on the right.  Following that are the settings of the ordinary of the mass: six Latin Gregorian chant settings, the English missal setting, and eleven other English settings, including three popular settings found in other hymnals, and five Spanish settings.  Then follows all of the entrance antiphons for Sundays and solemnities set to simple melodies, intended to be sung like the responsorial psalm.  And finally the main section of the hymnal is, of course, the hymns, comprising of hymns in English, Latin, and Spanish.  

Since the sacred liturgy is said to be the primary mode of catechesis for the faithful, the St. Michael Hymnal has made a special effort to assure that every hymn is “in conformity with Catholic doctrine.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 121) Nor have the lyrics of traditional Catholic hymns been altered for the sake of modern sensibilities.  Beyond the issues of text, the St. Michael Hymnal includes some of the best of modern hymnody alongside a large repertoire of hymns drawn from the Catholic tradition from the Middle Ages to our own day.  Exposure to this treasure of sacred music on a daily basis is formative for every seminarian, as it allows us to better appreciate our musical heritage and to see the continuity of the faith “from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)

The ordinary of the mass is sung six days a week at St. John’s.  We are currently using the English missal setting, Missa Jubilate Deo (Latin Gregorian chant), the Mass of St. Michael by Michael Dominic O’Connor O.P., the Missa Simplex by Richard Proulx, and hopefully more in the future!  The two chant settings provide a solid grounding in basic Gregorian chant while the other settings expose us to modern compositions that beautifully incorporate the organ.  This serves to remind us of the words of the Council: “the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, no 120)

Finally, the entrance antiphons have been introduced at our Sunday Masses.  Seminarians are discovering the treasure of sacred music known as the “proper chants of the mass.”  These are a yearly cycle of chants that have formed the core musical repertory of the Roman Rite since the early Middle Ages. These entrance antiphons are themselves liturgical texts and as such allow us to “sing the Liturgy,” rather than “singing at the Liturgy” as when we use a hymn or other contemporary composition.

Under the talented guidance of Dr. Janet Hunt, our director of Sacred Music, our seminarians use their musical gifts for the glory of God with the help of our new St. Michael Hymnal.  May God continue to lead us closer to him in celebrating the sacred mysteries and discovering “the musical tradition of the universal Church,” which “is a treasure of inestimable value.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 112)