The Catholic News Agency published an article yesterday
about an effort on the part of the USCCB to deal with the problem of the bad hymns that so often mar celebrations of the Mass in English in the United States. Back in September, the conference’s doctrinal committee issued a document called “Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church,” which outlines via positiva
some of the criteria which should be used to choose hymns for Mass, and via negativa
, criteria for those which should not
be used. (This document does not appear to be available anywhere online.) The article says that it has been distributed to the bishops this month, and that they are “encouraged by the USCCB to share it with diocesan worship offices, pastors, and parish musicians.”
It does not appear from the parts of the document quoted in the article that this is something prescriptive; no orders are being given. Nevertheless, it acknowledges some important truths, which will hopefully turn into actual directives in the near future. “(A) hymn is doctrinally suitable for liturgical use (if) it conforms to Catholic doctrine, and … its images and vocabulary appropriately reflect the usage of Scripture and the liturgical prayer of the Church. … It is important to avoid language that could be easily misconstrued in a way that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.”
The document also includes a report issued in 1997 by H.E. Daniel Buechlein, then Archbishop of Indianapolis (†2018), on ten common deficiencies in catechetical materials, as a guide to identifying similar deficiencies in hymnody. Certain areas such as Eucharistic doctrine and the nature of the Church are brought to particular attention; for example, the report states that “(a) steady diet of (certain) hymns would erode Catholic sensibility regarding the fullness of Eucharistic teaching, on the Mass as sacrifice, and eventually on the Church, as formed by that sacrifice.” And furthermore, specific culprits are named, such as “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees” and “All Are Welcome.” Likewise, the odious “Sing a New Church” is singled out as a hymn that “see(s the Church) as essentially a human construction.”
I suspect that to many, this will seem like too-little-too-late in dealing with a problem that has plagued the Church for decades. I see it as a tiny but useful step forward from an institution that, like most of Catholic officialdom, has been loathe to acknowledge on any level that the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, and post-Conciliar liturgical practice in general, has been anything other than a complete and roaring success. Of course, eventually an official directive will have to be issued which does not just call to our attention the deficiences of hymns like “Sing a New Church”, but specifically and formally prohibits the use of such garbage in sacred worship. In the meantime, as the article also notes, the USCCB is currently revising the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours; if the doctrinal committee’s report is taken seriously as a guideline for this revision, this will certainly represent another very positive step forward, and God willing, a sign of other such positive changes to come. Oremus!
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