Sources tell me that Rome isn’t accepting the Australians’ vernacular hymn repertoire. Liturgiam Authenticam (2001) is best known for what it says about translation. But no. 108 says about congregational hymns that each bishops’ conference

“shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory [directorium seu repertorium] of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.”

LA 108 is a huge innovation. Until now (both before and after Vatican II), Catholic hymnody has been a free-for-all in the English-speaking world. Before Vatican you could sing almost anything at Sunday Low Mass (eg. hymns to Mary in May and October without looking at the readings) because, if I may put it baldly, the congregation didn’t matter and only the priest said Mass. Since Vatican II we’ve had “All You Need is Love” (at least back in the 60s and 70s) and “A Mighty Fortress” and everything in between. Imagine that anyone, the Holy See for example, would have second thoughts about all this.

The Australians submitted 750 hymns and were told that some things shouldn’t be on their list. Now how will the Australians build the city of God for the Lord of sea and sky? We don’t yet know if the things not on the final list (once that gets hashed out) will be prohibited Down Under. It’s worth asking whether this would really be the implication, because the talk in the US was of a small core repertoire required to be included in every hymnal, plus lots of freedom for additions by various publishers. The short list (not yet even begun to be developed) would be approved by the conference and Rome. The additions would be approved by the bishop of the diocese of the publishing house. For this, the local bishop would apply the guidelines found in the hymn directorium (as distinct from a repertorium of specific hymns) which the US bishops submitted to Rome several years ago. Rome still hasn’t responded to that submission, no doubt because they want a repertorium of actual hymns from our bishops, not just a directorium of guidelines.

I know, I know, many people get very nervous about white lists and black lists. But I think it could be a good thing. Here’s why: it means that vernacular hymnody is getting a huge promotion, liturgically speaking, from the category of “do what you want but please try to do something appropriate” to “canonically approved for worship.” Protestant synods have done this for centuries with their official hymnals – the hymn texts mattered that much. Provided there is room for geniune creativity, oversight which improves the quality of our hymnody is to be welcomed. But ask me again when they prohibit something created by me!

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