Hymnal Review, Part Two: The Adoremus Hymnal

by James E. Frazier

Editor’s note: Part One, the author’s introduction to this series of reviews of three hymnals – The Adoremus Hymnal, The Saint Michael Hymnal, and The Vatican II Hymnal – is found here.

The first edition of The Adoremus Hymnal (AH) was produced in 1997 by Adoremus – Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy to promote the “authentic reform” of the liturgy of the Roman Rite. It solicits donations to support its work, and interested persons may become members for an annual $40 fee (Outside the U.S.: $45). The society boldly asserts that “the liturgical reform mandated by the Second Vatican Council cannot be accomplished by a return to the pre-conciliar Liturgy.” The Introduction refers to the encouraging “recovery of the sacred dimension of Catholic worship,” and declares that “the restoration of sacredness and beauty to the Church’s liturgy can be seen in art and architecture in churches, in revived devotional practices such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and in a surprising recovery of sacredness in liturgical music evidenced in a revival of chant and choral hymns in the liturgy.” Note the combination of Versions I and II. Helen Hull Hitchcock was the general editor of the second edition under review here and she served on the executive committee with the Revs. Joseph Fessio, SJ and Jerry Pokorsky. The hymnal was published by Ignatius Press.

The revised AH comes in three editions: standard (choral), melody only, and organ (in a three-ring binder). It has three principal sections: The Order of Mass, the sung Ordinaries, and the Hymnody. It contains the Ordinary Form (OF) in both Latin (on the left) and English (on the right) and provides chants for all the sung elements (with Gregorian staves in the one and modern staves in the other). It thus serves as a missal, though it contains none of the propers. Unfortunately, every phrase with music is followed by a repetition of the same text without the music, for anyone who is impossibly confused by having to merely recite the text instead of singing it. But this is clearly redundant and it clutters the page. The congregation’s parts are printed on larger staves with outsized notes, which seems almost insulting. The four Eucharistic Prayers appear in course, so that one does not have to flip back and forth, though there are no ribbons for those who like to read along. AH does not contain the Extraordinary Form (EF) or a lectionary psalms.

In addition to the chants from Iubilate Deo that appear with the Order of Mass, there are seven musical settings of the Latin ordinary, in Gregorian notation, as well as the Missa pro Defunctis, along with four English settings by Horst Buchholz, Fr. Scott A. Haynes, SJC, Richard Rice, and Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB. Some of these are chant-like; all of them are well-written. The hymnody takes up the balance of the volume (337 in all), with the order for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament tacked on at the end.

Though it has a hard cover and sewn spine, the design of the hymnal is compromised. The hymn texts are set to an unusually small font while the note heads are unusually large, presenting a rather incongruous juxtaposition and forcing many hymns beyond a page turn. Otherwise the music engravings are excellent. There are only a few typographical errors, as there are in all three hymnals under review.

The organ harmonizations of the Latin chant ordinaries are mostly standard and predictable, but in the 1997 accompaniments by Calvert Shenk there are occasional oddities, like augmented chords, for example, or other pitches that lie outside the mode. And by following the old ictus, the pulse of the accompaniment in some places runs counter to the pulse of the text, with stressed syllables off the beat. Maurice Duruflé, in his Requiem, deliberately placed weak syllables on the beat in order to avoid an excessively strong pulse.

The hymnody is drawn universally from time-honored texts and tunes, mostly from the Latin, British and German traditions, all with standard harmonizations. There are a number of chants with Latin texts and several of these appear also with English texts. The hymns are presented in seasonal order, but with some odd features. The Advent section includes eleven hymns for a four-week season, for instance, while the Christmas section has twenty hymns for a two-week season and Lent only eight hymns for a five-week season (not including Holy Week). There are four hymns for Holy Thursday and five for Good Friday, but none specifically for the Easter Vigil, the assumption probably being that some of the eleven Easter hymns could be co-opted for use at the Easter Vigil. But the Easter Vigil has important elements that distinguish it from the balance of the season. Anyway, those eleven hymns for the most important season of the liturgical year (with seven Sundays) are not adequate. The Litany of the Saints (in Latin and English versions) appears in the section on Saints, Martyrs, Angels, but would have been better placed in a section on the Easter Vigil. There are six hymns for the single feast of Christ the King, but only one for the important sacrament of baptism.

There are fourteen hymns contained in the section titled “Blessed Sacrament.” These hymns are meant to be sung at communion and/or Benediction. I see this as a major theological gaffe. Hymns that memorialize the sacrificial meal of Jesus should be distinct from those intended for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The communion bread at Mass is not appropriately called the Blessed Sacrament, a term reserved for the adoration of the element in the context of Benediction. The two are indissolubly linked, of course, but they are two distinct moments in Catholic liturgical life and devotion. The editors should have made a clear distinction between the two.

But there are other problems. The hymn From all thy saints in warfare provides sixteen stanzas to be used on particular saints’ days, but there is no instruction as to how they are to be incorporated. (SMH, by contrast, clearly indicates that the stanza for a particular day replaces the second, more generic stanza.) The hymn Hail thee, festival day! appears in both the Easter section and the Pentecost section, but they are oddly identical apart from a single stanza to distinguish the two. All of the proper sequences are included, plus the Dies irae, for some reason, which is no longer used in the Mass of the dead. There is an English version as well: Day of wrath! O Day of mourning!

One can make a case for including items of historical significance in a hymnal, even if they are unlikely ever to be sung, such as the Te Deum, which appears in Latin and English settings in AH. It is the rare congregation that knows this psalmus idioticus or has an appropriate occasion to use it, but it is an important hymn in the history of the church.

The hymns devoted to Mary – there are twenty of them – include the four historic Marian antiphons anciently associated with compline, along with some fine classic texts such as Mary the Dawn. But it should be no surprise that in a traditional hymnal like AH there are a number of devotional texts about the gentle, chaste and lowly maiden, and about the world as a “vale of tears” and “a place of banishment, of fears,” with no mention at all of the triumph of the resurrection evident in her assumption, unless you think references to the Queen of heaven fit the bill. I don’t. The Marian theology in this hymnal, in my view, lacks both liturgical and scriptural strength and vigor.

A number of the hymns contain as many as six stanzas, several have seven, Lift high the cross has eleven, and the Stabat Mater, appearing twice, with Latin and English texts, has a whopping twenty, causing us to wonder how many clerics or lay folk could tolerate such lengths, when most Catholics have a two-stanza capacity. Perhaps AH can work miracles.

In the splendid text by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, Godhead here in hiding, stanza six is printed separately from the music and line two is impossible to fit to the melody because the word “me” was omitted. In all the hymn settings, the quarter-note gets the beat, except for one instance, Jesus, the very thought of thee, where for some old-fashioned reason the half-note gets the pulse. No attempt has been made at gender-inclusive language (“Good Christian men, rejoice”), but the editors have wisely made no attempt to dumb down the hymn texts (See the word lambent in the hymn Bethlehem, of noblest cities). Unfortunately there are scant hymn texts or melodies in AH that were written in the past fifty years, assuring the average person in the pew that good musicians and text writers haven’t had a single theological inspiration since the Second Vatican Council. The omission was at least partly driven by the cost of compensating writers. Even so.

There are lacunae in the numbering of the hymns, such as the skips from 485 to 500, and from 500 to 510, apparently to start the beginning of each new section at a multiple of ten, which seems pointless to me. And it is a plain nuisance that so many of the hymns in the choral edition require page turns. This was avoidable.

AH has no index of copyright acknowledgments, and only a few of the items actually carry any reference, at the bottom of the page, to harmonizations that are under copyright. Many fewer, in fact, indicate that they are reproduced with permission. The editors of a hymnal owe complete transparency on this matter, or they risk legal consequences.

The indices are disappointing, in part because there is no topical index. Moreover the Index of First Lines should be the last in any hymnal because it is the most frequently used. In AH it is the seventh from the last, making it difficult to find.

The several theological problems that I have noted in AH were clearly not perceived as such by the editors. The other problems I have pointed out do not have to prevent this book from serving a useful function in a parish that values a hymnal like this, because the texts and music are of universally high quality. The only serious drawback to the book is that it does not contain lectionary psalms. The book is already at a maximum size, but the absence of psalms raises many problems for parish planners. And the too frequent page turns are another nuisance.

All the music in the volume is available on MP3 files, and PDFs of all the new Mass settings are available for downloading online.

James Frazier is organist and choir master at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul. He was formerly music director in the office of worship of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

The reviews of St. Michael Hymnal and Vatican II Hymnal will appear next week.





  1. The reviewer writes: “All of the proper sequences are included, plus the Dies irae, for some reason, which is no longer used in the Mass of the dead.”
    Of course the Dies Irae is still permitted at Masses for the Dead and our parishes are always encouraged to sing the Liturgy of the Hours. The Dies Irae is part of the LTH, used on All Souls Day and in the Office of the Dead.
    I’m not certain why the reviewer felt it necessary to remark that “the Marian theology in this hymnal … lacks both liturgical and scriptural strength and vigor” I wonder what the reviewer thinks about the “Collection of Masses of the BVM” to which these hymn selections would be well paired or even of our sublime doctrines of the Assmption and Immaculate Conception, just two of many feasts where these hymns would be suited? The reviewer also seems somewhat off course when he claims that it is improper to refer to Holy Communion as “Blessed Sacrament” and that the hymns used for adoration of the BS and communion should be distinct – I know of no such limitation in the Roman tradition given that “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1651). There is both elevation and reception in our Mass and don’t forget that many present at the Mass are not able to receive the Eucharist physically but must make a spiritual communion instead.

    1. @Shane Maher – comment #1:

      In response to Shane Maher’s comment, it is important to note that neither the Graduale Romanum (1974) nor the Gregorian Missal (1990) makes any provision whatsoever for the Dies Irae at Missae in Exsequiis or on All Souls Day. My (already long) review did not take into consideration the Liturgy of the Hours because extremely few parishes use it.

      It is because the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception are so sublime that they deserve better hymn texts than appear in AH. Many scripturally inspired hymn texts have been written, as a matter of fact, since Vatican II, which appear in several good hymnals. But no such Marian texts appear in any of the hymnals under review here. Of course I was not referring to the “Masses of the BVM,” as these contain no Marian references at all. The propers are another matter, and indeed the Latin propers should set an example for good Marian hymns in English. The Latin introit for the Assumption, for example, makes reference to the “great sign that appears in heaven,” of a “woman arrayed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” If these scriptural texts were to be used in a modern Marian text for the Assumption, it would likely bear the kind of scriptural strength that I maintain the liturgy requires and deserves–in English no less than in Latin.

      As for the distinctions to be made between the sacrament received in communion and the body of Christ adored at Benediction, remember that eucharistic theology has evolved over the centuries, and that the Council of Trent no longer has the last word on it. In the centuries following that council, there was a strong focus on sacrifice (and attendant adoration), with little attention to the fact that the Mass is also a meal. The latter view was restored to our eucharistic understanding through the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which has the same ecclesial authority as the Council of Trent.

  2. It’s possible the lack of Lenten hymns is intentional. Traditionally, and I believe this is still recommended by the USCCB, hymns are very much downplayed during this penitential season. At my parish, hymns disappear entirely.

    In any event, a parish likely to use this hymnal is also likely to be looking to incorporate more of the sung Mass propers from the Gradual. As such, this seems an odd outlier. Parishes wanting to move in this direction would probably look at either the Vatican 2 Hymnal (as my parish has done), or the Lumen Christi Missal with some limited hymns and motets to complement it.

  3. I have never hear the Stabat Mater sung at a single go (not even as the sequence on Our Lady of Sorrows), but only verse by verse between the Stations of the Cross. So that means you need at least 14 verses, so including 20 verses doesn’t seem excessive — particularly when you take account of how sort the verses are.

    Also, maybe the editors of the AH are hoping that the <iTe Deum will become part of parish repertoires. They wouldn’t be the first hymnal publishers to include pieces that might be called “aspirational.”

    Finally, while I think Shane is right that there is nothing inappropriate about referring to the “Blessed Sacrament” in the context of communion, I think the reviewer makes a valid point that not all Benediction hymns are appropriate for communion, and not all communion hymns are appropriate for Benediction. Though we of course adore Christ present in the Eucharist during the communion rite of Mass, we do so in a way quite different from the worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass. It would seem odd, for example, to sing Psalm 34 at Benediction, unless of course you changed it to “See and see the goodness of the Lord.”

  4. As I said, the Dies Irae is used during the LTH on All Souls Day. Vatican II maintains that the dogmatic decrees of Trent remain intact and Trent is a point of reference in the GIRM. I don’t see the word “meal” used in V2’s Constitution of the Liturgy suggesting that we don’t make this distinction between Eucharist adored and meal. The Mass has value even for those who do not or cannot recieve Holy Communion. The GIRM references Trent and specifies outward adoration of the Eucharist at Mass:

    “… the wondrous mystery of the Lord’s real presence under the Eucharistic species, reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council[6] and other documents of the Church’s Magisterium[7] in the same sense and with the same words that the Council of Trent had proposed as a matter of faith,[8] is proclaimed in the celebration of Mass not only by means of the very words of consecration, by which Christ becomes present through transubstantiation, but also by that interior disposition and outward expression of supreme reverence and adoration in which the Eucharistic Liturgy is carried out (3)”.

    1. @Shane Maher – comment #5:
      In your first comment you write: “don’t forget that many present at the Mass are not able to receive the Eucharist physically but must make a spiritual communion instead.” In your subsequent comment you say the same thing in a slightly different way: “The Mass has value even for those who do not or cannot recieve Holy Communion.”

      You are, I take it, responding to James Frazier’s review of a hymnal. Are you suggesting that since “many present are not able to receive the Eucharist physically,” this justifies the programming of adoration hymns during Communion?

      I was struck by your use of “many.” In my experience – I’ve served in a number of liturgical roles that have allowed me to observe the Communion procession – very few present for Sunday Eucharist “do not receive the Eucharist physically.” And it appears that the majority of those who don’t receive physically either have not yet received first Communion, or are at one or another stage in their preparation for Christian Initiation or reception into full Communion.

      Is it the case in your parish that “many present at the Mass are not able to receive the Eucharist physically?” Or am I making too much of your use of “many?”

      1. @Damian LaPorte – comment #6:
        Perhaps your parish has exceptional confessors, in my neck of the woods there indeed are always many who do not receive Holy Communion. In some other places, there are probably many who should not but who do. In response to the earlier question, yes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *