Non solum: The Te Deum

A Pray Tell reader writes:

The Te Deum, I feel, should be a frequent part of the lives of Latin Catholics and known well enough to include at Office of Readings in parishes on Christmas Eve and even after Communion at the Easter Vigil.

It seems to me that English speaking countries don’t have a significant tradition of singing the Te Deum in either Latin or English. Here in Rome the Te Deum on New Year’s Eve is, astonishingly, quite popular. In Poland there is a popular metrical version which was introduced in 1966 for the millennium of the Baptism of Poland – Ciebie Boga wysławiamy. Ordinations of bishops I’ve seen online seem to use that version, and the Polish breviary offers the text as an option after the more literal translation. There are versions in other Slavic countries.

A discussion on the Te Deum as we approach Christmas might be interesting for Pray Tell.



  1. Some (most? all?) English speaking countries have a strong history of singing a loose and abbreviated metrical paraphrase of the Te Deum in the form of Holy God We Praise Thy Name, adapted from Grosser Gott Wir Loben Dich (the original version of which is somewhat shrouded but also different from the tune known in the Anglosphere – especially when comparing what might be called the more ornamented form of the melody beloved of congregations and frowned upon by some purist keyboardists – can’t they read what I am actually playing?????). I would venture it’s probably the best known metrical hymn of Catholics in the USA, at least.

    I read that John Dryden did a closer metrical versification in English, with 10 not too emphatically* iambic feet per line, though I’d hesitate to assign it a definite metrical tune meter ( isn’t really it, as it breaks unevenly).

    * It’s always nice to find versifications where iambic and trochaic stresses are gentle enough to be somewhat finessed. (Less common, it seems, when faced with dactylic vs amphibrachic triple meters…)

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #1:

      It should also be noted that at least in the United States it is common to sing “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” after the repose of the Blessed Sacrament after Holy Hour, following the litany. In fact, for many years I thought that the metrical adaptation was required by local rubrics. I remember going to a Holy Hour where the final hymn was a modern tune, and wondered if Holy Hour had truly ended.

      The first stanza of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” is one of the few hymns that almost every adult anglophone Catholic knows. I know that many here subscribe to an axiom that more congregational singing is always better regardless of quality or enthusiasm, but sometimes I wonder if interest is better than a lukewarm apathy. If Catholics know a few hymns by heart and sing them with gusto, perhaps that is better than mumbling along with contemporary hymns.

  2. This is a wonderful point to bring up! Thank you.

    Here at Wyoming Catholic College, we have the tradition (admittedly, only 8 years old) of singing the Te Deum after the last final exam of the Fall semester, and at the Commencement Exercises in May, right after the graduates receive their diplomas. And, as our semester is coming to an end, today was the day when we sang it in the chapel, in the Latin Solemn Tone. Everyone in the pews had a copy of it on a card, and we chanted it at the end of Mass, after the dismissal.

    The Te Deum could be recovered, but probably only by communities with a very strong tradition of singing chant.

  3. At the Birmingham Oratory, we have recently started the custom of singing Vespers and the Te Deum on New Year’s Eve (in Latin) at 6:00pm. We have found that this attracts a larger crowd than having a Vigil and Benediction at midnight. Since we have a strong tradition of chant and singing in Latin, people are able, and willing, to participate more “fully, consciously and actively” than if the liturgy was in English.

  4. In the Jesuit parish where I grew up, the New Year’s Eve tradition was that the choir sang not the Te Deum but Mendelssohn’s Lauda, Sion. People would turn out in large numbers, but that tradition disappeared many years ago as other New Year’s Eve and millennial activities took over.

    The majority of Catholic layfolk now only experience a sung Te Deum at the ordination of a new bishop.

Leave a Reply

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