Review: Catholic Worship Book II

Catholic Worship Book II: Morning Star Publishing (Victoria, Australia). People’s Edition, ISBN 9781925208955, Hardback (text and melody lines), xxxii + 756 pp., $Aus 34.95. Full Music Edition, ISBN 978192508962, Part I and Part II (both volumes with same ISBN), Hardback, xxiv + 416 pages, viii + 692 pages, $Aus 295.00 the two-volume set.

This new official hymnal for the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, endorsed by the Australian Bishops’ Conference, was published in 2016 after ten years in preparation, replacing the Catholic Worship Book of 1985. The dramatic changes in liturgical music during that 31-year period are shown clearly by the increased size and scope of the hymnal. Under the auspices of Australia’s National Liturgical Music Board, three — later four — preparatory committees were set up to do the initial selecting work, after which a fifth overall editorial committee was formed to finalize the choices. The whole operation took place under the genial and competent shepherding of Mgr Peter G. Williams, well known at least by name to more than a few readers of this blog. He should be congratulated for this work in the service of the Church and its liturgy. The book is dedicated to the memory of Fr Bill Jordan, a prominent Australian priest musician, who had edited the 1985 edition and who sadly died three years before the work on the new book was complete.

Handsomely bound in two different shades of green with gold blocking on cover and spine, the first impression of this collection is its sheer weight! The People’s Edition weighs in at 2 lbs 10.5 ounces (1.205 kg), making it a little heavier than Worship IV. Anyone handling the two volumes of the Full Music Edition at 7lbs 11.25 ounces (3.49 kg) will not need to go to the gym for a workout! Substantial, printed on high-quality paper and clearly intended to be durable, these books are also apparently available in softbound editions, not received for review, at prices of $Aus 29.95 and $Aus 149.95 respectively. (Choir members would certainly need to use the softbound version of Part II, since the hardbound volume is just too heavy to hold for any length of time [4 lbs 8.5 ounces (2.055 kg)]. I suspect that those in the pews will appreciate the softbound version too!) Not received either was the slipcase that I am told protects the two hardback volumes of the Full Music Edition.

The typography is clear and the music engraving (apparently in Sibelius) easy to read and of a sufficiently large size to use comfortably in varying lighting conditions. The organization of the book is also comfortable: the Order of Mass, followed by Mass settings, service music, and music for the sacraments and other rites in Part I, and in Part II, liturgical hymns and songs during Mass (arranged seasonally), music for the Common Masses, music for feasts of the Lord and solemnities, and over 200 general settings in alphabetical order. Part II also contains a whole panoply of indexes, whose typography is less successful than the remainder of the book, with a small sans serif font and much reduced margins around the edges of the pages. One other design criticism of the book would be that, apart from the front matter, there are no page numbers anywhere to be found (a bookbinder’s nightmare!), except at no. 231 of the People’s Edition, which inexplicably carries the page numbers 59-61 though they should actually be 269-71. Fortunately the item numbers are nicely prominent, but the running headings could perhaps have been more user-friendly.

The chants of the Mass from the latest edition of the Roman Missal are provided, but mercifully without the eccentric “blobby” ICEL notation that has provoked so much criticism. Stemless notes on five-line staves are well-spaced, and a bonus is some easy assembly chants for the Prayer of the Faithful. Many of the chant items are provided with accompaniments by Dr Geoffrey Cox which feel a little too lumpy for my taste (especially at cadences), something which generally remains true of the chant harmonizations, whether by Cox or others, throughout the book.

Then follow six complete Mass settings from Australian composers. The first three are workmanlike settings from Paul Taylor, Richard Connolly (still incredibly going strong at the age of 90) and Bernard Kirkpatrick, all with solid organ accompaniments. The remaining three setting, by Paul Mason, Christopher Willcock and the late Colin Smith, carry guitar chords in addition to piano accompaniments. There is some unevenness and a sprinkling of misprints (missing notes, etc) in these three.

Next comes a selection of service music. Here, the net has been cast wide, both at home and abroad. Dom Gregory Murray’s psalm tones are evidently still much used in Australia. Here, they are pressed into service in many of the eleven Alleluia and eight Lenten Gospel Acclamation settings incorporated in this section. And places which once used Alan Rees’s Congress Mass and the Lucien Deiss’s Mass setting will find extracts from them alive and well Down Under! Some simple Australian music for Eucharistic Prayer II for Masses with Children is also included. Both in this section and the complete Mass settings, it seems that a small number of composers have not yet realized that it may be a good idea to unify settings of the acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer (including the Holy and Amen) by using the same musical material for all of them (something which is actually mandatory in England and Wales).

The section for Sacraments and Other Rites is extensive: a most useful resource. Even the most experienced practitioner should find new ideas and inspiration here. Particularly notable is the number of items by women composers and text writers, a good proportion of them Australian. The selection of music for funerals is large and contains some gems — for example a funeral text by the late Michael Rayner Thwaites to go with the tune Finlandia which is a fine replacement for “Be still, my soul”. Another “find” is a very useful text by Bernard Kirkpatrick for ordinations, set to the tune Thaxted. Both of these are excellent examples of what Australia has to offer the rest of the world.

It is particularly useful to have the various stages of the RCIA process set out with both music items and cross-references to other items elsewhere in the book, although the lack of a separate section for the Scrutinies is curious. (They are briefly mentioned under the Rite of Election Entrance Song. For appropriate music items for the the three Scrutiny Gospels, you would need to look up the relevant Lenten Sundays in the Liturgical Index.) The Sacraments and Other Rites section includes Funerals, First Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass.

Part I ends with Music for the Divine Office, covering Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. Apart from the hymns, the psalms and canticles are mostly chant-based antiphons with modern psalm tones. Seasonal antiphons are provided as necessary. The volume ends with two settings of the Te Deum: the Latin chant and an English translation bonded to the chant.

Part II, a much thicker volume, begins with seasonal liturgical hymns and songs for use at Mass. Almost every season comes up with something new and useful that most will not have encountered before: for example in Advent, no. 245 “Prepare the way, O Zion” using a Swedish setting, or no. 250, “Prepare the way”, which is perhaps the only hymn in existence that starts with “There was a man of God whose name was John”. And this must surely be the only hymnal to include no less than five entries for the Chrism Mass, two of which rearrange and edit a James Quinn text without acknowledgement of the changes. The Lent section includes nothing specific for the 2nd Sunday (Transfiguration Gospels) nor the 3rd-5th Sunday Year A Gospels (see remarks about the Scrutinies, above): once again, the user will need to make use of the Liturgical Index. The Sunday-by-Sunday part of this index, by the way, will prove especially valuable for parish musicians, covering every Sunday of the three-year cycle in detail.

The selections for Commons (and most of the Marian hymns in the book are to be found here) and Feasts and Solemnities which conclude this section of music for use at Mass are a source of many valuable texts: for example, no. 402 for the Dedication of a Church or Altar (“Jesus our Saviour, Sovereign Lord of all things”) and no. 436, “If I could tell the love of God”, a fine text for Australian St Mary of the Cross MacKillop which can easily be adapted for wider use by changing the word “gums” to “leaves” or similar.

The general mix of this section and the following “General” section consists of a fair sampling of Gregorian chant with both Latin and English texts, traditional hymnody, selections from well-known living composers such as Haugen, Haas, Bell (Iona), Farrell, Joncas, Walker, Jacques Berthier (Taizé) etc, and a good sprinkling of Australian composers and text writers. The music of Lucien Deiss is clearly still sung much more in Australia than in the US or the British Isles, whereas Joseph Gelineau is represented in the book by only a handful of psalm tones. Hymn tunes are usually, but not always, presented in their customary versions — the harmonizations of Stuttgart and Franconia would be examples of exceptions. Little-known treasures include a setting of the Mandatum by Erik Routley and Christopher Willcock’s In Remembrance of You to a text by Didier Rimaud. It is also good to see a number of examples from earlier hymn books by the Australian duo of James Phillip McAuley (texts) and Richard Connolly (music settings). Every so often, a setting clearly intended primarily for children appears, though this is not indicated in the book.

Not many psalm settings are included in the absence of a still-awaited new Lectionary (which may not come to pass for some considerable time, since the international project ICPELL collapsed in 2014). The exception to this would be Christopher Willcock, a considerable number of whose psalm settings make an appearance. The psalm translation used throughout the book is generally the 1963 version of the Grail Psalter (just as well, since it it not yet clear what the final version of RGP will look like, nor indeed whether it will be universal) except where composers have used their own translation.

Almost no praise and worship style pieces can be found in the book at all (exceptions are no. 550, Graham Kendrick’s “Shine, Jesus, shine” and no. 557, Darlene Zschech’s “My Jesus, my Saviour, there is none like you”, though Australian Michael Mangan occasionally gets near it). In this respect the collection is a close cousin of the UK’s Laudate and the US’s Gather hymn books. The balance of old and new and the overall feel is very similar in all three. It is clear that the editors have consulted a number of hymnals and other resources from the US (OCP and GIA, though very little of WLP) and to a limited extent the UK (Decani Music, McCrimmon and Mayhew), though they have apparently not encountered the Psallite project (Liturgical Press, though that project had already been launched before their own preparations began).

In no. 495, Bernadette Farrell’s “God has chosen me”, the committee evidently could not stomach the composer’s deliberately “crude” three-part harmony in the verses and have added, without comment, a rather inept extra bass part which somewhat diminishes the vigorous character of this piece. In general, though, harmonizations and textual rewrites are deftly done, but some of the latter will cause raised eyebrows, notably no. 247, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came”, and no. 439, “For all the saints”, where, not content with tinkering with How’s text, the editors have also ironed out Vaughan Williams’s rhythmic differences from verse to verse.

Inevitably, a project this size contains some errors. Many are small misprints, such as the missing notes mentioned above (e.g. in no. 25d), Neal for Neale (no. 421), He/she not italicized (no. 146), and Drake’s Broughton (nos. 486, 593 — there is no apostrophe in the village name, and even the villagers cannot decide whether “Broughton” should have an ‘r’ or not — Elgar thought it shouldn’t…). I was amused to find myself listed in the Composer and Sources of Music index as Paul C. Inwood (no. 601, for my keyboard arrangement of Ernie Sands’s “Sing of the Lord’s goodness”). I don’t know how this happened, since I don’t normally use a middle initial, but if I did it would be a T! A little further up in the same index, I spotted both Henri F. Hémy (nos. 294, 519) and Henri Friedrich Herny (no. 408). These are actually the same person, the error being caused either by someone’s handwriting or, more probably, the sans serif font used where ‘m’ and ‘rn’ look remarkably similar at a small size. (In the body of the book, no. 408 is indeed given as Hémy but with his acute accent missing.) But these and other errors do not seriously mar the overall accuracy of the book.

It is a shame that Catholic Worship Book II was published just too early (2016) to benefit from Hymns for All Seasons: the complete works of James Quinn, SJ (2017). Had it not been, CWBII would have been able to use better versions of a number of Quinn’s texts. I have already mentioned the problems with nos. 304 and 305 for the Chrism Mass. Other lapses include no. 489, “Forth in the peace of Christ we go”, which uses the original 1969 version instead of Quinn’s revision with its very different final verses, and no. 492, “Give thanks to God the Father”, in which four lines of Quinn’s original were omitted from the middle of the text in order to accommodate Carl Schalk’s tune in the ICEL Resource Project from which both tune and text are taken.

Many plaudits are due to Mgr Williams and his team, but the loudest by far should be in respect of one remarkable feature of the book which I have not so far mentioned: in addition to all the music settings, sections of liturgical commentary are scattered throughout the book, in both editions. These will give much information and nourishment to both pastoral musicians and congregations using the collection, and the compilers are to be commended for including them. One of the most notably formational extracts is this:

The suitability of liturgical or ritual music is normally judged according to several interrelated criteria: liturgical, musical and pastoral.

† Is this text theologically sound?

† Is it in harmony with the text provided in the Roman Missal ?

† Is it suitable for this particular moment of the liturgy?

† Do the various elements — text, melody, musical rhythm, accompaniment — complement each other?

† Does the music enrich the text without overpowering it?

† Is the music able to be sung by this congregation?

† Will this music help the assembly to express its prayer more fully?

† Can this music be used on more than one occasion during the liturgical year?

Catholic Worship Book II is a distinguished collection and a valuable resource which deserves to be on all our bookshelves.


  1. A wonderfully thorough review, thank you for this contribution. So long as it could be supplemented by other books or worship aides, I would gladly welcome a national hymnal and standard repertoire for the U.S. Very unlikely, but hope springs eternal!

  2. Paul C or Paul T:
    How does the hymnal include the many and ever-growing diversity of cultures in the Australian Catholic Church? While it’s not like the need to include Spanish in American hymnals, but I understand the Australian Catholic Church has a significant Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese presence. I’d expect that would have been a major change since the 1985 hymnal.

    As a member of a parish community that’s bilingual, I couldn’t imagine a “national” hymnal in the US anymore. I wouldn’t even know where to begin without offending someone. Especially as our US Catholic Church is becoming more diverse each year.

    1. The hymnal, while excellent, does seem heavily skewed toward Western European music and style; the changes in demographics in Australia have not had an appreciable effect on the music selection in this book. I do not know the members of the editorial committee, but the names (6 men and one woman) all suggest European heritage.

      1. I think the Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants in Australia use their own repertoires, as they have done in the US to a great extent (although the material that OCP has published is starting to change that). Filipinos I don’t know about, but in the UK and US Filipinos tend to celebrate in English most of the time so perhaps it’s the same there. Certainly, there is no real Christian repertoire for the Australian indigenous people that I am aware of, although some songs have been influenced by them.

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful review, Paul. A few months ago, this hymnal was also reviewed in the NPM journal “Pastoral Music.” That review mentioned that the book is not available in the United States. Does anyone have more insight on that?

    It will be interesting to compare the contents of the Australian “Catholic Worship Book II” with the upcoming revision of the Canadian hymnal, “Catholic Book of Worship IV.” For those interested, information about the new Canadian hymnal (including a PDF of the proposed contents) is available here:

      1. Given that French and Swiss clinicians are regularly active in French-speaking Canada, I would guess that much of the Francophone repertoire is imported from Europe. Perhaps Guimont has also written psalm settings with French texts?

  4. So a Canadian “national” hymnal excludes almost half of Canadian Roman Catholics? Interesting.

    1. Thank you for these links. The collection in question appears to have been published in 2002, containing over 500 items from a variety of different French-speaking countries.

  5. Yes, there is: D’une meme voix. I was chatting with a member of their committee just last week and they are also looking at preparing a new edition. They do not have the pastoral necessity of updating to a new liturgical translation as we did in English. Our new book is going to be entitled Music for Catholic Worship, not CBW IV, by the way and will incorporate the settings of the Sunday responsorial psalms in the NRSV translation that have been available separately for a few years..

  6. Despite CWBII being a great resource, there are a number of issues which prevent it from being used widely in Australia. Morning Star is a printer of many great theological titles but is very new to the music scene. For example, the two volume hard-cover musician’s version printed portrait style will not sit open on any music stand. The digital rights were not negotiated at publication, so for any communities using screens or newsletters to provide lyrics cannot use most of the works in CWBII. The cost is also limiting – the pew version is only available in hardcover and retails for around $35AUD a copy. A promised soft-cover version has yet to appear. All of these issues will hopefully be overcome, because the music is brilliant.

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