Hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Our friends at the USCCB have informed Pray Tell that this item, hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours, was not accepted for the agenda of the USCCB meeting in November. The bishops are addressing more urgent matters. – awr

As reported in the Catholic Herald, this November the U.S. the Bishops will begin voting on English translations of hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours. It will be interesting to see how those who recite the Office on a regular basis will react to the inclusion of translations of the traditional Latin hymns, rather than the rather odd assortment of hymns that we currently have, many of which seem to be songs from the late 60s or early 70s that never quite caught on among the faithful (at least I have never heard them used anywhere). Will they actually “learn to taste and appreciate the native sobriety of the Latin hymns”?

Certainly many of the traditional hymns, while sober, are richer in theological content that what is currently in the Office, and might better lend themselves to private recitation when the office is not sung. The plan to translate most of the hymns as long meter texts will certainly facilitate singing them, though I wonder about the potential monotony of having so many of them in the same meter. It might also be a good idea to have a selection of well-known hymns of more recent vintage (i.e. post-1500) in an appendix for optional use in communal celebrations.


  1. There are hundreds of hymn tunes, both ancient and modern in long meter, so how monotonous can that be? What is needed in the new breviary is a list of names of some of these hymns, so that those who don’t know any LM chant tunes can apply them to the newly translated lyrics.

  2. It shouldn’t be too bad to have them all in the same meter, because those who want to mix it up could draw from another source. There are already English translations of the hymns from various sources, in different meters. And I do believe the rubrics for choosing a hymn are pretty relaxed. The main point is that the hymn is indeed included in its spot. Even the poems in the appendix of the four volume can be used.

  3. I have to say I dread the coming of the new Liturgy of the Hours. Over the years I have come to appreciate with some wonder the brilliance of the intercessions (I use the British Divine Office) which are elegant, incisive, and a real school of prayer. (The intercessions for the commons and feasts are usually a bit more convoluted and perhaps the work of another committee.) The bits I have seen of the various new Grail Psalter versions, with their loss of rhythm, do not inspire. Even the simple but clear and graceful typography of the DO is a work of art, much superior IMO to other breviaries I’ve seen; even its slightly brownish red for rubrics was an inspired choice. If, as I understand, the new translation is based on the now widely-recognised failings of Liturgiam authenticam we will be as unhappy as we are with the Missal. I wonder why the bishops are ploughing ahead on this new project without addressing the issues that caused such dissatisfaction with the Missal (if in fact that’s what they are doing — I would be relieved to be corrected.)

    1. I too dread the coming of the new Liturgy of the Hours, for the same reasons, especially the new Grail Psalter versions.

  4. I understand that the intercessions in the British/Irish/Australian Divine Office Psalter section were the original work largely of two individuals working in the English College, Rome, in the early 1970’s. The intercessions in the proper of seasons were translations from the Latin.

    Personally, I find the attempt to have one set for each Office enervating!

    I haven’t seen the new hymns as I use the Latin ones from the Liber Hymnarius. But I hope they are not after the manner of the great, but dated, John Mason Neale, whose work still makes me chuckle at times, especially his rendering of ‘pulsis aquae molestiis’ in the hymn for tuesday (I think) Vespers. This was ‘And drove each billowy heap away.’


  5. In seminary, we often sung a variety of LM texts to the same tune (whose name I can’t recall). This led to a new hymn text being written and sung to that tune at dinner on the day of the director of liturgy’s birthday. I can’t remember the whole thing, but the first two lines were: “This is the tune to every song // It’s not too short, it’s not too long.”

  6. While it does makes sense to drop the hymns from the agenda, still there is only so much that can be discussed and debated in regards to the sexual abuse crisis before an agenda is voted on. Also life goes on no matter how urgent other issues are pressing. In WWII, the mail still ran, bills had to be paid etc. In the Church, Masses have to be sung, buildings cared for, programs administered, translation work continued…..

    I am looking forward to the new translation of the LOTH. I pray the Office prepared out of Kenya using a version of the RGP. My parish also uses the RGP with the alterations from Rome for the responsorial psalms. I find both prayerful and an improvement over the Grail psalms in current American Office.

    As for the Intercessions and Antiphons I hope that LA will be applied in a slightly less rigid way to give an accurate but more fluid translation. As for the Latin hymns, considering that they are composing them in LM and attempting rhymes among other editorial choices, it suggests that a more dynamic translation is involved in the translation process for this corpus so I am optimistic that the finished product will be edifying for private recitations/singing and public use.

  7. I use Fr Samuel Weber OSB’s “Hymnal for the Hours,” available on Lulu.com for $18-25 (soft- or hardcover). It includes English translations of the Latin LH hymnody, with proper tones in Gregorian notation, for the entire 4-week psalter, all the commons, and a great many propers. Some of the hymns have two translations – a more classic Neale-style and a more modern version. It also includes in the back of it the proper melodies for all the Ben. and Mag. antiphons for the four-week psalter, with their corresponding canticle tones. It is an incredibly useful publication; I recommend it to all and sundry.

    1. I would hope that the newly translated hymns will be published in a hymnal, like Father Weber’s, with the appropriate plainchant melodies. This would be in keeping with the ecclesiastical documents on the Sacred Liturgy. Over the course of the liturgical seasons and feasts, there is a wide variety of melodies, in use for centuries. The plainchant melodies themselves are fairly integral to the liturgy. Who would think of substituting another melody for O Come, O Come, Emmanuel or Silent Night or Jesus Christ Is Risen Today or Happy Birthday for that matter?

  8. I assume the fresh translations of the hymns are part of the larger project of retranslating all the Hours? Given that there is a great deal of commonality of texts (psalms, readings) between mass and liturgy of the hours, it would be best if the two sets of books had common translations . But as things stand now, the missal was translated using a translation approach (LA) that has since been repudiated by Francis. Surely ICEL and the bishops can’t be proceeding with the new translations of the Hours according to LA, can they? That would seem to be contrary to Francis’s explicit guidance. I’d think the Holy See would be well within its rights to not confirm such work. Am I thinking about this right?

    1. To my knowledge, Magnum Principilium wasn’t a repudiation of formal equivalence translation so much as the micromanaging from CDWDS in the translation process. The whole point of MP was to give bishops conferences or supra-conference bodies like ICEL more ownership of the process. Ergo, if said bishops still want a formal equivalence translation like the ones mandated by LA, per MP, then that is there prerogative.

  9. Just my opinion: a fresh translation of the Hours is not as high a priority as some other things. For example, baptism of adults at the vigil uses a different translation than the same texts used for the baptism of infants which has been in use for 30+ years. Why not get those texts aligned? I’d view that as more urgent than a new translation of the Hours. Both infant and adult baptism are rites which are far more relevant in the lives of children and young adults (the subjects of a current Synod) than the Hours, and have an evangelizing aspect which the Hours doesn’t.

  10. The response that the translation process which applied norms of the now well-discredited and redundant LA could not be abandoned or replaced, because it was too far advanced is intolerable.

    An acceptable solution concerning the hymns would be to include the newly-translated hymns with those currently found in the version used in Ireland, the UK, Australia. This contains such sublime hymns as Praise to the Holiest, Abide with me etc.

    I agree with Anthony’s point that using only LM would be a retrograde step. Quite a number of the Latin hymns refer to the various days of creation from the schema of Genesis 1. To employ exclusively a single theme such as this one over the course of one or two weeks would be a retrograde step in my opinion. The variety of themes in the hymns currently in use is an advantage.

    The hymn is one obvious place in the LOH where contemporary experience and culture may be echoed, and the genius of each native language celebrated in the work of vernacular poets.

    A both-and option of hymns would make good sense.

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