Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Hey, I know this song!"

During their discussion of the revision of the revisions of the breviary earlier this week, some bishops expressed a concern that it would be insufficient to include only English translations of Latin hymns. The concern was that whereas there is a body of familiar, modern songs, the translations would be unfamiliar. A suggestion was made that the more familiar hymns be included, so that everyone would be able to sing. This suggestion was not adopted. The revised breviary will contain only translations of the Latin hymns from the normative Roman Rite, Latin text.

Fortunately, however, every congregation knows how to sing the English translations of almost all Latin hymns. Nearly all of the Latin hymns in the breviary are in Long Meter, or 4 iambic feet, which is to say, 8 syllables, with the accent ordinarily on the even-numbered syllables.

We all know these songs. If your congregation can sing Creator of the Stars of Night, you can all sing a Long Meter hymn together. If you can sing Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er the Sun, you can sing a Long Meter hymn together. All People That on Earth Do Dwell. All Creatures of Our God and King (with Alleluias). When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. And dozens and dozens more.

The very morning of their discussion, the bishops sang a Long Meter hymn Let Us With Joy Our Voices Raise, a translation of a 400-year old text, to the tune Eisenach. Although this is not the most familiar tune that could be chosen, the singing was strong and confident. Congregations would find singing the hymns equally accessible.