Thursday, 10 September 2009

Hymn titles rated "Yes" by the National Liturgical Commission Music Board

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of investigations into a new document entitled "Hymn Titles from Australian Resource Books - Rated "Yes" by the NLC Music Board".

In paragraph 108, Liturgiam Authenticam made the following stipulation:
Within five years from the publication of this Instruction, the Conferences of Bishops, necessarily in collaboration with the national and diocesan Commissions and with other experts, shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Well, that was in 2001, and since then, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has commissioned the National Liturgical Music Board to compile a list of “approved hymns” for use in the liturgy.

The task that faced this group was so immense that they simply had to put some limits on it. In the end, they decided to go through five readily available collections, “As One Voice”, “Gather Australia”, “Catholic Worship Book”, “New Living Parish Hymnal”, and “Together in Song”. Also, they excluded from this initial scan any liturgical or ritual music, since this will largely depend upon the new translations.

The criteria by which they judged the songs seems to me to be rather too broad, especially in relation to the texts:


1) The music should enable the fostering of participation
2) The Technical aspects of musical language – melody, rhythm, pitch etc. / instrumentation/ and
accompanimental styles must enable participation.
3) Musical style must promote a sense of the “sacred” and avoid profane;
4) Music must reflect the ideals of true art and beauty.
5) Music must properly support text being sung-proper relationship of verbal and music accents etc.
6) Maintenance and promotion of traditional sacred repertoire – including chant and melodies
especially where they remain in the collective consciousness of catholics


Several criteria were proposed to guide judgements about the suitability of texts, ie that they be:
· scriptural
· apt for the season
· theologically robust
· thematically and linguistically coherent
· in ‘modern/classical’ language (rather than in archaic or temporarily contemporary
· in common possession and with likely appeal
· with poetic power.

Those versions have been preferred which:
· use ‘you’ rather than ‘thou’
· do not include words or phrases with an obsolete or archaic ring
· use inclusive rather than exclusive language in reference to human beings
· do not conflate verses
· have more effective rhyme.


1. Liturgically related to Scripture: A= Strongly Scriptural… B = Based on Scripture i.e. used as a departure point for poetic reflection
2. General Seasonal Suitability
3. Not Liturgical
Refer: Not specifically for the specified season– but liturgically suitable for another
Pastoral Judgement:
1 widely used ; 2 sometimes used 3 rarely used
I am afraid that "Pastoral Judgement" in a number of cases led to approving songs that would have been much better left out. On the other hand, "robustness" seems an odd category to use to evaluate the theological appropriateness or otherwise of a text.

In any case, the result was quite a long list (about 750 titles) that got a “yes” vote. Although the resulting list has been sent to Rome for approval (as LA required), it is, I understand, now a public document. Unfortunately, it is not yet available on the ACBC website (I understand this is due to external factors beyond the control of the ACBC office). If you want a copy, I suggest you email Bernard at bfk at ozemail dot com dot au .

The practical usefulness of such a list is really as a basis for a future resource to be published. As of this moment in time, there are no more available copies of three of the hymnbooks surveyed: New Living Parish, Catholic Worship Book, and Gather Australia (I understand that the remaining copies of the latter two went up in smoke when the Feb 7 bushfires burnt down the publisher’s storehouse).

And, of course, the real upshot of this document in the mean time is that from it one can infer which hymns and songs in the current resources DID NOT get a tick. It is my intention to publish this lists for each resource - starting with "As One Voice".

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