July 27, 2011

A 'Mr. Bean' Introduction to Breviary Hymns

This blog is about the many hymns, new and old, associated with the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office of the Catholic Church. Recent editions, such as the single volume 'Christian Prayer', contain a selection of hymns.  As with any hymnal, one wonders about the choice of hymns. I have identified what I believe may be some of the basic underlying principals used in the selection of hymns. To best explain this, I am going to enlist the help of Mr. Bean.

CONGREGATIONAL - ...we sing together, in unison. As shown in the following video we find Mr. Bean at church. They are about to sing the popular, "All Creatures of Our God and King". The singing is congregational, even though Mr. Bean has a hard time following, he does his best and is able to join in at the 'Alleluia'. Some may ask: "Why these particular hymns?". Part of the reason is that they are 'congregational' hymns. The Church is drawing from other Christian Churches that have long standing and rich traditions of congregational singing, such as Anglican and Lutheran. As such, there is a definite ecumenical nature to this collection of hymns, although there is no shortage of Catholic hymns to be found here, both old or new.

ECUMENICAL - Hymn writers themselves (composers or lyricists) are no stranger to their own particular brand of "ecuminism".  A composer knows a good tune when he hears one, just as a lyricist recognizes a memorable turn of phrase; and both are quick to emulate any new innovation.  A glance at some of the writing credits of the hymns will show frequent re-working and arranging of existing melodies and text, and they are just as liable to borrow from another Christian tradition as their own. An example is the hymn that Mr. Bean is singing. The much loved hymn of the Church of England, All Creatures of Our God and King was written by an Anglican, but is based upon the Latin hymn: Canticle of Brother Sun by St. Francis of Assisi. Likewise, the tune that it is sung to: Lasst uns Erfreuen, although first published in a 17th century German Jesuit Hymnal; is it self an adaptation of an earlier melody from John Calvin's Genevan Psalter.

UNITED - And finally, Mr. Bean is singing in the Church and with the Church. Even when we are praying the Office alone at home, we are still praying it with the Church, we are in unity with the Church. We are lifting up in prayer the same intersessions that millions of other Catholics around the world will also be offering up. Not only that, but as stated in the General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971): we are praying the Divine Office with Christ: "it is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ".