I’ve been a collector of Catholic hymnals for years, and I have an overflowing shelf of books to prove it. Some of my favorites are old out-of-print books that can only be found in a library or as an online pdf that some kind soul has scanned.
The major Catholic music publishers provide plenty of options, but most have a fatal flaw: trying to be all things to all people. The editors of these hymnals seem to think sheer size is what counts, so such books include a vast array of music from the sublime to the ridiculous while omitting many of the most venerable Catholic songs.
Fortunately, we’re not limited to those books and those publishers. I think the best choice available is the Adoremus Hymnal, second edition, by Ignatius Press. It clearly reflects the editors’ and publisher’s desire to follow the guidance of Vatican II in preserving and celebrating the Church’s musical heritage. As the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches,
The musical tradition of the universal church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this preeminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy. (No. 112)
Adoremus was produced by Adoremus, the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. In the book’s introduction, general editor Helen Hull Hitchcock writes that the original edition was the organization’s response to the call for the “revitalization of reverence and beauty in Catholic worship. . . . and that sacred music has the sublime power to unite beauty and truth in a profound way that resonates deep within our hearts and can lead us to God.”
This book offers nothing that is not beautiful or is unworthy of God’s temple–including many ancient Latin chant hymns that simply can’t be found in the average modern Catholic songbook.
In 1974 Pope Paul VI gave the world a document called Jubilate Deo, a collection of Gregorian chants that he said all Catholics–not just choir members–should know. The Adoremus Hymnal includes those chants and much more. Some examples include O salutaris hostia, Parce Domine, Tu es Petrus, Te Deum, Regina caeli, and Da pacem.
To learn more, click this link.
You can also download a complete list of the hymns in the second edition.
Mary Weaver, parish director of sacred music