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Hymn Singing Revs Up in the Catholic Church

The development of the congregational hymn as we know it today, four-part harmony provided by an organ, moving in the same rhythm as the melody, with metrical, poetic symmetry, took hold during the Protestant Rebellion (early-mid 1500s).

Hymn singing was a tool used to teach doctrine to Protestants in the vernacular. Martin Luther, a trained musician, took four-part singing and made it simple so that the people could sing and remember doctrine.

However, in the Roman Church, the official music employed in Holy Mass remained monastic-based chant in Latin and Mass settings using highly complex forms of harmony intended for trained musicians only. So, we missed the boat on using vernacular hymns to teach doctrine, but we created some of the world’s most valuable musical treasures of art. Post Vatican II, we can now have both! By the way, would it surprise you to know that a resurgence of Gregorian Chant and choral works by the old Masters has been happening for several years, around the world? Ask Mr. Cochrane what his Cardinal Newman students prefer to sing!

English Catholic hymnals did begin appearing in the early 1800s in England and the United States of America. However, it was still not the practice of the Church that vernacular hymns be incorporated into Holy Mass, rather for private or small group devotions, or special occasions in certain Masses. It was not until after Vatican II (1962-65) that liturgy could be offered in the vernacular and use of vernacular Catholic hymns was encouraged at Holy Mass.


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