In my previous post, I discussed the ongoing revision of the Liturgy of the Hours, whose Second Edition is going to be significantly more faithful to the Latin, and which will restore — really, make available for the first time in English in an official breviary — the original hymnody of the Latin edition.
When the first American translation of the newly-reformed Liturgia Horarum was published in 1975, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops took advantage of the permission to replace the original hymns of the Latin edition with a mix of existing loose translations, along with original English compositions, and translations of other, non-LH hymns, from various eras and in widely differing styles.
This has resulted in an American breviary whose hymn selections are hit-or-miss and stylistically inconsistent across the different offices and hours.
Thankfully, even today there are great resources for those who would like to deepen their liturgical spirituality and their daily offices by greater conformance to the original spirit of the Roman liturgy, and the incorporation of Gregorian chant, which is to have “pride of place” in liturgical celebrations of the Roman Rite (Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium #116).
Samuel Weber’s Hymnal for the Hours
Enter Rev. Samuel Weber OSB’s Hymnal for the Hours. A Benedictine priest-monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana and a scholar of liturgy and music, Fr. Samuel published in 2014 the fruit of several decades of hard work translating, compiling, collating, and setting to English plainchant tones, the original Latin hymnody of the Liturgia Horarum.
Hymnal for the Hours was published on Lulu in softcover and hardcover editions for a very reasonable price. As Fr. Samuel himself stated, the price was set to cover the cost of production. This is a labor of love for the church, not an enterprise for profit.
Here is the Hymnal’s table of contents:
As evident from the above, the hymnal covers all the weekday, seasonal and sanctoral cycles of the Liturgy of the Hours.
In sum, it is a one-stop shop for all hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours that can be paired with any of the four volumes in the complete office, or with the abbreviated one-volume versions Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer.
The original Latin Liturgia Horarum contains close to 300 hymns, the product of the reforming Consilium whose subgroup responsible for office hymn revisions was chaired by the Benedictine liturgical scholar Dom Anselmo Lentini (d. 1989).
Many of the hymns in LH are actually original compositions by Lentini in the Christian Latin style of the traditional hymnody. Other, more ancient hymns were either fully or partially restored to their original forms of Christian Latinity, which had been changed in the 17th century by the humanistic classicist Pope Urban VIII to better conform to ideals of (pagan) Classical Latin.
Fr. Samuel’s compilation includes almost 500 hymns, due to multiple translations and/or tones provided for some of the hymns. Wherever Fr. Samuel provides alternative translations, generally there is a more archaic and a more contemporary form to choose from.
Here is an example, from weekday Vespers of Monday, Weeks I & III of the Psalter — two different translations of Immense caeli Conditor, both in the same Mode VIII:
In addition, the less-changing hymns for the minor hours of Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer are reproduced multiple times with proper tones for special seasons, and for different ranks of days (i.e. weekdays, memorials, Feasts, or Solemnities).
Antiphons for Gospel Canticles in the Four-Week Psalter
In addition to the nearly 500 hymns and hymn variants/tone settings, another great and unique feature of this hymnal is the inclusion of proper tones for all Gospel Canticle antiphons from the Four-Week Psalter for Lauds and Vespers.
Of course, it would be ideal to have a complete English antiphonary with all antiphons covered. Hopefully the new momentum behind the ongoing LOTH revision, including the new psalm, canticle and antiphon translations, will also spur progress on the musical front and eventually lead to a unified, comprehensive and authoritative musical resource in line with the great tradition of Roman liturgical chant.
In the meantime, Fr. Samuel’s enrichment of the weekday psalter with proper Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons (conforming to the original 1975 American breviaries currently in use) is a workable stopgap and a worthy effort to make the best of what we currently have.
Here is an example of the proper antiphons from Weeks I & III:
Even as we await the complete revision of the American Liturgy of the Hours, currently slated for 2022 at the earliest, the Weber Hymnal is an excellent, very affordable ($17.10 or $25.50, depending on the version), comprehensive resource that can enrich and deepen your liturgical prayer right now, according to the 1975 American breviary currently in use. It can also be fruitfully employed with various forms of the Anglican-use Ordinariates’ daily office drafts.
Lastly, it is an excellent way to get habituated to proper hymn tones, for when the Second Edition of the Liturgy of the Hours with its completely restored hymnody is finally published.
Considering all of the above, I cannot praise and recommend Hymnal for the Hours highly enough. May God reward Fr. Samuel for his tireless work for the liturgy.