“He who sings prays twice,” Saint Augustine once said. Singing—and understanding that which we sing—is vital for a deeper understanding of our own Faith. Sadly, many of today’s young Catholics are not acquainted with hymnals and rarely pull them out during the Mass. For us as parents, we have to opportunity to set an example of participation when it comes to singing.
“Perhaps we do not attach enough importance to the habit of praise in our children’s devotion…”
Songs of praise to the Lord go back ages. The Israelites sang praise when they crossed the Red Sea. Many hymns are based on Psalms. Hymns can be sung not only in church—they can be sung and taught at home. Basic ones such as Holy, Holy, Holy are very easily memorized and, once you have it in your head, there’s not much of a chance that it's going to leave.
What is a Hymn Study?
“…Praise and thanksgiving come freely from the young heart; gladness is natural and holy, and music is a delight. The singing of hymns at home and of the hymns and canticles in the church should be a special delight; and the habit of soft and reverent singing, of offering our very best in praise, should be carefully formed.”
Hymn study entails not only learning about hymns, (e.g. the history behind hymns, who wrote them, etc.), but enacting the hymns (in a nutshell: singing them). Being fully invested in the hymns is what helps them come to life in our imaginations and hearts. A hymn study encourages our children to take an active interest in the songs we sing at home and at Mass.
Why Study (and Sing) Hymns?
We aren't meant to merely know the Ten Commandments; we are to practice them. Why should it be different for any other aspect of the Faith? We are not only meant to be Catholic; we are meant to live as Catholics. And “living Catholic,” so to speak, means participating in the songs of praise provided in our hymnals. Hymn study is a tool for catechesis and memorization. Hymns also become a part of our heart's memory, offering us encouragement in the joyful and challenging moments of life.
Singing in Latin is another great way to participate in hymns. Yes, it's a challenge in the beginning, and we likely stumble over half of the words. But it is the fact that we are willingly and mindfully taking part in a song of praise to the Lord that counts.
As the quote from Augustine stated at the beginning, our singing should be a super-prayer. That is not to say we should always sing instead of speak prayers, but when the opportunity arises to sing a hymn, we should not turn it down.
When we hear a song, we have the potential to have that song stuck in our heads for the next 72 hours. Memorization, anyone? Music is fantastic for memorizing! Nursery rhymes attest to this fact. We hear nursery rhymes when we are young and BOOM, we probably manage to remember at least the main verse for many years after. That is why it is so important to memorize the right things. Memorizing things such as Bible quotes, hymns, and poems are critical to education.
The Power of Hymn Study
Music is powerful. (The fact that it can move people to tears attests to that). Like most things, it is something that can be used for good or for bad. We can sing about the beautiful things in our world, such as love, life, or joy. But we can use it for the wrong thing as well, which can quite simply be summed up as explicit songs. Much of modern music is catchy, but is it fundamentally good? We will hear people say, “Oh I don’t even listen to the words.” We may not be listening, but we can still hear it. What we put into our minds is just as important as what we put into our bodies.
This is why hymn study for younger generations is so important. It is painfully easy to get distracted in our world today, so instilling meaningful traditions in our children right now is essential.
How To Plan + Present a Hymn Study
The key to planning hymn study is to not overthink it. It is a very easy, simple thing to plan!
First, you will need some sort of hymnal or music sheet. It can be like the ones provided in church where you only see the words. Or you can get one with the piano music written in as well, either will do. (I find that the ones that come with piano notes are easier to follow along if you can read music.)
Choosing a Hymn
This is something either parent or both parents can plan. You don’t have to be especially proficient in music to be able to do this. Just select the hymns you find most relevant to what you are targeting. Here are some ideas:
- A hymn based on the current liturgical season
- A hymn that is meaningful to your family (a personal favorite, a hymn sung at your wedding, etc.)
- A hymn that could apply to the season of life for your family
- Maybe one of your kiddos or spouse has a hymn that particularly touched them
How Do I Know if a Hymn is Theologically Accurate for Catholics?
A good rule of thumb is to stick with traditional Catholic hymns. That is not to say you cannot make an exception for certain Christian songs, so long as they hold to Church doctrine. For example, "Behold Our God" might not be a song sung at Mass but it still is traditionally correct in praising the Lord.
“No kind of sacred music is prohibited from liturgical actions by the Church as long as it corresponds to the spirit of the liturgical celebration itself and the nature of its individual parts, and does not hinder the active participation of the people”.
Keep in mind that sticking with Catholic hymns over other hymns is the better option. Memorizing songs for hymn study can also help with song recognition during Mass.
Below are some clarifying questions from the Guidelines for Liturgical Music to consider when choosing a hymn to study:
- Will this piece of music enable the assembly to participate fully in singing its praise to God?
- Is the text theologically sound?
- Is this setting in accord with the text provided in the Roman Missal?
- Is this piece of music in keeping with the norms for liturgical music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal?
- Is the text consistent with the language of our contemporary liturgical books? For example, does the text use inclusive language in a manner consistent with our liturgical books?
Planning the Hymn Study
Note that you can plan your study however you want, but these optional tips can help you on your journey to the perfect hymn study!
- Studying the composer of the hymn is a fun way to go the extra mile!
- Researching the time in history that the hymn was written.
- Looking at the melody chosen for the hymn. (All hymns are written to a specific melody, some melodies are used for multiple songs!)
- Finding sheet music that matches the hymn is a great option for all the instrument players.
- Reciting the hymn as part of memorization work covers many bases.
Presenting the Hymn Study
Once you have selected a hymn, it is crucial to include the hymn during school hours as well as outside them. An example would be studying, playing, and singing the hymn during school time and then playing the song itself on your phone, radio, or whatever music streaming you have available. Hearing the song will help with the study of the hymn as well as memorization.
As for time, spend anywhere from one week to one month+ with a hymn. Have your children sing it with you as they learn it. If someone plays an instrument, encourage them to learn the hymn (or parts of it) according to their ability.
It is Good to Sing Praise to the Lord!
Hymn study is a forgotten art and we have the invitation to rekindle it in the younger generations. As parents, we can instill the Truth into our children through the singing of hymns. Something as simple as singing a hymn once a day—or just listening to a recording of the song a few time—can help us memorize the hymns we sing in church every Sunday. Catholic hymn study is a prayerful way to praise the Lord and all that He does for us.
Do you have any fave Catholic Hymns? Drop them in the comments below!
Want more like this? Check out our post What is the Daily Feast? (And why it Matters).