The USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship has recently announced the publication of the Divine Office Hymnal. This new resource contains English translations of the official hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours, which were approved by the USCCB in 2019.
Readers who regularly celebrate the Divine Office are likely aware that the hymns contained in the current English translation approved for use in the United States are more varied than those which are found in the official Latin edition of the Liturgia Horarum. This expanded listing of hymnody includes modern hymns and songs, a number of which are now only rarely used due to their somewhat dated musical style. By contrast, in the forthcoming English translation of the entire four-volume Breviary (anticipated in 2025-2026), the included hymns will be more limited in number and will correspond directly with the official 294 hymns found in the Latin typical edition.
The Divine Office Hymnal serves as a preview of the translation work of the forthcoming edition of the Liturgy of the Hours by offering the full text of these hymns. Each hymn is also set to two different melodies, either of which may be chosen in light of the musical needs and abilities of a given assembly. One melody is based on the chant of the Gregorian repertoire (adapted from the Liber Hymnarius and presented in modern musical notation on a 5-line staff), and the second is set to a well-known metered hymn tune. The inclusion of a metrical setting is meant to encourage the singing of these hymns by groups that may not be as familiar with the chant repertoire, such as parish communities.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of these newly translated hymns is that they do not follow a formal rhyme scheme. This is by design, as the Latin texts themselves do not strictly rhyme, although they do on occasion reflect a natural assonance that is the result of Latin being an inflected language (i.e., words in the same case may end similarly, such as –us, –i, or –um). In the process of translating the hymns, the decision was made to forgo the kind of rhyming that typifies English-language songs in favor of preserving the Latin texts’ meter and rhythm in an effort to capture the unique presentation of their spiritual content.
The resulting character of these newly translated hymns is rich and evocative, and will likely be striking to those who have never encountered these texts before. Consider, for example, the following stanzas from the hymn ascribed to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord:
Observing fully rites prescribed by Moses’ pen,
Christ deigned to follow precepts of the sacred Laws,
who rule and governs in the Father’s citadel
resplendent orders, rank on rank of angel hosts,
and made the cosmos, earth and sky and teeming sea.
His blessed Mother in her chaste and holy arms
brought to the Temple God beneath a veil of flesh;
her sweetest kisses pressed the closed and silent lips
of him, all-holy, who in truth is God and Man,
by whose commanding all created things were made.
This light of nations shining forth before their eyes
is radiant glory for the house of Israel;
this child is destined for the fall of those who sin
and for salvation offered ev’ry tribe and tongue,
till all the secrets of the heart have been revealed.
The new Divine Office Hymnal is being published by GIA and may be ordered now for $25 (pew edition) or $100 (accompaniment edition) directly from the GIA website.