Why do I need a Catholic hymnal?

January 25, 2024 | by Noel Jones

A Catholic Book of Hymns and Chants

A Catholic hymnal has traditionally been a collection of hymns, chants, and sung liturgical texts used in Catholic church services and ceremonies. Catholic hymnals serve several important purposes in worship and faith practices.

Hymns and religious songs allow the congregation to participate in singing praises to God. Hymns help unify the assembly in worship and prayer. Many hymns are based on scripture, allowing worshipers to reflect on biblical truths. Chants further enhance the Mass and rituals restoring music of earlier times of the Church.

Catholic hymnals rarely included liturgical texts needed for rites and sacraments nor did they include readings. These belong in a Missal.

In addition to utility, Catholic hymnals foster theological education and spiritual formation. The hymns teach doctrine and express beliefs through their poetry and lyrics. Singing songs of faith helps reinforce Catholic teachings and traditions. Hymnals also create continuity, as many hymns remain popular across generations. Overall, the hymnal serves as a guidebook for participating in the life of the Catholic Church.

History of Catholic Hymnals

Catholic hymnals have a long and rich history dating back to the early days of the Church. The earliest hymns were chanted prayers and psalms. As musical notation developed, these chants and psalms were set to music. The first true Catholic hymnals emerged in the Middle Ages. These early hymnals, like the Liber Hymnarius, contained Gregorian chants for the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours.

In the 16th century, hymnals began to include vernacular hymns in addition to the traditional Latin chants. This expanded the role of hymns in the Mass and other services. The era of Protestant Reformation also led to an increased interest in vernacular hymnody. Leading Catholic composers wrote new hymns inspired by the tunes of Protestants.

Over the centuries, Catholic hymnals continued to develop along with musical styles and liturgical reforms. Traditional Latin hymns were treasured, but new hymns emerged too.

The 20th century saw major reforms to Catholic liturgy with Vatican II. This led to a widespread revision of Catholic hymnals, causing many of them to vary from the historic path printing hymns and chants by adding vernacular Mass settings and Scripture readings, envisioned and adopted almost universally by many viewing this as being a cost savings.

Problems with Traditional Catholic Hymnals

Catholic hymnals have historically needed frequent replacement and updating due to changes in the liturgy and scripture translations.

Starting in the 1960s with Vatican II reforms, the wording of the Mass and scripture translations went through major revisions. As a result, hymnals that contained the orders of the Mass and scriptural texts quickly became outdated.

Publishers would release new hymnal editions every 10 or so years to keep up with the latest translations and liturgical changes. Congregations were forced to continually purchase new books, essentially throwing out the old ones.

These new editions also introduced contemporary hymns and Mass settings that changed the musical repertoire. So even if the language was still valid, the hymns of the Church themselves would go out of date and removed as new compositions were adopted, removed to keep the weight of the hymnal that people found comfortable to hold.

The rapid turnover of Catholic hymnals was frustrating and wasteful for parishes. Significant time and money was repeatedly spent on acquiring the most up-to-date books.

Key Features of This Catholic Hymnal

This Catholic hymnal stands out from other Catholic hymnals due to its unique combination of timeless hymns, Latin chants, and flexibility. Here are some of the key features that make this hymnal special:

Four Part Hymns

Most Catholic hymnals contain hymns in unison or two parts harmony. However, this hymnal includes only hymns in four part harmony - soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Four part arrangements allow choirs and congregations to sing richer, more intricate harmonies. The four parts weave together to create a full, vibrant musical tapestry.

Latin Gregorian Chants

This hymnal contains a comprehensive collection of ancient Latin chants for use in the Catholic Mass. These Gregorian chants connect modern Catholics to ancient musical traditions dating back to Pope Gregory I in the 6th century. The meditative chants create a sacred, reverent atmosphere perfect for worship.

Timeless Selection Not Dated to Current Trends

Many Catholic hymnals contain songs and liturgical texts tied to recent translations or musical trends. As translations and liturgical norms change over time, these hymnals can quickly become outdated. This forces parishes to replace their hymnals frequently, which is expensive and wasteful.

This hymnal avoids this problem by focusing on timeless, classic hymns and chants not tied to recent liturgical or musical fads. The selections are enduring, not requiring constant updating. This hymnal will retain its relevance and usefulness over time.

Flexibility and Customization

This Catholic Book of hymns & chants is designed with flexibility and customization in mind. Unlike other Catholic hymnals that can quickly become outdated and require expensive replacement, this hymnal allows for easy updating over time.

The key innovation is the ability to insert up to 16 additional printed pages in the hymnal. This allows each church, diocese, or parish to customize the book with any elements that may change over time, without having to replace the entire book.

Some examples of customizable content that can be inserted in these 16 pages:

  1. Unison hymns
  2. Current Mass settings
  3. The order of the Mass
  4. Additional hymns
  5. The St. Michael Prayer
  6. Scripture readings
  7. and more...

This flexibility ensures that the core of the hymnal - the four-part hymns and Latin chants - will remain timeless and useful over decades. The customizable inserts allow the book to adapt as liturgical norms and preferences evolve.

The inserted pages may printed and held securely within the hymnal. This prevents any loose pages from falling out and cluttering the pews during Mass.

Overall, this innovative design allows each parish to make this Catholic hymnal their own with customized content, while avoiding the constant need to replace the core songbook every few years when a new Mass translation or hymnal edition is published. The flexibility brings value, convenience, and savings. Sacred Music Library maintains a downloadable library of music inserts.

Hymnal Contents

This Catholic hymnal contains a robust selection of traditional hymns to support the liturgy and worship.


The hymnal includes almost 300 classic Catholic hymns spanning different time periods, traditions, and musical styles. Well-known hymns of praise, worship, seasonal hymns, Marian hymns, and hymns for sacraments and occasions are included. The hymns come from sources like Latin traditions, English hymn writers, including writers & composers right up into the 21th Century.


A selection of Latin chants, including those for the Ordinary of the Mass, are provided to enable the singing of a chant Mass. Familiar chants like the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are included. Additional chants for processions and other parts of the liturgy are also included.

Support Books

Sacred Music Library has a collection of books that are based on the hymnal that support musicians, meeting them at their level and ability of playing hymns and assist them in mastering the art of hymn playing.

Licensing and Cost

This Catholic hymnal differs from most traditional Catholic hymnals in that the contents are entirely in the public domain or licensed under Creative Commons. This means the hymnal is free to print, share, podcast, and stream online at no cost.

The public domain hymns have no copyright restrictions, as the intellectual property rights have expired. Creative Commons licensing allows content to be reused and remixed with proper attribution. This hymnal takes advantage of these free and open licenses to provide a modern Catholic hymnal that anyone can access, print, and share freely.

Some key facts about the licensing and cost of this hymnal:

  1. 100% of contents are public domain or CC licensed
  2. Can be printed, copied, and shared without restrictions
  3. Available for free digital distribution (podcast, streaming, etc.)
  4. No licensing fees or royalties to use contents
  5. Can be used by parishes, schools, religious orders without cost
  6. Eliminates expense barrier to using modern Catholic hymnal

The free and open licensing model allows this Catholic hymnal to be widely distributed and used without monetary barriers. This increases accessibility and allows the hymnal to reach a broader audience than traditional copyright-restricted hymnals. The public domain and Creative Commons contents provide a solid, legally reusable foundation to build a modern Catholic hymnal upon.

Printing and Binding

The Hardbound hymnal is the standard for Pew Hymnals. These hymnals are printed and bound in the United States.

Using This Hymnal

This Catholic hymnal is designed for congregational singing during Mass and other liturgical celebrations. Here are some tips for using this hymnal effectively:

  1. Keep the hymnal open in your pew rack or hold it in your hands during Mass. Follow along with the hymns and chants as they are announced.
  2. Before Mass begins, take a moment to look over the hymn numbers listed in the bulletin or on the hymnal board so you can find them quickly when their time comes.
  3. Sing along with enthusiasm to glorify God through music and build a sense of community. Don't worry if you can't sing perfectly on key - just sing from your heart.
  4. If you get lost, continue moving your lips to follow along until you find your place again. It's less distracting to fellow worshippers than stopping completely.
  5. Pay attention to hymn numbers and liturgical cues from the priest or music director to know when to sit, stand, or kneel with the congregation.
  6. Let the liturgical season inspire you - sing joyfully at Christmas and Easter, solemnly during Lent, triumphantly on feast days, and with hopeful anticipation during Advent.
  7. Allow the hymns to spark prayer and meditation on their rich theological meaning. Let the words resonate personally in connecting with God.
  8. If you have a good voice, sing out musically to inspire and lead your fellow parishioners. But avoid overpowering and drawing attention to yourself.
  9. Teach your children to follow along and sing hymns as part of passing on the faith. Guide them until they can do it themselves.
  10. Treat your hymnal with care so it remains in good condition. If you purchase your own hymnal, write your name discreetly inside the cover in case it gets left behind.
  11. Buy a hymnal for singing at home with the family or just playing on the piano or organ.
  12. After Mass, reflect on the hymns to continue applying their messages to your daily life. Let sacred music enrich your whole week!

This Catholic hymnal offers a unique and flexible solution for parishes looking for an affordable, customizable, and timeless resource for worship. By avoiding common pitfalls like copyrighted Mass settings and frequently changing scripture translations, this book provides a solid core of traditional hymns, chants, and prayers that can be used for decades to come.

The innovative 16-page insert allows each church to tailor the book to its current needs, liturgical calendar, and musical repertoire. Whether adding seasonal hymns, updated Mass responses, or special prayers, the insert ensures the hymnal stays relevant without requiring constant replacement. This adaptability makes the book an economical and sustainable choice compared to disposable worship aids or hymnals that become obsolete.

With a focus on placing liturgy above trends, this hymnal connects Catholics to the richness of our musical tradition. From ancient Latin chants to time-honored hymns, it provides continuity and substance to worship. The public domain licensing keeps costs down while allowing unlimited congregational use.

For parishes seeking a flexible, relevant, and meaningful hymnal, this Catholic book of hymns and chants is an ideal solution. With thoughtful design and smart customization, it can serve communities for generations while deepening participants' experience of the sacred liturgy.

Yes, Sacred Music Library creates custom hymnals for Catholic parishes. Contact us today to get started with your own customized edition as other parishes have on three continents of the world.