GIA Publications in the United States has published a small collection of hymns written by Blessed Basile Moreau, entitled Faithful Echoes: The Hymns of Basil Moreau. The collection, which includes music in both French and English, is the fruit of nearly four years of work by a team of translators and hymn composers, led by Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C., Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in the United States.
The publication of this collection of hymns represents the rediscovery of an important part of Blessed Moreau’s vision of educating in the faith.
“For us, Fr. Moreau is most known for his own preaching, teaching, and missionary brilliance,” explained Fr. Grove. “He required seminarians to study physics to be conversant in modern science. He sent missionaries around the world to start schools in order to lift society not just in France but on the five continents on which Holy Cross ministers. What we are now discovering is how central Moreau thought music was to both evangelization and education.”
Though not a trained musician, Blessed Moreau realized that human life has a soundtrack to it. He observed his students singing as they walked to school or recreated during the day. He wanted the soundtrack of their lives to lift their hearts to the higher gifts, to the gospel, to Jesus Christ.
“Fr. Moreau thought it was completely natural that some of the deepest affections of the human spirit should be translated into lively song,” explained Fr. Grove, “but what he noticed is that the songs of the countryside were at times vulgar, harmful, and perpetuated the brokenness of sin in French society. Even in our own times, we know that catchy tunes can have offensive, degrading, and hurtful lyrics.
“Moreau’s solution to the vulgar songs of the countryside was not to censor them or prohibit students from singing. He took a much higher, harder, and more creative road. He believed that people should sing, but that they needed better songs. If songs of faith were good enough, then the students of his school would want to sing them by attraction. The songs of the countryside would be replaced not by force, but by sheer delight in songs of faith,” he said.
Such songs did not exist in Blessed Moreau’s time, especially in the wake of the French Revolution, and so he put his own hands to the plow and began to write lyrics for hymns. He concluded his Christian Education, with his treatise giving his vision of pedagogy and setting the guidelines and standards for the Congregation’s school, with an entire section of hymns to be sung.
“He wrote lyrics for liturgy, for retreats, for the beginning of the school year, and for any number of other moments along the way. He had a vision that music was a front line for evangelization and a key tool for rebuilding the broken church of his time. If songs of faith could capture the hearts of his students, they would become together ‘faithful echoes’ of Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Grove.
As Blessed Moreau himself wrote in Christian Education: “You will infuse the souls of your students with healthy thoughts and generous feelings; for if after having sung the great mysteries of our faith, the young also celebrate the deeds of the saints, the virtues and sacrifices of the heroes of the faith, these same young will automatically find within themselves the desire to imitate them” (3.2).
The collection Faithful Echoes seeks to bring Fr. Moreau’s hymns to a new generation of Holy Cross educators, students, and parishioners. It contains 16 hymns in the original French written by the Congregation’s founder. All those hymns have also been translated into English. They have been set to music by sacred music scholars and composers aware of music typical of Blessed Moreau’s day.
Although the collection could enrich the liturgical and prayer life of any school or parish, Faithful Echoes was intended in particular for Holy Cross apostolates to help them live out their charism as educators in the faith.
Just as the first generations of Holy Cross religious did with the hymns in Christian Education, Holy Cross apostolates can use Faithful Echoes to harness the great power of music to evangelize the youth of today, making the soundtrack of their lives sing of Jesus Christ and his gospel. In this year in which the Congregation celebrates the 150th anniversary of the entry of its founder into eternal life, the need is just as great today as it was in the times of Blessed Moreau.
“We need to be ready to admit that we ourselves can frequently enough sing metaphorical songs from the countryside—songs of cynicism about our world, songs of weariness of the common good, and songs of derision and mistrust that sound in social media spaces,” said Fr. Grove. “Fr. Moreau challenges us to sing a new song once more in Christ, with such creativity and light that these new songs might become the most desirable—stuck in our heads and in our hearts, not only when we are in the pews, but also when on our front porches or out in the playing fields.”