March 14, 2022

Bringing forth ‘the new with the old’

OCP 100 years


Oregon Catholic Press publishes a broad range of music for the universal church

“In every age, the Church has called upon creative artists to give new voice to praise and prayer,” wrote the U.S. bishops in a 2007 document on music for divine worship. “The Church joyfully urges composers and text writers to draw upon their special genius so that she can continue to augment the treasure house of sacred musical art.”

For the past 100 years, Oregon Catholic Press has contributed abundantly to that treasure house. It offers new pieces in a range of styles while it continues to record and publish traditional works — honoring the bishops’ call “to bring forth the new with the old.”

Because the Catholic Church is large and diverse, the same music will not appeal to everyone, said Rick Modlin, music development manager at OCP. “So we try to publish all styles so people can find the music that speaks to them and, ultimately, helps them pray.”

Many think of OCP as the folk music publisher. That’s not accurate, “but changing people’s perceptions is difficult,” said Angela Westhoff-Johnson, director of product development at OCP. In fact, OCP is a leader in contemporary liturgical music, now typically categorized as “music for modern worship.”

More than 20 years ago, the Portland-based company published the first Catholic contemporary hymnal. The music is similar to praise and worship — a popular genre not traditionally appropriate for the Catholic liturgy, explained Westhoff-Johnson.

“Praise and worship is not always very deep, and we wanted to make sure the music in that style had depth and was very rooted in Catholic theology,” she said. “We engaged some great writers and worked with them to make sure their text aligned with the teachings of the church.”

OCP’s repertoire of music for Mass — including hymnody, settings of the antiphons and chant — also is extensive, said Westhoff-Johnson, sharing an example. For a decade, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, have worshipped using a tradition-minded core list of hymns. OCP offers far more of the suggested titles than anyone else.

Since most choirs cannot read traditional Gregorian chant notation, OCP publishes it in modern notation, thereby making it accessible to more parishes. “Knowing how important chant is to the church, to the liturgy, we put a lot into missals and other resources,” said Westhoff-Johnson.

OCP also publishes in several languages. It has a Vietnamese hymnal, and “Flor y Canto,” its Spanish-language hymnal, contains the most widely used Spanish liturgical music. Over the past 10 years the company has provided multilingual music featuring a mix of Vietnamese, Filipino, Spanish, English and Latin.

Additional offerings include choral music, a limited amount of children’s music, and what’s referred to as the English liturgical genre. Rooted in some folk traditions and intended to be accessible for the assembly, it features such composers Bob Hurd and Dan Schutte.

As a music director, she feels there are few things more beautiful than a congregation singing.

It’s an example of the “full and active participation by all the people” that’s described in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

“It’s OK if there is someone not matching the pitch, or if a person is an octave or two off,” said Westhoff-Johnson. “It’s not a performance; I love hearing the people sing together.”

OCP — with music old and new — seeks to inspire different congregations to do just that: lift their diverse, imperfect, sincere voices to God.