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February 28, 2019

The Pastoral Letter and OCP: Answers to Common Questions

OCP Hymnals


On January 25, 2019, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Archbishop Alexander Sample released a Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship titled “Sing to the LORD a New Song” for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. It is largely based on his pastoral letter of the same name, which he released six years ago in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, when he was bishop there.

Many have had questions about how and whether the letter applies to OCP, since Archbishop Sample is the local Ordinary. There has been a fair amount of confusion and misunderstanding in that regard. The purpose of this communication is to answer those questions and provide clarity.

OCP and Archbishop Sample

First, some general statements are in order clarifying the relationship between Archbishop Sample and OCP.

  1. The Archbishop of Portland is ex officio Chair and Publisher-in-Chief of the OCP Board of Directors. Prior to Archbishop Sample, the following archbishops served as Chair: Archbishop John Vlazy, Cardinal Francis George, Cardinal William Levada, among others.
  2. Archbishop Sample has been very supportive of OCP in his tenure as Chair and Archbishop, working closely with Publisher Emeritus John Limb and current Publisher Wade Wisler. He has also expressed confidence in OCP’s commitment to and processes for publishing the highest quality liturgical music. He reviewed and approved this summary document.
  3. OCP shares the Archbishop’s concern and passion for excellence in the liturgy and makes massive investment toward helping parishes to celebrate inspiring liturgies that conform to the mind of the church and encourage the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful, “the aim to be considered before all else” (SC 14).
  4. OCP has already discussed with Archbishop Sample and the Board the possibility of providing training sessions as a means of supporting the implementation of the Pastoral Letter and the ongoing formation of local musicians.
  5. OCP employee Angela Westhoff-Johnson, Director of our Product Development Division, is also Music Director for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Portland, where Archbishop Sample often celebrates Mass. She has been providing music for those liturgies primarily from OCP publications during the Archbishop’s six-year tenure. He is very proud of the high quality of music her choir achieves on a consistent basis.
  6. The Pastoral Letter was discussed at OCP’s February 1, 2019, Board of Directors meeting. There, Archbishop Sample clarified a number of important points:
    1. He issued the letter as Archbishop of Portland, Shepherd of the local church, not as Chair of the OCP Board of Directors. The fact that he also happens to be the Chair is purely accidental. He has authority over this local archdiocese, but not over dioceses outside this one. The letter has local jurisdiction, while OCP’s publishing reach is national.
    2. The Letter was intended to be a teaching document, not a juridical one having the force of law, for the local church, the Archdiocese of Portland. The document intends to educate, form and inspire local music directors and pastoral musicians regarding music in the liturgy. The letter is primarily about execution and practice, not publishing principles.

The OCP Repertoire

Second, some information clarifying OCP’s publishing reach, the authorities and documents that guide our publishing efforts, quality-control processes, and the resources we provide in support of parishes seeking to fulfill the expectations of the Pastoral Letter.

  1. OCP publishes music and other resources for use by the Universal Church in the US and throughout the world. That is why OCP submits materials to the US Bishops; they are the primary authority over our publishing efforts, in terms of the annual cycle of permission requests, review and approval.
  2. Because our publishing reach is national (mostly, but also international), the primary document that guides our work is Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, published by the US Bishops in 2007. This is the “pastoral letter” on liturgical music, if you will, for the United States. OCP’s publishing efforts conform to the principles outlined there. Sacrosanctum Concilium confirms that authority over the liturgy resides with the national episcopal conferences, in our case the USCCB: “In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established” (22.2). The other main guiding document is the USCCB’s "Guidelines for the Publication of Liturgical Books."
  3. While the USCCB has authority over the Liturgy for the United States, the local bishop is also the moderator, guardian, and promoter of the Liturgy in his own diocese and can issue his own teaching for the local diocesan Church. That is what Archbishop Sample has exercised in issuing his letter.
  4. OCP has had good measures in place for many years to ensure the soundness and appropriateness of our music. Songs that are newly added to our missals are sent out for theological review and approval, and our highly qualified internal music review committee (which includes a liturgist with a Sacred Liturgy Doctorate from San Anselmo), scrutinizes new submissions very carefully, informed by all the relevant Church documents and guidelines.
  5. In recent years, we have increased our quality control. We expanded the annual theological review from one person to a committee of three, all highly reputable. And we have begun a process of reviewing our current catalog of songs, already in the missals, to identify changes that may needed, including text revisions to ensure conformity with appropriate guidelines. We take this responsibility very seriously, and are confident that we are succeeding in fulfilling it, though admittedly some of the necessary edits and adjustments take longer than people realize, due to the complexity and timeline of the publishing process (with some editions prepared nearly two years in advance, and some updated only every four or eight years) and the interdependency of the various publications.
  6. Because our mission is one of service to the Universal Church, we publish music in a wide variety of languages, cultural models, styles, difficulty levels, etc., and from different time periods, ancient and modern, all with the goal of making quality music accessible for the communities we serve. While OCP is well known for contemporary music, its repertoire includes a vast quantity of more traditional forms.
    1. Breaking Bread provides a wide variety of more traditional options:
      1. Three chant-style Mass settings, including the beautiful, recently composed Belmont Mass, the Roman Missal chants, and Mass XVI in Latin. When Archbishop Sample was Bishop of Marquette and released his letter there, he selected OCP’s Mass of the Resurrection as the Mass setting to be learned and used by all parishes in the diocese.
      2. More traditional hymns from the Archdiocese of Omaha Core Hymns list (72 of 78) than any other resource available, including hymnals like Adoremus and the St. Michael’s Hymnal.
      3. 25 Latin hymns and chants.
    2. Our primary psalters Respond & Acclaim and Spirit & Psalm provide verbatim settings of the responsorial psalms and Gospel Acclamations. Not only that, but the settings themselves are chant-based. Even Spirit & Psalm, offering more contemporary-style settings, includes an option for chanting the verses. Respond & Acclaim—the most-used Psalter in the US—contains chant-style verses based on the Benedictine chant tones of Mt. Angel Abbey.
    3. Our Latin chant supplement Laus Tibi, Christe, which can be paired with any of our missals and hymnals to expand their repertoire, includes 71 hymns, chants and other pieces, including a recently composed Mass setting in Latin. Together Laus Tibi, Christe and our Journeysongs hymnal contain more Latin hymns than Adoremus.
    4. The Pastoral Letter emphasizes singing the Entrance and Communion antiphons from the Roman Missal. OCP provides settings of both. The Saint Meinrad Entrance and Communion Antiphons for the Church Year features chant-style settings by Benedictine Father Columba Kelly. OCP also publishes beautiful choral settings of the Communion Antiphons by Christopher Walker. The choir has been using these at the Portland Cathedral for several years now.
    5. OCP publishes a choral series, Trinitas, offering modern polyphony works for advanced choirs and organ.


More examples could be given. Suffice it to say that parishes desiring to use a more traditional repertoire of music, including hymnody, chant and settings of the antiphons, can do so using OCP worship resources. Liturgies celebrated by Archbishop Sample at the local Cathedral already do so, and certainly other local parishes seeking to fulfill the expectations of the Pastoral Letter can follow suit.

Keep in mind that OCP publishes music for the Universal Church, for use not only in the most holy sacrifice of the Mass, but also in prayer services, Liturgy of the Hours, Bible studies, youth ministry events, praise and worship events, retreats, school events, penance services, and any occasion in which Catholic communities use music to accompany the many and varied moments of parish life.

While the Pastoral Letter does not change OCP’s publishing efforts, OCP is committed to continuing our good partnership with Archbishop Sample and to supporting the Archdiocese in whatever way we can to achieve our common goal of quality liturgies leading to the “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful” (SC 112).

Wade Wisler

Wade Wisler currently serves as the Publisher and CEO of OCP. In his 19 years at OCP, he has held the roles of Copywriter, Worship Publications Manager and Director of Music Development and Outreach, among others. Wade's background as a musician and a Spanish speaker have been essential in virtually every one of these roles, and his devotion to the Catholic Church is evident in all aspects of his life.