Ask Ambrose: Liturgical Music Resources in Spanish

Map of Mexico and Latin America

Q: I’m looking for some additional liturgical music resources in Spanish for the congregation I serve. My parish currently uses El Himnario and Flor y canto, and we also use Wonder, Love, and Praise and Voices Found, and we translate hymns from Lift Every Voice and Sing and The Hymnal 1982. My specific needs are to target first generation immigrants who may have limited reading of any languages, as well as second/third generations who usually speak and read more English but want to honor their cultural past. I also need to target focus areas of these 4 different cultures: Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Latin America, and South America—particularly Brazil and Argentina (more classical influence). We have an English worship service, a Spanish service, and a blended English/Spanish service. Our average Sunday attendance is about 800. 

A: Since you have Flor y canto you are off to a great start. This is indisputably the Spanish language hymnal of choice in the vast majority of Latino congregations in the U.S. Its orientation is Roman Catholic, but of course that is the background of most Spanish (and Portuguese) speaking worshippers. Latinos know and love this repertoire. Be careful that all your copies of Flor y canto are the same edition. I made the mistake once of trying to use the first edition and the second edition simultaneously. They are entirely different books!

What you probably already know is that there is no such thing as Latino culture, because traditions and tastes vary greatly from one Spanish speaking country to another. If we proceed instead with “Latino cultures” (plural), we are setting off on the right foot. Since you have identified the countries from which your parishioners come, you already know the importance of this dynamic, which many English speakers miss.  

As you note with your parishioners of Brazilian and Argentine background, not all Spanish speakers want to sing indigenous Latin American music. Some prefer classical hymnody, translated into Spanish. El Himnario, the Episcopal/Presbyterian Church U.S.A./United Church of Christ (joint ecumenical endeavor) Spanish hymnal has a rich repertoire of traditional Anglican hymnody.  

The acknowledged authority on “world music” or “global music” is Dr. Michael Hawn, who teaches at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Hawn has authored a number of relevant books, some published by Choristers Guild in Dallas. Halle, Halle: We Sing the World Round, for example, is a good introduction to music from various traditions, including Latino cultures. Background information and pronunciation guides are provided for each song. Likewise Global Praise, a series of books published by the United Methodist Church, contains songs of praise from many nations.

As you know, most Latino immigrants are passionate about learning English, so you are wise to sing English language hymnody as well as Spanish.  

Finally, you are blessed indeed to be ministering in a Latino congregation with 800 worshippers on Sunday. What a wonderful thing! If Ambrose weren’t so busy with episcopal visitations, he’d come and worship with you in a flash!


+ Ambrose of Milan