It is customary – and indeed, the Church grants a plenary indulgence for it – to recite the ancient hymn Te Deum in a church on this, the last day of the year. It is a hymn of thanksgiving to God that dates back to roughly the 3rd century. Some historians think that Saints Ambrose and Augustine wrote it on the occasion of Augustine’s conversion. Whatever the case may be, it’s a very ancient and important hymn in the Church. Priests and others who pray the Liturgy of the Hours recite it following the Office of Readings on most Sundays, Feasts, and Solemnities of the year.
Perhaps many of you will be going to church this evening for the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (which is a holy day of obligation) or for devotions relating to the New Year. In many parishes it is now customary to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to bring in the New Year. In my home parish, where I was visiting the past week or so, they will be having a holy hour beginning at 11:30pm tonight, so as to spend the last 1/2 hour of 2013 giving thanks to God and the first 1/2 hour of 2014 to pray for what lies ahead.
Perhaps you will be fulfilling your Mass obligation tomorrow instead of tonight. In any case, see if you can go to a Catholic church also today and recite the prayer/hymn Te Deum, in order to gain the indulgence.
Here is a resource (PDF) that you can download. It is formatted to print on 8.5×11 paper and then be cut in half, so that you have one for you and one for a friend. It explains the conditions for gaining the indulgence.
Those of you who, like me, appreciate an occasional “thee” or “thy” or “doth”, might enjoy reading the heretic Thomas Cranmer’s translation of the Te Deum, rendered in very beautiful and limpid Early Modern English. That was back in the days when even heretics knew Latin and could translate it well. Click here to read Cranmer’s translation.
Being that it is an ancient hymn, there is also a tradition of Gregorian Chant surrounding the Te Deum. Here is one very well-done Youtube:
However, there are different tones (melodies) in Gregorian Chant. I recognize the one in the video above; I also recognize the tone in this score (downloadable and printable on legal-size paper). One is probably the more solemn tone. I am an ignoramus about these things.
Here you can see and hear how it was very beautifully sung during an episcopal ordination at St. Peter’s Basilica on January 6, 2013. This is when the new bishops proceed throughout the church to impart their first blessings:
There are, of course, many other musical settings for the Te Deum; there was a time when it would have been a standard thing for any composer (Catholic or not) to write a Te Deum, just as non-Catholic composers used to write Mass settings as well.
In any case, it is not necessary to sing it (though that would make it even better): it is only necessary to recite it, in a church, in order to gain the indulgence.
Have I mentioned that January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a Holy Day of Obligation?