What is the Graduale Romanum ?

The Graduale Romanum, or Roman Gradual, comes… from Rome! It contains the chants for the Mass in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

The early church in Rome worshipped by singing the psalms :

In the early church the psalms are prayed and sung as hymns to Christ. Christ himself thus becomes the choir director who teaches us the new song and gives the Church the tone and the way in which she can praise God appropriately and blend into the heavenly liturgy.

Ratzinger, New Song, 96–97 quoted by Mark Daniel Kirby – Sacred Music 2009

The Church holds her ear to the psalter to learn from the psalms not only her own song, but the song of Christ as well. In the antiphons and psalmody of the Graduale Romanum, the Graduale Simplex, the antiphonal of the hours, and other liturgical books, Christ is present as the one addressing the Father, as the one addressing the church, or as the one to whom the church addresses her supplications and her praise.

Mark Daniel Kirby – Sacred Music 2009

This “song of Christ” was not written down as music on paper for centuries, but lived as an oral tradition in the liturgy of the early Church. The oldest records of the music of the mass notated are from the 9th and 10th century, and they look like this:

The musical writing above the text is just mnemonic: a shorthand for the singer to help remember the melody. But the writing cannot yet replace oral transmission. Only in the 11th century were lines added, and in the 14th century the shorthand became “square notes”, so that the singer could better see if the note was on the line, or in the space between the line. Below is the current “square notes” setting of “Gustate et Videte”, a communion antiphon, along with the writing that accompanied that text in the liturgy songbooks from the 9th century (in Red, from a Swiss monastery) and 10th century (in black, from a French monastery):

Hopefully, this example shows how the “song of Christ” in the Graduale Romanum has been transmitted so we can sing the Mass today in communion with all the saints who sang the same melodies throughout the centuries. “Gustate et Videte” will be sung this coming Sunday in the Traditional Latin Mass.

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