Proper of the Mass (Roman Gradual)

You can access print and sound files to practice singing the proper, for the full liturgical year:

Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time after Epiphany (approx. December to February)

Lent, Holy Week (approx. February to April)

Easter Time (approx. April-May)

Ordinary Time (Trinity Sunday to 33rd Sunday) (approx. May to November)

For a complete 2020-2021 Liturgical Calendar in the USA, visit the USCCB website.

For the Proper in Spanish, please see this website :http://castraponere.com/janet/spanish-propers-project/

The meaning of singing the Proper is that we can then sing the Mass, and not just sing at Mass. The instructions for a “Sung Mass” (Missa Cantata) left no ambiguity in the 1958 Instructions for Sacred Music in the Liturgy (see de-musica-sacra-et-sacra-liturgia Ch. 25). One condition for “singing the Mass” to its full extent was the singing of the Proper. Another condition was that the priest chant the readings. These two conditions were rarely met and fueled the rise of the “low Mass with music”: the congregation could sing hymns at Low Mass, and the priest did not have to sing. The prevalence of the spoken-Mass-with-singing-interludes in our post Vatican II Masses is the continuation of this model. Read also “four hymn sandwich” on this topic.

But if we want to actually sing the Mass, then we need to learn and sing the Propers. What are the Propers? the Entrance chant (Introit), Responsorial or Gradual (after the first lesson), Alleluia before the Gospel, Offertory, and Communion, as defined in the Roman Gradual (in latin), or another chant setting of the English Antiphons of the Roman Missal (see Books, Books, Books for examples).

The Propers constitute the “third degree of participation”, defined in chapter 31 of the Vatican II Instructions on Sacred Music. It is good if the congregation can join in the proper, but not essential. Congregational singing is prioritized in the first and the second degrees of participation (dialogues, response, ordinary of the Mass, see Practice singing the Mass for details and practice files).

Singing the Proper also has great practical benefits for the music ministry in a parish. The main advantages are:

  • A better disposition of obedience to the Church and preparation of the Mass. The Church gave us the Proper to sing the Mass. The Roman Gradual is the official songbook of the Church. Using what the Church gave us will remove a decision that often creates tension among parishioners, music ministers and/or parish staff. Could the Church know better? Singing the Proper will make you realize she does indeed. I have never encountered a priest or a liturgist who would argue against singing the Proper at Mass as long as they are well sung. An authoritative read on this topic is the recent pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Portland, and the paragraph titled “Preparation, not planning” (p.12): Sing to the Lord a New Song
  • The Proper were written for the voice, not for instruments. If you are Catholic and were gifted by God with a decent singing voice, the proper were written for you. Embrace them. And give them back. Our experience is that at most Masses we hear mostly instrumentally-supported music because instrumentalists are considered more reliable than singers. Why? That can and must change. Liturgical music is vocal by definition: holy texts carried by the human voice. Learning to sing the Proper at Mass is for an able singer the “proper offering” and thanksgiving for the gift of singing, received from God.
  • A common objection to learning to sing the proper is that there are many of them. Where to start? The proper repeat every liturgical cycle. So no effort in learning the proper will be wasted. Start slowly, humbly. Below is a practical way to prioritize:
    • Introit (Entrance), Responsorial (between the 1st and 2nd readings) and Communion antiphons are the easiest to learn, both musically and vocally. Our recommendation is to start with those. The liturgical year also gives us a few “Sequences” (Pentecost, Corpus Christi,..). Their hymn-like structure makes them another good place to start.
    • Chant is sung speech. The Latin language represents a challenge for most English speakers. Simple propers in English will help you practice the coordination between the breath control, the voicing of clear vowels, and the clarity and intelligibility of the Word that always must be present in Liturgical Chant.
    • Once the above has been mastered, the Alleluia acclamation from the Roman Gradual (or Gregorian Missal), and the Offertory antiphons offer a the next step to progress. The melismas demand good breath support and control. Singing the “Alleluia” will help you build that voice technique without the added challenge of the latin words.
    •  The Latin Alleluia verses and Gradual from the Roman Gradual present many and sometimes long melismas. They demand the vocal technique that experienced cantors spend many years developing. Trying to sing them too early can be frustrating. If so, re-focus on the Introits.

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