Why this website?
It is the result of the impulse purchase in 2012 of a Gregorian Missal, in a Catholic bookstore. It looked official and intriguing… It turns out it is the Sundays-and-Solemnities version of the official songbook of the Catholic Church for over 100 years, the Roman Gradual (Graduale Romanum), with english translations. Yes, if you did not know, there is an official songbook in the Catholic Church. Actually, now there are 2, since the Graduale Simplex was added in the 70’s for use in smaller parishes.
A few weeks later, at a LA Archdiocese-sponsored music workshop at a Santa Monica church, led by reputable liturgists, I expected to learn more about this Missal or Graduale. The professional liturgists explained to us that Sing To The Lord (STL) was the current document of reference for Church musicians in the USA. In STL, in which the Roman Gradual is named 7 times (paragraphs 76, 77, 115 d.,144 a., 157, 190 and 193.), including as first choice for singing at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion. The Graduale Romanum and Simplex are the only songbooks referenced in STL. Yet:
- No Mass near me was then following the Church recommendation to sing from the Roman Gradual whenever possible,
- Few music ministers in parishes seemed to know about STL and its recommendations. Even less knew what the Roman Gradual was, or had ever opened the book.
In 2016, a priest started in my area a Mass where the music from the Roman Gradual was sung: sung orations and dialogues, congregational singing of the “Ordinary”, and proper sung by the choir. I joined the schola and was able to practice every week.
Three years later, I now cantor two Masses singing from the Roman Gradual. I am an experienced singer but have no formal music education. The “square note” notation in the Gradual was designed by and for singers. Thus my sight-reading progressed more in three years than in 20 previous years of choral singing from “Modern Notation” designed for instrumentalists.
This website is a modest contribution to the authentic implementation of the Church’s directives on Sacred Music. My past experience, told above, is that such implementation is both possible, but also a powerful tool for Evangelization.
How is the Roman Gradual a tool for Evangelization?
I rely here on my own experience, going from indifference to a hearty desire for communion in the Eucharist in the past seven years.
First, the Roman Gradual provided me with an “icon”, a gift from the Church for a “Balthasarian” approach to sacred music. Each antiphon required contemplation.
Second, a-cappella singing linked the music of the liturgy with the music of the spheres. The musical scales practiced for Gregorian Chant are not a rote exercise, but a discovery of the proportionality of the Cosmos, with our breath and voice joining in it.
As a result, I came to realize that the Church “knew what she was doing” in giving us Gregorian Chant (see also “Active Participation”), and the desire to study more of what the Church gave us became irresistible.
Then why is the Roman Gradual not used, or even known by professional Church Musicians?
In short, the same indifference I experienced in the past. I encountered 2 types of indifference.
“Open” indifference: many Catholic Church-goers are just not that into the liturgical details of what goes on at Mass. Learning about the sacramental nature of the Mass through the Roman Gradual helped me understand why the Eucharist is the source and summit of life as a Catholic. Commercial “missalettes” are usually in the pews. Better than nothing? Maybe. But singing at Mass is not equal to singing the Mass. Education can diminish “open” indifference.
“Closed” indifference: I heard from Church musicians some opinions strongly formed against the Roman Gradual. These opinions typically are in two categories:
- Not the right type of music. Examples: “old latin mass”, “pre-Vatican II”, “for scholars only”, “not for congregational singing”,…
- Too difficult to implement, not “pastoral”. I heard concerns about “budget” within this category.
Both are erroneous. The first objection is easily refuted by reading the Church liturgy documents. The Roman Gradual is clearly the choice of the Church, and has been for decades (see Active Participation).
The second objection is refuted by my own example: a volunteer singer with no music degree can, after three years of apprenticeship, can implement the schola part of “singing the Mass” per the Roman Gradual.
In short, “closed indifference” comes from instrumentalists reluctance to approach the Roman Gradual for what it is: music written for the voice, with a rhythm following the language of the Mass and not a metered beat (“1-2-3..”). Instrumentalists are trained to count beats, not to follow the rhythm of language. Instruments have to yield to the singing voice, and rhythm, to overcome “closed” indifference.
The Roman Gradual is not used in my parish: what should I do?
First, read more, and educate yourself about this situation. Archbishop Sample’s recent pastoral letter is a great sum-up of the liturgical situation (download here: Sing to the Lord a New Song). Or you can go deeper and take on-line classes at the Liturgical Institute , thus getting education typically reserved for seminarians. If you want just an academic perspective, not liturgical, this 14-page paper will get you started: Reilly, Music of the Spheres,
Then, open the conversation and evaluate what your music director knows about the Roman Gradual. “Open” indifference or “Closed” indifference?
If your parish’s liturgical eco-system gives priority to instruments and amplification over the voice of the congregation, be patient. The parish leaders who realize that their congregational singing has become conditional to instrumental support (rather than just enhanced by it, as envisioned by Church documents), typically will double down on instruments and microphones.
Hopefully, you do not have to wait, and your parish is “open”, and will allow a conversation about Active Participation as the Church documents define it.
If you have to wait, then travel. Drive to a parish that a voice-based liturgy, where you can learn to sing, experience for yourself a sung liturgy, and practice singing every Sunday. The rise of instrumental-based liturgies has coincided with a fall of attendance at Mass. Your parish will turn around at some point. By then, you will be trained to help, or even lead, the rebirth of sung liturgies in your home parish.
When are we to sing hymns?
Singing hymns is a perfectly acceptable option (per Sing to the Lord) when a congregation likes to sing hymns, and when the voice of the congregation carries such hymns. The song leader/cantor must then not sing in the microphone, and join his/her un-amplified voice to the congregation.
Often, however, hymns are sung mostly by one cantor through a microphones, with (an) instrument(s) supporting the cantor, and most in the congregation remaining mute. This kind of hymn-singing makes no sense. If the result is for the cantor to sing alone, the proper texts of Roman Gradual could then be sung.
Who maintain this site?
Catholic means “universal”. Latin is the language common to all Catholics, worldwide. Of course, not all-latin-all-the-time is necessary. But some-latin-by-all-catholics will cement the unity of the Church. Again, Musicam Sacram and Sing to the Lord are must-read documents for any Catholic singer.
Also, those of us who have an interest in the history of the Church will understand how much latin can unveil to us. For a musician, getting acquainted with latin will open 1,500 years of deep and exhilarating musical tradition to meaningful exploration. Western music grew from plainchant. And plainchant grew from reading the Bible aloud (“cantillating”). Could the same path be explored in English? Of course. In fact, some recent music publications have made it easier to chant the Bible in English. Some examples are on this website.
Where can I read more about this?
A great place to start are three short articles that were written by Father Cassian DiRocco and published in the bulletin at Mary Star of the Sea:
Embracing what is ours, part two- Gregorian Chant
Embracing what is ours, part three- The Mass Propers
Their own FAQ is fantastic.
Episode 11 of season 2 of “The Liturgy Guys” podcast hits the nail right on the head. “Liturgical asceticism” expresses very well what this website is about: practice makes perfect!… Exactly. I recommend this podcast.
For any question that may not be answered above: