Why this website?
In 2012, I bought a Gregorian Missal in a Catholic bookstore. It looked “official” enough and I wanted to learn more. It turned out that the Gregorian Missal contains all the music from the Roman Gradual (Graduale Romanum) that a parish in the US would need for Sundays and solemnities, with english translations and liturgical context, also in english.
Around the same time, I attended a LA Archdiocese-sponsored music workshop at a Santa Monica church, led by reputable liturgists. There, it was explained to us that Sing To The Lord (STL) was the document of reference for Church musicians. In it, 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 books used at my church were not even mentioned in STL, as many other musical practices common in parishes I was . Then I found out that:
- No “Novus Ordo” Mass in LA or Orange County was following the clear recommendation of Sing to the Lord to sing from the Roman Gradual,
- Few professional (paid) music ministers in parishes seemed to know about the STL recommendations. Even less knew what the Roman Gradual was, or had ever opened the book. The cantors that could actually sing from the Roman Gradual were considered “specialists of an obscure academic discipline”, not singers following the 2007 instructions from the US Catholic Bishops…
In 2016, I finally found a Mass where the music from the Roman Gradual was sung: orations and dialogues led by the priest, congregational “Ordinary”, and proper sung by the choir. This allowed me to practice every week the music from the Gradual.
Three years later, I am now cantor for two Masses singing the music from the Roman Gradual. I am an experienced singer but have no formal music education. Thanks to the music notation in the Gradual, my sight-reading progressed more in three years than in 20 previous years of choral singing from “Modern Notation”.
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 and good to those who participate in such liturgies.
Why is the Roman Gradual not used, or even known by professional Church Musicians?
In short, indifference. I encountered 2 types of indifference.
“Open” indifference: many Catholic Church-goers are just not that into the details of what goes on at Mass, especially the music. I used to be one of them when Mass just appeared to me like a readings, a sermon and some musical interludes. Understanding the Mass better through studying the Roman Gradual helped me understand why the Eucharist is the source and summit of life as a Catholic. Commercial “missalettes” from publishers like OCP, WLP or GIA regard Roman Gradual material like the Gregorian Missal as competition for parish budgets. Many parishioners, and some music directors, mistake them as having the same liturgical legitimacy as the Roman Gradual.
“Closed” indifference: I heard from Church musicians many 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.
The first objection is easily refuted by reading the Church liturgy documents. The Roman Gradual is clearly the choice of the Church.
The second objection is refuted by my own example: an experienced volunteer singer with no music degree can, after three years of dedicated apprenticeship, implement the music of the Roman Gradual at Mass. A paid professional can do it faster and better.
When a professional singer says that the Roman Gradual is “too difficult”, that is a sure sign that singer has not given it a real try… Or should not be called a “professional” in the Catholic Church.
The Roman Gradual is not used in my parish: what should I do?
First, open the conversation and evaluate what your music director knows about the Roman Gradual. “Open” indifferent or “Closed” indifferent?
Second, is your music director a paid employee? If so, they likely know about the Gradual, but financial fears may come into play. Being able to volunteer is a great gift, but most music directors need the money they earn in their position, and advocating change is not always received well in any organization, especially if it risks affecting the revenue from the collection plate, or imply new short term expenses (new books?). Prudence is a virtue for any paid employee. Some of the competitors of the Roman Gradual have savvy marketing programs. For example, OCP gives grants to parishes who convert to their materials (Note: for such grant, you apply in May, and get paid in October. In the meantime, OCP “owns you” even if they deny your grant).
Also, keep in mind that instrumentalists practiced all their lives with a music notation system different from the one in the Roman Gradual. The modern system they learned follows a strict division of time, called metered time. It is very mathematical. The Gradual follows a notation system created as a short-hand for speech and the natural inflexions of the human voice (See also “Chant and Time”.). Easier for singers, but more difficult for instrumentalists who have to un-learn, or transpose, the modern system which is second nature to them. Most Catholics do not have this training, and will read music more easily with the notation of the Gradual. But most music directors must “transpose” their training and must think like singers to help singers (see also, Chant carves the voice.). This is not easy, but they are professionals.
So your music director may very well have made a “pastoral” decision to not use the Roman Gradual, as they must use their pastoral judgement. But it is a pastoral decision only if they have a working knowledge of the Roman Gradual. Otherwise it is not “pastoral”, but just “ignorant”.
As a comparison, you may not need to learn to speak in verse, but you would probably not respect the teaching of an english teacher who has never read Shakespeare, would you?
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. Hymns are an acceptable fourth choice. The 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 most in the congregation remaining mute. This kind of hymn-singing makes no sense, compared to having the leaders sing the first, second or third recommendation from the Church documents like the Proper from the Roman Gradual.
Who maintain this site?
Hervé (pronounced Air-Vey), Catholic cantor, singer and children choir director started this site in 2013.
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.
How does this ancient ancient music answer the “Pastoral” need of a music ministry?
I have observed many music ministries function more like community choirs than liturgical ministries. The pastoral success seems to be measured by the budget (see also “Chant and Time”) that is raised to finance paid professional musicians, accompanists or singers, who then increase the musical level of the ministry, along with new expenses in hours of practice and copyrighted music (see also: “How we get stuck.”). When we measure pastoral success by the solemnity, beauty, and spiritual development attained by the sole active participation of parishioners, there is no better “return on pastoral investment” than gregorian chant. Temporary professional help might be needed to demonstrate, but is no longer necessary once volunteers have gone through the liturgical cycle and keep investing thirty minutes to one hour of practice a week, often just before Mass (see Talent and Participation). Chant also carves the voice and will benefit every singer. If the “Pastoral” need extends to the finances of a parish, then Chant is the most sustainable of all liturgic music ministries.
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
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: