Why this website?
Because the liturgy of the Catholic Mass has its own music, chant, and chant can be learned and practiced by every Catholic at home. The liturgical calendar gives us readings for every Mass. Likewise, it also gives us proper chants for every Mass. This website aims to make these chants better known to Catholics, and to provide help to practice them at home.
How did this website start?
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. See also Books, books, books,… (*before that, the same music, centuries old, was in the Antiphonale Romanum)
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. Recording myself was a practical tool for my own progress, but also to invite others to join the schola.
As questions arose about the paradox that is liturgical music in the Catholic Church, answers have been added to explain what is an authentic implementation of the Church’s directives on Sacred Music. My past experience, told above, is that such implementation is possible. It is 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.
Also, the Roman Gradual is a well-suited tool for apprenticeship into the Liturgy of the Church. The Roman Gradual has a broad spectrum of chants: from simple call-responses to elaborate melismas. You need no musical education to start (no instrumental accompaniement is needed). Also, singing from the Roman Gradual is predictable: you can now start preparing the liturgy you will sing in 3 months or in one year… Take the you need. It will go faster if someone who knows more than you can help: become an apprentice. Hopefully this website can get you started (See also this post).
Who maintain this site?
Hervé (pronounced Air-Vey), Catholic cantor, singer and children choir director started this site in 2013. Maintaining this website is part of an on-going learning, teaching and giving that Hervé considers the duty of a music minister as awed by the tradition of sacred music in the Catholic church as he is. For us the faithful, liturgy is the participation of the people of God in the Work of God. It is about making offerings, and passing on the tradition inherited from generations who had a keener sacramental imagination than our contemporaries. Hervé is an “amateur” in the original sense of the latin word amator, he loves the tradition of sacred music in the Catholic church. For those who are looking for liturgy and music credentials, this “resume” page may answer them.
Should we chant in Latin, or in the vernacular, like English?
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.
However, chant is first and foremost about the Biblical texts given to us for the liturgy. Plainchant grew from reading the Bible aloud (“cantillating”). Understanding the text is necessary to our ability to enhance it with chant. If Latin is an obstacle, then English chant is a great place to start. Chanting regularly will naturally lead to discover the unique depth of chanting in Latin.
Should we sing the liturgy of the hours, rather than the Mass, at home?
We encourage you to sing the liturgy of the hours too, of course. Starting with singing the Mass sets a “weekly” goal, easier to reach than a “seven-times-a-day” goal. See also Liturgy of the Hours .
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.