Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Anniversary Graduale Romanum

It turns out that most Catholic musicians would be shocked, shocked, to know that providing music at Mass isn't about picking and choosing. The music of the Mass is already built into the structure of the liturgy: words, music, position, place, everything. It is already there. The book in which you find this music is called the Graduale -- named for the most important chant in the book, the Graduale itself, ironically replaced in most parishes after V2 with what is called the Responsorial Psalm. But just because we now sing the Responsorial Psalm doesn't mean that the rest of the Ordinary and Propers can be tossed out. They constitute the normative music of the Roman Rite.

(By the way, I suspect that the use of a single word, Graduale, to describe both the chant between the readings and the book that contains all the chants is a source of enormous confusion. It's hard enough for Americans that the word is Latin; absurd that the same word describe both the big and small thing, both the book and the proper in the book. It's enough to make Americans--who resist all other languages besides English, even as they can't stand admitting not know something--totally crazy.)

In fact, if I were to name one single objective in Catholic music that is more important than any other, it would be simply to let people know that the Graduale Romanum exists. Truly, this is the greatest secret in Catholic liturgy today. And there is a reason for this: the very existence of the books pretty well resolves most disputes over style and disempowers those who would foist on us music that no Catholic in our history would recognize as suitable.

Well, I raise this because it is the 100th anniversary of the modern Graduale, which appeared in 1908 after a painstaking reconstruction by the monks of Solesmes -- an artistic and theological and historiographical achievement that compares with the great accomplishments in all scholarly and artistic history.

Here is what A. Fortescue wrote in 1913 about the Graduale, by way of giving his readers a primer: "The name Gradual (Graduale Romanum) is also used for the book that contains the music sung by the choir at Mass. The name comes from this most important chant, but the book contains the plain-song music for the Ordinary (this part is also published alone with the title Ordinarium Missæ or Kyriale) and all the Propers for the year. This book is one of the three parts of the old Roman Antiphonarium. Originally all the chants of the choir were contained in that. But by the ninth century it was already divided into three, the Graduale or Cantatorium for Mass, and the Responsiale and Antiphonarium (in a stricter sense) for the Office (Amalarius of Metz, De Ordine Antiphonarii, P.L. XCIX, in prolog.). The history of the book forms part of that of the development of plain-song. An authentic edition (the Medicæa) was issued at Rome in 1614. It is now supplanted by the Vatican edition (1908), of which reproductions are being issued by various publishers."

The summer 2008 issue of SACRED MUSIC celebrates this anniversary. Let me know if you would like to contribute. Write me at

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