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CNP Feedback -
Chanting the Propers

Q. Dear CNP:

First of all I would like to thank you for all of the CNP resources. I would like to introduce many of the chant settings into my parish but the choir is having some troubles with the transition. I would love for them to sing from the Graduale Romanum every week, but we need a lot of time. The Graduale simplex would be great, but still a bit too much. I think that By Flowing Waters would be good, especially at this stage for the choir since it is in modern notation, but I don't know if they came out with a revised edition for the new translation. I heard the Mass Propers for Advent on your site and saw that there are other booklets to order for some of the liturgical seasons. Is there a plan to have a bound book? Will it be in modern or Gregorian notation?

Pastor Al Music

A. Dear Father:

Thank you for your kind words about the CanticaNOVA Publications website and products.

You're to be commended for your desire to lead your parish on the path of singing more of the Propers, the true texts of the Mass as the Church would have us pray.

It would be an overwhelmingly monumental task, though, to go from all hymns to singing from the Graduale Romanum every week. Although this is the ideal toward which we all might strive, it is also very impractical on a parish level without years and years of steady and gradual (no pun intended) progress. I would recommend singing some music from the Graduale Romanum (perhaps the beautiful Introit for Midnight Mass, Dominus dixit ad me), while looking for more practical ways to sing the Propers, introducing the choir and congregation "gently" to this wonderful liturgical practice.

The Graduale simplex offers much easier chants, all in Latin, and in Gregorian notation. I certainly wouldn't let the notation dissuade you from using the Graduale simplex. There are absolutely no complex neums — basically the only difference between what's here and modern notation is that the pitches are indicated by square notes rather than round ones — one still sings from left to right. Choirs can easily be trained to sing from this — it's really no obstacle. There are also resources available for the director, like A Plain and Easy Introduction to Gregorian Chant, if he's completely unfamiliar with square-note notation.

By far, the easiest method of singing the Propers of the Mass (Introit, Offertory, Communion) are some of the products in our catalog [for example, the Mass Propers for Advent. These use a four-phrase, accompanied chant formula (similar to Meinrad chants) in modern notation, to which the appropriate text is set. It's simplicity itself, and even young children can quickly and easily sing these. We have revised all the Propers for Advent, Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, using the NEW English translation from The Roman Missal (2010). There are also psalm verses with which to extend the length of the Proper antiphon to cover the liturgical action. Propers for Advent and Christmastide are currently available — revised editions for Lent and Eastertide will be published soon. There are no Propers for Sundays in Ordinary Time yet (although we hope to work on these). There are also no plans to collect everything in one volume — they're only available as seasonal booklets at this point.

A step up from these, in terms of difficulty, would be the chants from the Simple English Gradual by Adam Bartlett. These are in English and in beautiful chant style. They're written in very simple Gregorian notation (square notes), but as I mentioned before, that should not deter you from using these. If we can learn to pray with new English words in a new, elevated style, we also can rise to the challenge of learning simple square-note notation.

Dr. Paul Ford's book, By Flowing Waters, is an English translation of the chants in the Graduale simplex. Like the Graduale simplex, this set of Propers is not as comprehensive as the ones in the Graduale Romanum — e.g. there are only 8 Mass formulas for all of Ordinary Time, from which one chooses what to do on any Sunday. The English translations are not from approved sources (New American Bible, Missal), although the book has apparently been allowed for liturgical use by the USCCB. I don't see much benefit of this over the Simple English Gradual, except that By Flowing Waters has music and texts for the Psalm after the First Reading and for the Gospel Psalm. I don't know of plans to revise By Flowing Waters for the new Mass translation — but this would likely only affect the Mass Ordinary (Gloria, Sanctus, etc). The Propers themselves are original paraphrases of the Latin chants — not any "official" English translations that might be found in the Roman Missal, for example. There would be no rush whatsoever to retranslate these, since they never matched any official texts anyway.

In terms of long-range plans, you should know that there are only a very few parishes (or monasteries or abbeys) in the United States that chant all the Propers from the Graduale Romanum every week. This is a laudable practice, though, and I greatly admire them. However, the music in the Graduale Romanum is of a difficulty level that requires a great degree of expertise (at least on the part of the director) and an enormous time commitment on the part of the schola. The parishes that are singing this every week have been doing so for many years, and thus have built a repertoire of known chants. If I were to seriously entertain the glorious ideal of starting to sing the chant Propers every week, I'd consider a ten-year plan — learning perhaps one Proper (Introit or Gradual or Alleluia or Offertory or Communion) every other week. In ten years the whole corpus would have been covered. If the schola is particularly skillful and dedicated, have them learn one every week and cut the plan to five years for completion.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
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