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"The union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it."
— Pope Pius XI (6 January 1928)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 12
published 17 December 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

It is so difficult to write about the Mass Propers, because whenever one starts to glance through the mediæval MSS, one is overwhelmed by the various beautiful aspects. It is so wonderful to see the beautiful illuminations, and notice the rubrics (printed in red) and abbreviations. Sometimes one is inspired by seeing a favorite verse, like this:

. . . and also noticing the particular ways in which various MSS “point” the Psalm verses. One also notices other interesting things, like the way they moved the clef in this Ave Maria, a way slightly different than the one chosen by Pothier for our modern books. Indeed, it really does seem like there is not a square centimeter of these mediæval MSS that lacks unthinkably wondrous things (musical as well as visual and historical). For instance, look at the beautiful graphic that a monk drew for the first capital letter (“R”) of the Introit for tomorrow (the 4th Sunday of Advent), which says, “Roráte, coeli, désuper, et nubes pluant justum . . .” (Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just . . .):


However, since the 4th Sunday of Advent is tomorrow, let us be content to look at the Communion, as found in two MSS which come from around the year 1400:


. . . And here is how it looks in our modern books (by Abbot Pothier):

We notice that, in our modern books, it has Tempore Paschali before the “Alleluia,” meaning that when this Communion is sung during Eastertide, the singers add the “Alleluia.” How amazing to see that this exact practice for this exact Communion was used in both MSS from around the year 1400!


What Are The Mass Propers? is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Graduale Propers and other aspects of the Catholic liturgy. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Corpus Christi Watershed. Comments, advice, and criticism are welcome, and can be E-mailed. E-mails will be read, but cannot always be answered (due to time constraints). “AF” refers to Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (1912).
        Down through the centuries, the Church has carefully assigned beautiful prayers to each Mass. We call these prayers “Mass Propers” or “Graduale Propers.” Over the centuries, Gregorian composers have created unbelievably beautiful chant melodies for each prayer. Under special circumstances, Catholics are allowed to replace the sung Mass Propers with “some other chant.” Unfortunately, this practice has become so widespread that many Catholics go to Mass without hearing a single Mass Proper. It is difficult to understand why Catholic musicians would toss out these wonderful, ancient prayers . . . especially when they choose to replace them with uninspired modern texts in a secular musical style. Currently, the only pew book to contain the complete Mass Propers is the Vatican II Hymnal. Next time you hear a Catholic musician replace, for example, the Communion Proper or Entrance Proper, please consider asking, “What made you want to replace the sacred text assigned by the Church?”

Pictures of ancient manuscripts appearing in this blog come from various sources. The author has collected his own color photographs of manuscripts from libraries and monasteries in the United States and Italy. A Canadian chant scholar who has been taking photographs of MSS since the 1960’s has generously made his collection available as well, and the author is grateful. Some photographs also come from online archives hosted by libraries and universities the world over. All photographs are used with permission.