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"Thus," wrote Isaac Jogues, "on the 29th of September, René Goupil, an angel of innocence and martyr of Jesus Christ, was immolated in his thirty-fifth year for Him who had given His life for ransom. He had consecrated his heart and his soul to God, and his work and his life to the welfare of the poor Indians."
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"The local church should be conscious that church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth."
— Francis Cardinal Arinze (2005)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 11
published 7 December 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

In this series, we will constantly be referring to Montpellier H. 159, the famous, bilingual “Faculty of Medicine MS.” This manuscript is remarkable in many ways. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that this MS served as the “Rosetta Stone” for understanding how to read ancient neums, due to the dual notational systems it employs. Incidentally, the whole Tonarium was published in Volume VIII of the Paléographie Musicale (a.k.a. the Paleo). Finn Hansen also did a transcription that I often use, since it saves time. Page 200 of Dom Johner’s book (A New School of Gregorian Chant, 1925) shows how to “translate” H. 159:

I have spent hundreds of hours comparing Montpellier H. 159 with approximately 60 other MSS and Gregorian editions. A large part of this series will continue this practice, as one can learn this way. But let me give a little “sneak preview” of what Montpellier H. 159 looks like:

P.S. Don’t be too worried about the “quarter tones” mentioned above: this is merely a guess by J. Gmelch. However, it is not impossible that quarter tones were used: Dr. Peter Wagner was of this opinion.


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.