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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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“We wish therefore and prescribe, that all observe the law of the Church, and that at home or in the church they shall always wear the cassock, which is proper to the clergy. When they go out for duty or relaxation or on a journey, they may use a shorter [coat] which is to be black in color, and which reaches to the knees, so as to distinguish it from the dress of the laity. They should reject the more elegant and worldly styles of garments, which are found today. We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept that, both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they shall wear the Roman collar.”
— Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 5
published 22 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

As an example of the Graduale Propers, let’s look at the the Entrance chant (“Introit”) for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, which is quite lovely and ancient (as most Mass Propers are!). You can read the texts in Latin and English by clicking here. Abbot Joseph Pothier had many choices to make when he was creating his editions, which later were adopted by the Church as the official editions. Many ancient Gregorian MSS have “variants.” For instance, if you click on these boxes, you will see slight differences between the Editio Vaticana version and a MS from around 1400 AD:

Let’s see what some of the differences sound like:


Our modern editions begin like this:



However, the version from 1400 sounds remarkably different:



However, a little later, the MS from 1400 starts to sound similar to what we are used to.



Oh, yeah! By this point in the chant, we are definitely “back on track.”

Down through the centuries, the Church has carefully assigned beautiful prayers to each Mass. These carefully chosen prayers are called “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 and common that we’ve reached a point where Catholics don’t even know what the Mass Propers are anymore. It is difficult to understand why Catholic musicians would toss out these wonderful, ancient prayers . . . especially when they 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.


What Are The Mass Propers? is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Catholic Liturgy. Although this series will focus on the Graduale Propers, other subjects will also be included. 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). To learn more about how Watershed is helping spread the love of Propers, please visit the Vatican II Hymnal website. “AF” refers to Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (1912).

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.