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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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"If the homily goes on too long, it will affect two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and its rhythm. The words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the center of attention."
— Pope Francis (11/24/2013)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 6
published 23 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

Generally speaking, there are five Mass Propers for each Mass: Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion. The Alleluia for Christmas is as follows:

Alleluia, alleluia. A holy day has dawned upon us; come all ye nations and adore the Lord. For today a great light has descended upon the earth. Alleluia.

The following is a comparison between the modern edition of this chant and an ancient MS. The picture from the MS looks “distorted” because the MS was an absolutely massive book, large enough for many people to sing from. As we mentioned, books were not easy to come by in those days.

As always, we notice various interesting things, like the abbreviations and variants in the melody. But we also notice how beautiful the MS is. It was because the MSS were so beautiful that many of them were preserved down through the centuries. For a long time, people did not know how to read Gregorian chant and had no interest in it, yet they saved the MSS because of their beautiful drawings. Sometimes, MSS were found stuffed inside organ benches. Others were found INSIDE the covers of other books (just as many of my old books have German newspapers stuffed inside the hard covers). We are grateful for these treasures, which have survived by accident. At a library in Kansas, I found the following, which appears to be an ancient MS used as a cover for another book. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether it is authentic:

One of the huge mistakes musicologists and historians make is not realizing how LITTLE has been preserved through the centuries. They need to realize that we currently possess mere fragments, many of them preserved by accident. Yet, historians and musicologists so often forget this fact. So often, they make the terrible mistake of looking at what has survived and making assumptions based only on these things. A more sensible approach is to realize and admit that we have very little, and what has been preserved does not necessarily represent the entirety of (for example) the Gregorian repertoire.


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.

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.