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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 liturgical reform bears absolutely no relation to what is called "desacralization" and in no way intends to lend support to the phenomenon of "secularizing the world." Accordingly the rites must retain their dignity, spirit of reverence, and sacred character.
— Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (5 September 1970)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 7
published 25 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

The Antiphonale is filled with an unthinkable amount of beautiful melodies: Gregorian hymns, antiphons, psalmody, and many other items. One could study it one’s whole life and only just begin. The Chabanel Psalms are more or less based on Gregorian Antiphons, and with each passing year, the compositions conform themselves more and more to the Antiphonale melodies. On the upper right is an example of a Chabanel Psalm. However, I have to admit that I doubt the Chabanel Psalms will ever be able to “match” the beauty of the Gregorian Antiphonale.


What the Gregorian composers do is take a beautiful verse (usually from the Bible) and set it in the most holy, perfect, awesome way imaginable. For instance, they take a beautiful passage like this:

(Matthew 28:1) Véspere autem sábbati, quæ lucéscit in prima sábbati, venit María Magdaléne, et áltera María, vidére sepúlchrum. And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.

And they set it as follows. (The first is a 14th century Antiphonale, the second is our current edition.)

The Antiphonale is also filled with beautiful settings of the ALLELUIA. Many of them are very simple. Here is one that has (unfortunately) been used too much over the last thirty years, and this has been a mistake. After all, if you eat ice cream every single day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, that is an abuse of ice cream. This beautiful Alleluia used to be saved for a special time, but now is “sung to death.”


Finally, here is a setting of the Ave Maria found in a 14th century Antiphonale. It is very similar to the version Abbot Pothier placed in the current edition:


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. 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?”