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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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“Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another… It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. […] Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither.”
— Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman (May of 1879)
What Are The Mass Propers? Installment no. 8
published 28 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

In the last installment, we spoke about the wonderful, pure, holy, peaceful, inspiring, joyful Gregorian antiphons. However, there is another type of sacred music called “polyphony.” In this music, each voice has a melody of its own, and the voices come together to form an incredibly beautiful composition.

However, sometimes polyphony can be a mystery, because only the individual singers get to appreciate some of the beautiful voice leading by the composer. As a polyphonic singer and conductor, I’ve always wondered why this is . . . that the “congregation” would not be able to enjoy the beautiful lines in the exact same way as the singer. Is that not a “waste” of beauty?

I think the answer is that God’s creation shows forth beauty, whether someone is watching or not. There are beauties of nature that no man will ever see. There are beautiful forests that no human will ever appreciate or enjoy. Cæli enarrant gloriam Dei, et opera manuum ejus annuntiat firmamentum. “The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declares the work of his hands.” (Ps 19:1) For instance, think of the astonishing beauty of the deep sea, which (for centuries) has existed and shown the majesty of Almighty God. Think of the colorful crabs, coral reef, fish, etc. which no human eye will ever see.

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.