About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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That the Mass is the central feature of the Catholic religion hardly needs to be said. During the Reformation (and always) the Mass has been the test. The word of the Reformers—“It is the Mass that matters”—was true. The long persecution of Catholics in England took the practical form of laws chiefly against saying Mass; for centuries the occupant of the English throne was obliged to manifest his Protestantism, not by a general denial of the whole system of Catholic dogma, but by a formal repudiation of the doctrine of Transubstantiation and of the Mass.
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)
The Mystery of Missal vs. Gradual has been solved!
published 25 May 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski

467 graduale OUR PRIEST HAS FINALLY agreed to let you sing the Mass Propers! Your choir practices for weeks. Finally, the big day arrives, and you feel Mass went well.

However, the Parish Liturgist summons you to his office afterward, demanding to know why you didn’t sing the “correct” Communion chant. Dumbfounded, you consult the relevant sources:

GRADUAL: 2nd Sunday of Lent
Tell no one about the vision you have seen
until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
MISSAL: 2nd Sunday of Lent
This is my beloved Son, with whom
I am well pleased; listen to him.

Your mind races, and you feel weak at the knees. You vaguely recall learning the difference between “spoken” and “sung” antiphons, but referring him to Google seems risky. The following dialogue ensues:

“Everything after 2011,” he continues, “must correspond exactly to the texts printed in the Altar Missal. That’s what they said at a diocesan workshop. Do you understand?”

Regaining your senses, you reply, “OK, then we’ll take the readings from the Altar Missal, too.”

PL: “No, the readings aren’t found in the Missal. Those come from the Lectionary.”

You respond, “The same thing is true of the Sung Propers, which come from the Roman Gradual. That’s why, for example, the Offertory antiphons aren’t printed in the Altar Missal.”

Whoever created the image on the upper right seems to understand that confusing subjects are best treated with a healthy dose of humor.

WHEN MISSAL ANTIPHONS DIFFER from the Roman Gradual, it’s not forbidden to sing the Missal text. Liturgical law has allowed this since 1970, and no one disputes this. 1 Both texts come from the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God. Surely, then, one text is not to be preferred, right? In fact, there are reasons to prefer the Graduale. For example:

(1) Before setting a text, qualified musicians examine the piece’s history. How have composers treated this text in past centuries? The Sung Propers often go back to the 7th century, whereas the Spoken Propers came into existence in 1969.

(2) Bishop Donald Trautman has pointed out that the Spoken Propers “were never intended to be sung,” and Archbishop Bugnini said the same thing.

(3) Tradition is very important to Catholics, so preferring prayers in use for 1500 years is natural.

(4) The Gradual Propers are given in the Jogues Missal, and we have an obligation to make it as simple as possible for our people to participate in the liturgy.

Why would our bishops create such a confusing situation? The complete documentation fails to provide a plausible motivation.

      What’s the answer to this mystery??

The Spoken Propers were most likely created to add variety to daily Masses. 2 Before the Second Vatican Council, some daily propers — Os Justi, Justus ut palma, Dilexisti, and so forth — were used with great frequency, and this lack of variety bothered some priests (while others found such repetition beautiful and edifying).

SPOILER ALERT!   Book 3 of the Jogues Series is a “Daily Mass Companion” containing every Spoken Proper that could ever be used — more info will be revealed soon!

A great deal of the confusion over “sung” vs. “spoken” propers stems from the fact that we call the big red priest’s book a Missal. (It ought to be called a Sacramentary.) In any event, the following chart helps:

SOME COMPOSERS CHOOSE the Sung Propers, while others set the Spoken Propers. Still others compose settings for both. The following examples use the Gradual texts exclusively:

Lalemant Propers (CCW, 2013)

Graduale Parvum (Birmingham Oratory, 2012) …courtesy CMAA

Arbogast Propers (St. Joseph’s College)

American Gradual (Bruce E. Ford, 2008)

Simple English Propers (CMAA, 2011)

Laudate Dominum Communion Antiphons (Motyka, 2012)

Needless to say, parishes which sometimes sing the official Latin melodies will want to use only the Sung Propers, since no official Latin melodies exist for the Spoken Propers. As the President of the CMAA has reminded us:

The texts in the Graduale Romanum are not the same as those of the Missale Romanum, and it is those of the missal which are printed in the disposable missals used in the parishes. I have often been asked, “Where can I find the Gregorian chants for the introits and communions in the missal?” The answer is, you cannot find them, because they were provided for use in spoken Masses only.

TO SUM IT ALL UP: The Roman Gradual is the Church’s official Song Book, and was revised following the Second Vatican Council. However, for Masses without singing, special “spoken propers” were added to the priest’s Altar Missal. Sometimes they match the Gradual, and sometimes they don’t.

FOR THE RECORD: Our current Missal contains 2,509  “spoken” antiphons. Some clown will doubtless joke: “That’s not enough variety for me. I require 2,678.”


1   To my knowledge, no author has ever denied that Missal antiphons can be sung.

2   Incidentally, Spoken Propers for daily Masses seldom correspond to the Sung Propers for daily Masses.