Thursday, March 22, 2007

Liturgy help needed!


My music director liked my bright idea of chanting some readings at the Easter Vigil. Now he quite reasonably asks, er, how does one set the text to music? Is there a resource somewhere, for that?

Meanwhile, me--with the bright idea--has no clue where one turns for that sort of thing.

Suggestions? Referrals?



Pontificator said...

Father, are you celebrating a sung/chanted liturgy? If not, I would suggest that the chanting of the liturgy by the celebrant is the most important step. The chanting of the Exsultet is of course mandatory at the Great Vigil. I'm sure that settings of the Exsultet are readily available. I'm sure that Fr Scott Newman can assist you here.

When you say "readings" are you thinking of the lessons or of the psalms/canticles sung between the lessons?

JohnK said...

Father, if you're looking to jump into the deep end of the pool (i.e., chant and Latin in one swoop - and you know how to read Chant notation) I would recommend the Gregorian Missal (from Amazon et al.). It has all the psalms/canticles for the Vigil.

If you just want to introduce musical readings in English, the Psalms and Ritual Music Cantor/Choir book (from World Library Publications) has some very easily learned chants for those same psalms.

Both resources should be deliverable overnight giving your musicians a few days to learn!

And if you're daring and want to try the Latin communion antiphons, they are all available for download from

Roman Sacristan said...

Your best resouce is the 2002 Missale Romanum.

I'm sending you an email that might help.

Father Martin Fox said...

Father Pontificator:

I am sorry if I wasn't clear; my interest is specifically in having cantors chant the readings from Scripture -- what some would call the "lessons" -- i.e., Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, etc. And I mean, in English. far as my prayers go, I will be providing a chant-a-thon! I know one setting for the Exultet, and I'm hanging on to that like grim death -- it was hard enough to learn it the first time!

So, Roman Sacristan -- I'm not sure how the Missale Romanum would help me with chanting the lessons, in English...but it may be the unclarity of my original post misled you about my meaning.

Pespodatus said...

Father Martin, I'm not 100% about this, but this will push the discussion a little farther:

There are several musical formulas for chanting readings in the Graduale in the section called "Toni Communes." There are two tones for readings, one for the First Reading (also called the "prophetic" tone because it applies to the OT readings), and one for the Second (which is also used when there is only one reading before the Gospel). There are three choices of musical formulas for the Gospel. I think you can just pick one you think most suits the tone of the Gospel for the day.

At any rate, these tones are set to text to show how they can be used. Let's look at the tone for Lectio I. You have an initial sentence that you chant on the same pitch until the next-to-last syllable, which is accented, and after that syllable, you drop the pitch to sound the last syllable, as indicated.

Then you pick up the initial tone again for the second sentence, but this time, in the middle of the second sentence, you drop the pitch a little to indicate a mid-point, and then pick up the original pitch again until the sentence ends. Then you end it just like the first sentence.

For the third sentence, you do the same thing as the second, but the ending is different -- check out the simple, beautiful ending indicated there.

After that, I think you just alternate between these two musical formulas for chanting sentences until you get to the last sentence, which is chanted just like the first.

All the other reading tones are just like this, in approach. Their middles and endings are different, which is what distinguishes one tone from another. You'll notice that the Lectio II tone, for example, ends with less a sense of "finality" than the tone for Lectio I -- I think this is to set us up for the more elaborate/solemn tone of the Gospel, but that's just how I hear it.

Try it out. Several commercial chant recordings (e.g. Nova Schola Gregoriana) have recorded readings, so you can hear just how meditative and beautiful these things are. Best wishes!

Roman Sacristan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roman Sacristan said...

oops, deleted last post because of typos.

To clarify pespodatus a bit:

The part which reads "Lectio ..." is for the first line (A reading from the book of ...)

The next part "Hic tonus sic flectitur, et sic finitur" is how you would sing the rest of the reading (unless it is a question or the final line of the reading).

The line "Periodus interrogativa tribus semper syllabis sic finitur" is how you would sing a question (slightly different ending than a normal sentence).

Then the line "Periodus finalis lectionem sic concludit" is for the final line of the reading.

Then of course is the "Verbum Domini" with appropriate response."

For the first reading there is also a more solemn tone.

These can be adapted to English rather easily since the ending notes are based on the last inflected syllable.

It's hard to describe in text, so hearing examples helps.

Pontificator said...

Check out this article. Scroll down to recitative chanting of the lessons.

Pontificator said...

Hmmm, try this:

Musica Sacra

Sharon said...

Try the Adoremus website.

Pespodatus said...

Thanks, RS!

John L. Wright said...

Thank you, everyone, for your input.

Your direction to the article on was very helpful. It prompted me to dust off one of my old music books from college. In the "Norton Anthology of Western Music, Vol. I," there are Epistles fully notated. I am confident that with these resources - and some elbow grease - we'll be well-prepared for the Easter Vigil.

Pontificator said...

Father, one suggestion for your Pascal Vigil:

Read the Old Testament lessons; chant the Epistle and Gospel.

The chanting of the Epistle and Gospel, according to their respective tones, will add to the solemnity of the occasion, without over-burdening the congregation. Many folks find chanted lessons difficult to understand.

Dennis said...

May I humbly suggest Saint Meinrad? Fr. Columba Kelley, recognized by many as the world's expert on setting English texts to Gregorian chant tones and modes, is a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and has set many gospel and other texts to chant in a way that respects the natural rhythm of the English lanugage.

Check out his bio here. There's a link there to some of the music he's worked on, including settings for the gospel at Easter Vigil.

moconnor said...

Mr. Wilson, if you knew anything at all about Fr. Fox or followed his blog, you would not have made such an uninformed and very illiterate comment. Being Catholic means first being Christian, then having respect for tradition and what the leadership of the Church says. To the latter, it says that the most solemn means of rendering the readings is to sing them. Now I realize that many people prefer the style of Mass that has ossified during the past 30 years into a sort of "Rotary Club" meeting with music as a prescribed annoyance, but that's not being Catholic.

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

Check out

They have several readings in chant. THough I think most are Gospels, some may be first and second readings

Also By Flowing Waters, has tones for the readings:
Tone for First Reading: BFW 676
Tone for the Second Reading (or First reading, if only one reading before the Gospel): BFW 677

Three different tones for the Pre-Gospel dialogue (The Lord be with you R. And also with you. V. A Reading from the Gospel ..... R. Blessed be God forever): BFW 678-680.

They give examples of adapting English texts to them.

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

I mean 3 tones for the Gospel which include the Pre-Gospel Dialogue. BFW 678-680

Pontificator said...

Fr Fox, may I recommend that any and all insulting posts be immediately directed. There is no need for you to defend yourself against such silly attacks.

Father Martin Fox said...

Fr Pontificator:

Good advice, thanks.

Stephen M. Collins said...

At my former parish in Houston, Our Lady of Walsingham (Anglican Use) we chanted the Lessons quite often. We use the RSV-RC Lectionary. I still supply the Lessons put to the Graduale tones today. They have most of the important Feast days of the year. I would be happy to do the same for others, using the current translation.

Stephen M. Collins said...

I've just started my own blog. I'm still learning how to do all of this. I am serious about providing chanted Lessons for people. My email address is

Tom Weber said...

Father, The Sacramentary has an appendix that gives the tones for the readings. Also, Oregon Catholic Press of all things, has published a small booklet on how to chant the readings. It was edited by the Director of the Music Program at Gonzaga University.

Patrick said...

Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB from Wake Forest university, currently provides English chant free of charge for non-profit use. He has a graduate degree in music, and has some good stuff. Reach him by email at:

Anonymous said...


I know I`m late and that 200 other people have probably already posted you this suggestion but check out BY FLOWING WATERS, which has tones for the readings for the Mass. ALSO, while I realise you are pretty committed to the Exulted and Praeconium tone you already have for THIS year, see if you can get a copy of the first edition of the english translations for holy week done PRIOR to the revision of the Liturgy for 1969/70. It was the best one, as the translation was FAR superior to the one we now have, PLUS they kept the bees!!!!

Fr. Martin Farrell,op

Anonymous said...

Pardon me--it`s exulteT, not exulted. It was a typo.

Fr. Martin Farrell,op