Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How To Work Your Latin Missal and Gradual

Every school of thought and specialization has its own vocabulary. The study of electronics makes use of resistors and capacitors, music discusses fugues and ostinato, and philosophy talks of ontology and epistemology. Even the discussion of words themselves, in linguistics or lexicology, has an esoteric vocabulary of words with which the specialists discuss the field. Religions are no exception to the use of exclusive terminology, and Catholicism has one of the oldest and largest glossaries. Now it's easy to blame Catholic education for the gap in understanding, but I'll only fault it so far. Not because it's arduous work to know about which you speak, but because it's all too easy for faith to get overwhelmed by descriptive terms and semantics. It does no good to know the meaning of each word of Hamlet if you can't appreciate the play.

That said, knowing and discussing meanings is quite a help toward the end of knowing, or trying to know, what something is. Moreover, at some point in every Catholic's life he'll need to reference some prayer or hymn or chant, and he needs to know where to look. It's always chastening to realize how much we have substituted familiarity for comprehension when first we realize that we don't even know where to look for something.

My intent here is to clarify some essentials and orient the reader to the central parts of the mass, missal, and gradual. Excellent descriptions of the parts are available in the texts listed in the bibliography.

The Missal

Let us start with the Missal, named for the mass itself. From the Latin verb dimitto, missa originally referred to the dismissal of the service, but gradually to remain until the dismissal became synonymous with staying for the whole Missa, or mass. The missal in the middle ages replaced the earlier Sacramentary and Pontifical or Pontificale.

The missal contains all the texts for the mass and while they vary in organization and content from publisher to publisher, missals are printed approval from the church. The printing of Nihil Obstat ("nothing hinders") and Imprimatur ("Let it be printed") constitute an, "official declaration that a book or a pamphlet is from doctrinal or moral error." [Baronius]

Missals will often contain sections on doctrine, a calendar of the liturgical year, a list of feasts, general prayers, and so forth, but there are a few consistent, important sections which constitute the texts needed for the mass.

The first section is that of the Ordinary, that is, the parts which do not vary from week-to-week. Several of these sections of the order of mass (Latin, ordo, order, rank) are referred to by the first words of their Latin texts, respectively the 1. Kyrie, 2. Gloria, 3. Credo, 4. Sanctus, and 5. Agnus Dei. (The word ordinary can also, somewhat confusingly, refer to the bishop of a diocese.) The dismissal, or Ite Missa Est is sometimes listed in the Ordinary. These five parts are commonly sung by a solo cantor (Latin cantare, to sing) or schola (Latin: literally school, but choir here), although the priest will often begin the Gloria and Credo in plainchant.

In addition to these parts of the ordinary there is the Canon, (from Greek κᾰνών, a straight rod) which scarcely changes throughout the year. (The Latin noun canon can also refer to 1. a catalogue of writings or rule or 2. a body of priests.) The canon is said after the Sanctus.

There are numerous other small prayers in the Ordinary, including the Pater Noster and Asperges Me, but realize simply that in the missal they'll all be grouped together, sequentially and usually in the center of the missal. There will be prompts throughout the Ordinary, however, referring you to the parts of the mass which vary from week-to-week. These varying parts are called Propers.

From Latin's propria, these parts of the mass are proper to particular occasions, such as The First Week of Advent, the Nativity, or Feast Days for Saints. The Propers of the mass include, in order, the 1. Introit, 2. Collect, 3. Epistle or Lesson 4. Gradual or Tract, [and Sequence] 5. Gospel, 6. Offertory, 7. Secret, 8. Communion, and 9. Postcommunion. These are each short prayers, psalms, or passages from scripture. Many missals in the section for the week's Propers will also print the Vespers. Latin's vesper, evening, gives its name to these daily evening prayers which in part comprise the Divine Office, (Officium Divinum,) renamed at Vatican II to the Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum.) The Divine Office includes eight sections of prayers for use throughout the day, bound in a book known as a Breviary, from Latin's breviarium, or abridgment.

To follow the mass, then, you will need to bounce back and forth between the Ordinary and Proper sections of the missal. Note that while it too varies, the Preface (Latin praefatio) which precedes the Sanctus is considered part of the Canon. The Preface, a solemn proclamation said or sung by the priest in imitation of the Lord, introduces the Canon. The various prefaces are usually located right before the Ordinary in the missal. Finally, the Sermon may be considered of the Ordinary or Propers, depending on the priest.

In order, the main sections of the mass are as follows, but realize that there are other prayers in the Ordinary which are not listed here but are simply, "the mass."

Epistle or Lesson
Gradual or Tract, and occasionally Sequence
Pater Noster
Agnus Dei
Ite Missa Est
Last Gospel

Throughout the Ordinary, the instructions for what the priest does are written in red, called rubrics from Latin's rubra, red. In contrast, what he says is written in black, hence Fr. Z's famous invocation to "Say the Black. Do the Red."

A Note on Postures

Unlike the Novus Ordo, the Extraordinary Form, aka Traditional Latin Mass, aka Mass celebrated according to the Missal of 1962, does not prescribe postures for the laity. Many missals come with guides for posture and many are available online, but the lack of prescription suggests that a little common sense, deference to tradition, and potentially homework is necessary. The amicably named Richard Friend has written this useful summary of the issue, but one does not want to be the only man marching in step at the parade. I would hazard two remarks.

First, there is at every mass someone who stands, sits, or kneels at the absolute soonest moment possible, as if a wire is tripped after the final word of each section. This distracts and disrupts the fluidity of the mass. Yes, someone will invariably stand first, but there's a mechanistic mentality inherent in some movements which aggressively hastens the ceremony.

Second, there is usually someone at mass who sits, kneels, or stands through a section in strict adherence to his missal or own beliefs and complete disregard for the posture of the priest and/or congregation. That man may be correct, but he's just made himself the star of the show.

Fr. Moorman advises us that postures, "Do not bind so strictly as to make it a sin to depart from them. The same customs do not prevail in all places; therefore, one should always conform to the local custom." [Moorman, 78]

A Note on Tassels

Many missals come with bookmark tassels by which you can easily move from section to section in the missal. My preference is that the missal not have them sewn in, since in turning the pages by the tassels, which we inevitably do, the tassels eventually get worn down to the point where they no longer protrude from the bottom of the book, rendering them useless. The tassel marks are useful at:
  • The Beginning of the Ordinary
  • The end of the Ordinary
  • The Propers
  • The Prefaces
  • The Kyriale (see below)
  • Other prayers you favor
The Music

If you want to sing or follow the music of the mass, you'll need to do a little more work. Please note that here we are only discussing chant, aka plainchant aka Gregorian chant, settings of the mass. This excludes choral harmonizations, polyphonic settings, and orchestrated versions.

Most missals print in the back a Kyriale, or a collection of chant settings for the Ordinary. Of the eighteen settings some selection is printed. The full selection of chant for the Ordinary and Propers are contained in the Roman Gradual, Gradual, or Graduale. (This is not to be confused with the Proper section called the Gradual, the anthem of psalms between the Epistle and Gospel.) It was called the Antiphonal, Antiphonal Romanum, or Antiphonary, since it includes the sung responses, aka antiphons, of the mass. Today those terms refer to collections of the sung portions of the Divine Office, such as the Antiphonale Romanum, which contains the chant for Vespers. (The Liber Hymnarius contains the music for the other Offices.)

The Gradual, then, includes chants of the Introit, Gradual (in Lent a Tract), Sequence, Offertory, Collect, and Communion. Many Graduals were and are printed with no English instructions or translations of any kind, with even their prefaces and tables of contents in Latin. One should note that some Propers repeat throughout the year, and they are not reprinted but referenced with their page number on the other days to which they are proper.

A few definitions, excluding words with obvious derivatives and cognates to English, may also help one navigate the Proper of Seasons.
  • Adventus - Advent / of Advent
  • Aurora - Daybreak
  • Die - Day
  • Dominica - Sunday, The Lord's Day
  • Feria - Weekday (i.e. not Sunday or a Festival)
  • Hebdomada - 7 days/Week
  • Infra - later than
  • Matutinam - Early [Morning]
  • Nox / Nocte - night / at night
  • Quadragesimae - 40 days/Lent
  • Tempus / Temporis - time / of time
  • Trigesima - 30th
  • Ultimis - last
  • Vigesima - 20th
  • Vigilia - vigil, eve of a feast
With a little creativity, deduction, and reference, one can muddle through even without the soundest grasp of Latin. 

Wikipedia handily lists the structure of the Gradual, but I would briefly outline the Proper of Seasons with page numbers from Solesmes' 1974 edition:
  1. Tempus Adventus (p. 15) - Advent
  2. Tempus Nativitatis (p. 38) - Nativity
  3. Tempus Quadragesimae (p. 62) - Lent
  4. Hebdomada Sancta (p. 137) - Holy Week
  5. Tempus Paschale (p. 185) - Time of Easter
  6. Infra Octavam Paschae (p. 200) - After the Octave of Easter
  7. Tempus Paschale (p. 216) - Sundays after Easter
  8. Dominica Pentecostes (p. 248) - Pentecost
  9. Tempus Per Annus (p. 257) - Time Through the Year, i.e. After Pentecost
  10. Sollemnitates Domini - (p. 371) Solemnities of the Lord
I would also note that the section of Communia, or Commons, contains Propers for people and groups without their own Propers, i.e. "For Educators" or "For Doctors of the Church."

As an aside, the Graduale Romanum is a work of tremendous reference and scholarship. Each chant is labeled with the abbreviations of the manuscripts from which they came. For example, the Gradual chant Tu es Deus, for Hebdomada VI after Pentecost is present in all six manuscripts, but the Alleluia in XI occurs only in the Gradual of Compiègne, from the second half of the 11th century.

There, I hope, you have a little primer for where to find what for praying the Extraordinary Form of the mass. You may also find useful a liturgical calendar. Fr. Moorman's book, listed below, is probably the most succinct explication of the mass. 


Baronius Press. The Daily Missal and Liturgical Missal. 2009.

**Fortescue, Adrian and O'Connell, J. B. Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described. Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd. 1958. (First: 1917)

**Fortescue, Adrian. The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. Preserving Christian Publications. 2007. (First: 1912)

*Moorman, Msgr. George J. The Latin Mass Explained. TAN Books and Publishers. 2007. (First: c. 1920)

Pfatteicher, Philip H. A Dictionary of Liturgical Terms. Trinity Press International. 1991.

Solesmes. Graduale Triplex. 1974.

* Printed with Imprimatur
** Printed with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

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