Much to the admiration of music historians, the Roman Catholic Church possesses an ancient treasury of plainchant called Gregorian chant. It is modally fascinating, spiritual and contemplative. It is unsurpassed in holiness. The Church authorities have constantly taught that it should be sung at Mass and Divine Office. The Second Vatican Council in 1963 (in the Sixth Chapter, entitled Musica Sacra, or Sacred Music) of the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy, or Sacrosanctum Concilium, taught that it should have the principal place in the Roman Rite liturgy.
Notwithstanding these truths, the Chant has been largely set aside, especially since the convulsive times of the 1960's. The Catholic clergy and people have been distracted by Protestant hymns, by a fully vernacularized Novus Ordo Liturgy, guitars, pianos, and "sacro" -pop songs, by countless experiments in new musical compositions (usually hymns), and by new attitudes toward worship in a modern, liberal culture.
Moreover, the Gregorian chant repertory, besides being in Latin -- an ever stranger language -- is musically quite demanding. Ordinary small parishes, even with good will, would find it difficult or even impossible to master all proper chants each Sunday.
In view of this situation, the Vatican music authorities published in 1967 and 1975 a book of chant called the Graduale Simplex. Graduale means, literally, "on the step" (gradus). By extension, it came to mean the responsive chant following the Epistle reading and sung at times "on the steps" (of the altar). By further extension, Gradual now refers to the Book containing all the Proper (prescribed) chants for Mass. These chants being difficult, as noted above, a book consisting of shorter, simpler chants was prepared especially for use in the smaller churches. This is the Graduale Simplex : In Usum Minorum Ecclesiarum.. But the obstacle and handicap of the Latin language, though diminished, remain strong enough to discourage most choirs from its use. And so, enter The Cantus Project.
The Cantus Project, then, is a translation of the Graduale Simplex into English. It is so carefully done that the number of syllables, and the placing of accents, are exactly as in the Latin original. To sing this chant is to enjoy an authentic Gregorian chant experience. It could be sung simultaneously with a Latin choir, and also with an English one, without clash or conflict.
The Cantus Project book would be published with both the Latin and the English languages so that a choir, graduating, as it were, to Latin could do so with utter convenience. The chant antiphons (Entrance, Offertory, and Communion) are short and relatively easy to sing, and can be quickly learned. Also, their lengths can be easily prolonged by means of repetition of the additional psalm verses provided. Their singing brings about peace, and fosters contemplation.
The use of The Cantus Project's Graduale Simplex could signal the beginning of a true revolution in holiness within our liturgies. It is not normal for the Catholic Church to remain for long content with Protestant hymns and/or "sacro"- pop songs and ditties. It is, instead, our heritage and our duty to call upon the simple, ancient, proper music of the Roman Rite Church. These chants can, of course, always be supplemented by other forms of suitable and worthy religious music, such as Sacred polyphony and truly Catholic hymnody in our churches. The Cantus Project of the Graduale Simplex should be welcomed by all and encouraged to enter its Catholic home.
The Cantus Project team consists of five professionally trained musicians. Three are pastoral priest-musicians; one is a church organist and seminary professor of music; and one is a wife and homeschooling mother of long musical dedication. For further information about the work of The Cantus Project, and to see forthcoming samples of the Latin/English chant rendered through The Cantus Project, please see elsewhere on this site.
- - Submitted by a priest-member of The Cantus Project