Coming Soon: New Missal Chants Online

Last week the National Association of Pastoral Musicians did the studio work for a very exciting project: recording of the English chants of the upcoming English missal. All the chants for texts approved by the Holy See were recorded. I am project manager, and Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, directed the singers. We expect that these chants will be online within about a month. We will be working with ICEL to get permission to post the music as well, which is already available at the ICEL website. The user will have audio file and musical score just a click away, next to each other on the screen.

Decisions had to be made at every turn. Which bishop’s name to use in the eucharistic prayer? We went with a generic John. What name for the deceased in the Mass for the Dead of EP II and III? We thought of a generic “Mary,” but that might be confused with the honoring of the BVM in the same prayer. We went with “Ann.” Several times EP I has an optional “Through Christ our Lord” in brackets. Include it or not? Many liturgists favor omitting these late additions. Others liturgists probably favor including it because its musical formula will elicit a sung “Amen” acclamation from the people. But of course that’s not permitted. We omitted it.

We used the written reciting tone pitch of A for the entire Order of Mass in the normative solemn tone, with the principal pitches being A and G. For the alternative simple tone, written at C B A C, we again used A for the reciting tone. The Sanctus in both Latin and English we recorded at the written starting pitch of B, and also down a whole step. The ICEL Lord’s Prayer and the familiar American Lord’s Prayer (which the US bishops will probably use as the normative setting) we recorded  both with the written principal tone of B and down a whole step.

Our main concern was for the proper style. We want this to be musically well-done – on pitch and rhythmically together when the group sings. At the same time, we didn’t want this to sound overly “professional,” giving the unfortunate impression that these chants are only for conservatory-trained soloists. We wanted it to sound straightforward and unfussy. Tom Stehle from St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC did a masterful job modeling the singing celebrant. We asked everyone to sing an American R rather than a flipped or rolled R, but to keep the R light and quick so it wouldn’t distort the vocal sound. The group let Fr. Anthony get away with bringing some non-equalistic rhythmic vitality into the Latin Agnus Dei, much to his surprise. We hope that the result will be both inspiring and practical for singers. We lengthened the first note of “Sanctus” in both Latin and English for the sake of the text, since this is not a difficult adjustment to make for those accustomed to an earlier practice.

Of course the singers, all practicing Catholics, occasionally sang things like “And also with you” out of force of habit. That was good for a laugh.

The ICEL Secretariat has been very supportive of this project.  Three of the ICEL staff, Executive Director Fr. Andrew Wadsworth, Peter Finn, and Jason McFarland, attended the session and provided lunch and dinner for the singers and technicians.   The project is being made possible by a grant from Our Sunday Visitor and additional support from GIA, Liturgical Press, OCP, and WLP.

The session was held at St. John Neumann Parish in Reston, Virginia.  Singers included Verena Anders, CJ Capen, Barbara Ilacqua, Trudy Maher, David Mathers, and Tom Stehle.  Five of the six are themselves full-time directors of music ministries.  Recording technicians were Tom Buckley and Peter Maher.   Unlike many other recording sessions, the spirit remained positive throughout.

We’re very much hoping that these recordings will be used widely by priests and deacons in learning to sing the dialogues and other parts of the Mass.  They will also help music directors to prepare choirs, cantors, lectors, and other ministers to sing the new texts.  Look for them a – we hope by Easter!

–Dr. J. Michael McMahon, NPM President


  1. Very good to see! I agree with the “professional group” comments. I learn many of the chants I know from the recordings at …. far from perfect and a fine example that you don’t need 6 Julliard Graduates to sing chant.

    Overcoming the “trained sponaneity” of the assembly on responses like “and also with you” may be the biggest hurdle initially….give it a year or two and they’ll be fine.

  2. Our pastor isn’t much of the singing type. Will be nice to access these chants on the web, though.

  3. As WLP’s Worship Resources Editor, I have to say how pleased we were to help underwrite this project. We’ve been working hard on our plans for changes to our worship resources in light of the new translation. Our missals and hymnals will include the English chant settings of the people’s parts when the implementation happens.

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