Christmas Music from the Abbey

I thought I would share with Pray Tell readers some music we did at our Christmas Mass in the Night this year. Liturgy and music nerds can start making plans for next year – it is never too early.

Kyrie: Mass VIII with cantor tropes.

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Gloria: Also Mass VIII, with organum. We used the first line as a congregational refrain, which I have no objection to musically or liturgically but I’m sure there are other opinions about that.

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Responsorial Psalm: The congregational refrain is Richard Proulx’s lovely “Today is born our Savior” from Worship 3 no. 779, the melody of which is based on the chant introit “Puer Natus” (and didn’t make it into Worship 4, I see). I used a nice Anglican chant from 1982 for the verses, and put it up a half step so the verses would go too low for the boy chorister.

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Gospel Acclamation: We do a procession around the altar with the Book of the Gospels, which takes a bit of time, so I set two verses for choir. I feel that this moment should be a high point of the Liturgy of the Word, and unison verses just wouldn’t do it. We put Proulx’s “Alleluia” up in F, which isn’t too high for congregation and puts the choir in a brighter register.

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And then we had three singers to chant the Gospel Reading itself in three-part organum, based on a medieval manuscript.

Profession of Faith: I wanted a choral Et incarnatus est, which put me on the search to find a way the congregation could chant the rest of the Creed in English. I pulled from a Benziger hymnal issued immediately after Vatican II the idea of singing it to a simple Mode VIII psalm tone.

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Communion: The congregational refrain is Richard Proulx’s “All the Ends of the Earth,” Worship 4 no. 76, Antiphon II, which recalls Greensleeves. I put the verses to a fresh, almost jazzy Anglican chant which I got from St. Martin in the Fields in London.

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Latin Chant

For the Latin chant introit at this Mass, we alternate various years between Dominus Dixit, which is proper to this Mass, and Puer natus, which is from the Mass in the Day. We do two Christmas Masses in the monastery, the one in the night with Latin chant and the Mass of the Day on Christmas morning which, in a tradition going back long before Vatican II and revived in recent years, is with the local parish and has carols. Here is a perfect example of why the reformed Graduale Romanum allows one to borrow chants from within a season. It would be a shame to sing only Dominus dixit and never hear Puer (they never used it at St. John’s Abbey before Vatican II, be it noted), and since we only do Latin chant at one Mass, it makes sense to draw on both chants. And the melody of Puer returns for the Responsorial Psalm, which is a nice musical connection.

At Communion there is time for both a Latin proper and a congregational refrain. We alternate between In splendoribus and Viderunt omnes. But this year I did something different and used Adam Bartlett’s version of In splendoribus in English from Simple English Propers – which is well-composed like all of Adam’s chant. On the repeat of the antiphon we did a different sort of organum – not a drone, but a second voice singing the text right in rhythm with the melody but staying on the starting pitch F throughout, until they did a G and C at the very end for a perfect fifth.

Merry Christmas Octave, everyone!



  1. Beautifully done! I especially love the Alleluia, and the Tone VIII/Josquin creed. But is the Alleluia really under copyright? I recall copying it – repeatedly – back in the ’70s, as it was included in a collection of ICEL materials published by GIA which purchasers were free to duplicate.

  2. Did anyone use the Nativity announcement before Mass?

    If so, was it proclaimed (spoken) or chanted? From the ambo or some other location?

    1. @Jeff Rexhausen:
      Chanted from the ambo—which necessitated me scurrying down the side aisle to the back of the church for the entrance procession.

      Is there anywhere that it is used but not chanted? I’ll admit that to me the chant seems so integral to the proclamation of the text that I can’t imagine simply reading it.

  3. From the Narthex with What Child is This played in the background…usually Adeste Fidelis but changed to What Child is This.

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