A New Vesperale for Sant’ Anselmo

On Monday I submitted to the Italian printer the 1,200-page manuscript of the Vesperale which will be used for daily Vespers at Sant’ Anselmo, the Benedictine headquarters in Rome. This project is the brainchild of Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, OSB, and he has supported and promoted the project from its inception. Abbot Prior Elias Lorenzo has provided key leadership throughout. Along with my confrere Fr. Nathanael Hauser, several student workers assisted me over the past few years: Nathan Chase, Chris Labadie, Mark Rodriguez, Jacob Wankel, David Wesson, Caitlin Harvey, and Arabella Volkers. They have been outstanding in their diligence and attention to detail.

Vespers is sung daily in Latin at Sant’ Anselmo, allowing the international community to pray this key office together as a community. Uppermost for me was that the new book be as user-friendly as possible, since so many students and professors have done little or no Latin chant in their home monasteries. Vernacular chant based more or less on Latin is what predominates in monasteries around the world now.

The 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum, which has all the Latin offices in the monastic rite except the night office (variously called vigils or nocturns or matins), is still in use at Sant’ Anselmo, but with modifications. After Vatican II a Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae  was issued to provide guidelines for the use of the old book with the new calendar and various ways of distributing the psalms. It is not intended to provide one uniform world-wide office, as was the case up until Vatican II, but to be used as a resource for various local adaptations. (In the U.S. Benedictine and Cistercian houses use a wide variety of psalm distributions.) At Sant’ Anselmo, choirmaster David Foster, OSB, expertly produces an Ordo telling one how to page around in the old book and find what one needs for each office, with a four-week psalm distribution of three psalms per office (rather than four which the old Benedictine office had). The Psalter translation, of course, is the old Vulgate, with all its difficulties and inaccuracies. (Pope Pius XII issued a new psalm translation in classical Latin for optional use but it never took off; the Second Vatican Council rightly called for a new Latin translation in ecclesiastical Latin which is now used in all the official liturgical books.)

Solesmes issued a three-volume Latin Antiphonale Monasticum in 2005-2007, again with all the day offices but not the night office. It follows the first psalm distribution of the Thesaurus, the one most like the Rule of Benedict, but also provides for various options such as New Testament canticles, and cycles of Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for Sundays to match the revised 3-year lectionary. The melodies are revised, of course; but unfortunately the decision was taken at Solesmes not to provide any rhythmic signs such as the episema. It is said that one simply sings according to the text – which is always good advice – but in practice I notice at Solesmes that they sing according to the old episemata (didja catch the plural?) they all remember by heart, which is hardly a viable plan for the rest of the world.

Rhythmic signs indicate not only careful treatment of text, but also theological/spiritual emphasis of particular words, which is now lacking in the new Antiphonale. The rhythmic signs in 1934 are highly accurate according to the medieval manuscripts, unlike the 1908 Graduale Romanum, with the exception of, for example, the episema which is over only the first note of a clivis rather than both as it should be.

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Several decisions had to be made in the production of this Vesperale.

  • The reader is given every single part of the office, with clear page references to find everything. Traditional chant books were intended for a lifetime of use and could assume that the user knew by heart the Deus, in adiutorium meum (“God, come to my assistance”) and the like. I wouldn’t assume that now. I even included the full text of the Gloria Patri doxology after every psalm. I suppose some at Sant’ Anselmo will say this fall, when the new book appears in the choirs stalls, that “Ruff sure is pedantic, he thinks we don’t know the Pater noster by heart and can’t find it in the appendix on our own.” I’m OK with that – I’d rather err in that direction than have one-time visitors, or short-term guests, or beginning first year students, be confused and lost at prayer. I suppose the book could have been 1,000 pages rather than 1,200, but I think it’s worth it to provide too much rather than too little hospitality.
  • In the Solesmes editions the convention is for blank staff lines to be left on the last line of every piece, extending to the right margin of the piece page. I had these cropped out. (I know enough about all the evolutions in chant manuscripts in the last thousand years to fight back any claim that there is one right way to do such things.) It is no criticism of Solesmes’s elegant editions for me to have gone a different route on this point. I think it cleans up the page and makes it less cluttered, though I suppose some will say I’m infected with a Collegeville Bauhaus aesthetic.
  • I pushed for adding rhythmic signs to the chant graphics procured from Solesmes, but lost, and for good reason. It makes sense for the Benedictine headquarters to follow the official Benedictine editions, which no longer have them. And it would cause difficulties for students at Sant’ Anselmo to learn a regime of rhythmic signs used nowhere else, at least for the few who might ever use the new Solesmes Antiphonale. In most cases the melody is identical or very similar to 1934, but in a few cases the original manuscripts called for corrections, or the melody has greater corrections calling for a new interpretation of the manuscripts, including the rhythmic signs. And all the newly-composed chants would be subject to my necessarily subjective guess at how the piece might have been interpreted if it had existed in the 11th century.
  • Early on the leadership at Sant’ Anselmo decided that the psalter distribution would be that of the four-week reformed Roman office, not the old Benedictine one-week distribution or any of the other schemes in the Thesaurus. The reason is sound: many monks at Sant’ Anselmo are praying other offices in vernacular using the Roman office (daily sung Lauds and Mass in Italian in the main chapel uses the Roman office), so it makes sense to link up with that. The calendar, of course, is that of Sant’ Anselmo.
  • The psalm tone is given after every antiphon right above the psalm text, rather than just the ending cadence of the traditional chant books, since I would not assume that everyone knows the Gregorian psalm tones by heart.
  • I pushed for, and got, pointing of all psalm texts (indicating what syllable one moves off the reciting tone to the cadence formula), since few people know the rules of Latin accentuation by heart or are familiar with how the Latin text is treated in the ancient psalm tones. When Solesmes provides pointing, for example in the Graduale Simplex or the new Antiphonale Romanum which has Vespers on Sundays and feast days, the last accented syllable is in bold, and in the cases of anticipatory syllables another syllable is italicized a bit back from the bold-faced syllable. This follows the logic of the pointing rules perfectly, but in my view it is less attractive than underlining, and more complicated for the reader to follow. I elected to underline just the vowel, not the whole syllable, taking an idea from the German Monastisches Stundengebet, and for two reasons: it looks less cluttered to have just one letter underlined, and it simplifies the pointing since one doesn’t have to know the complicated rules of syllabification to figure out which consonants on either side of the vowel to underline. Though the psalter distribution is Roman, the use of antiphons is traditionally Benedictine.This means that proper antiphons are not used every day for all the seasons, but only for Easter season (it’s always “Alleluia”) and the last 7 days of Advent. The rest of the year, the psalms are the same as Ordinary Time. This simplified my task greatly – if there were 3 or 4 antiphons before a psalm, they would have 3 or 4 different modes and psalm tones and the text couldn’t be pointed. So the same four-week psalter is used for almost the entire year, and it takes up 140 pages. Then a smaller four-week psalter of just the weekdays is given for Easter weeks 1-2, and then Easter and Advent weeks 3-4. In the last case, where there are two antiphons for each psalm, the text isn’t pointed, unless if both antiphons happen to be in the same mode, but there was no way to avoid this. (At first I thought I’d pick Alleluia antiphons to match the mode of the Latin Advent antiphons, but that wasn’t possible because the same Alleluia is used for all three psalms of an office, whereas the Advent antiphons are different for each psalm.)
  • Some of the Latin chant antiphons are still being produced or revised for the Roman office. This is a delicate task, for in some cases the wonderful antiphon texts of the reformed Roman office do not exist in the oldest medieval manuscripts. What should one do in such cases? Find a similar (or not so similar) text from the earliest authentic repertoire? Or find a medieval source where the text is more similar but the melody is from a later and rather second-rate musician? Or compose a new melody? A new directory of antiphons has been promised but not yet issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, and of course one never knows how long one would have to wait for it. We needed to produce our Vesperale now. I drew on two sources for antiphons. First, the Communauté Saint-Martin sings the Roman office in Latin chant, and Solesmes prepared for them the three-volume Les Heures Grégoriennes (with French translation on facing page). It reflects a preliminary rather than definitive state of antiphons, but it is the only comprehensive resource available to us. Second, the 2009 Antiphonale Romanum gives us Vespers for Sundays and solemnities, and it reflects the forthcoming directory of antiphons. But it only has Sundays and solemnities.
  • The Magnificat is pointed for every single mode in the appendix, in both the simple tone and the more solemn tune used on Sundays and solemnities. This took up 44 pages (with new modes like II*, and mode D is in there too), but I think this is worth it and will be helpful especially to beginning users. After each Magnificat antiphon, indication is given for the page with the canticle text pointed in the matching mode. Since the same Magnificat antiphon is used on Saturday and Sunday (First and Second Vespers of the Lord’s Day), but the solemn tone is used only on Sunday, the reference in these cases has to give both pages in the appendix, e.g.: Canticum ad Magnificat, p. 1122 / 1140.
  • Late in the day I realized that my appendix of Magnificats provides for every mode, but in a few rare cases the clef used for the antiphon is, by way of exception, on a different line because of the melody range of the antiphon. Most singers would never notice, I’m sure, for one will by instinct sing the canticle at the pitch matching the antiphon one just sang, though it is notated a third higher or lower on the staff than the antiphon. But perfectionism made me insert a custos at the end of the antiphon in such cases – the little note indicator at the end of every line in chant books telling you what the note on the next line will be. With modern technology it is not difficult to cut and paste the proper custos from elsewhere. But of course – wouldn’t you know it? – in a case or two the antiphon’s last line already went all the way to the right margin and there was no room remaining for the custos. We reduced the antiphon by 2% so it’d fall within the margins with our custos, hoping that no one will notice the slight size reduction.
  • In three cases there was no chant graphic available from Solesmes. An example is a solemn responsory for the Transitus of Benedict on March 21 which is celebrated as a solemnity at Sant’ Anselmo and needs an Alleluia for when it falls in Easter seaon, but is a feast at Solesmes and doesn’t need the solemn tone with alleluia. So I typed it up myself using the Meinrad chant font. It was a challenge to get it to look as much as possible like the Solesmes engraving so it would not stick out too much. After much searching, we found that Calistos is the text font most like what Solesmes uses. (But now, after it’s too late, I suppose some Pray Tell reader will tell me that another one is closer.) This font is just a bit too tall, but InDesign allows one to shrink or expand a text vertically or horizontally, so I shrunk it vertically. The Meinrad neumes look very much like Solesmes, with the exception of the augmented liquescent. And here I confess: I omitted a liquescent on one note for one antiphon on the Third Sunday of Easter so it wouldn’t stick out, falling as it does on a page with other Solesmes graphics next to it. It’s on the first L of “alleluia.” Most singers will never know, of course. Maybe those few who do, but still forget to enunciate the L properly, can go to confession after the office.

There is no limit to the challenges and problems that arise in the production of a book such as this.

  • We wanted to use æ rather than ae, and œ for oe. It’s easy to do a CTRL-F and convert every ae one missed in the book to æ. But then one realizes that the Hebrew word Israel needs to be changed back since it’s a three-syllable word. Oh, and the same with Michael. I hope there aren’t any other such Hebrew words with ae.
  • At one stage an InDesign upgrade converted every œ to a box with an X in it. CTRL-F time again.
  • Early on in the project, before we had laid out too much of the book, we switched from Times New Roman font to the much more elegant Adobe Caslon Pro for all texts (apart from the texts embedded in the Solesmes graphics below the melody). This font automatically changes every fi to a lovely single character with the dot over the I joined to the cross bar of the F. Very nice – but what about when the I is underlined for pointing? Now you have a heavy underline of the wide new character. We had to find every such instance and change the font to Minion Pro for the I to prevent the program from making its adjustment.
  • Solesmes has changed its practice over the years for the text-only strophes of hymns with simple melodies provided only for the first stanza. Now Solesmes puts a small superscript number at the beginning of each strophe, which shows that one reads down the left column vertically for stanzas 2 and 3, and then down the right column for stanzas 4 and 5. In earlier editions no strophe numbers were provided, but a solid line clearly separated the two columns of text. But this solid line is not part of the Solesmes graphic, telling me that they must have added it to the graphic after placing it. We had to do the same and add a line for every older hymn graphic without strophe numbers.
  • Sometimes the page flow in the Solesmes books meant that stanzas two and three fell next to each other horizontally at the bottom of one page, and then stanzas four and five at the top of the next page. But when the whole hymn falls on the same page for us, this meant that the stanzas wrongly read horizontally rather than vertically when we place the Solesmes graphic. Time to cut and paste to get our stanzas in the right order.
  • Solesmes now gives Scripture references on the top right of each antiphon when the text is taken from the Bible. But because the graphics we got from Solesmes come from different editions of theirs, we noticed that they vary in the font size and distance from the antiphon. We cropped them all out and inserted a text box with the reference so we could standardize the appearance.
  • In the second-last proofreading, I happened to notice that some workers switch off the italics after an italicized word followed by a comma and before typing the comma, so that the comma is not italicized and is a bit too big. A CTRL-F for all non-italicized commas, and hitting RETURN about a million times and trying to notice when the commas was too big, was the tedious solution which could drive one to drink.
  • We bought an annual license from Adobe Photoshop to crop graphics. In the last week we had to ask Solesmes for the few graphics we realized we were missing. We had cropped a couple thousand graphics over the past two years. And now, when the last handful were being cropped… our license expired at 3:30 pm on the Saturday before the Monday manuscript submission date! I wasn’t going to purchase another whole year of license for maybe 45 minutes of work. I tried to make a joke and teased my assistant, “But why didn’t you get it done before 3:30? You SHOULD have done the cropping before it expired.” In the final rush of work, I’m not sure she was in the mood to joke around. She found a free trial download online and got the final cropping done with that.

Will the book be free of all errors? I’m sure not. I fully expect the opportunity to improve on the virtue of my humility when it appears in print. I’m ready to take consolation in the fact that the 2009 Antiphonale Romanum has, right on its title page, the text “In canto gregoriano,” which is good Italian but faulty Latin. It should be “cantu.” One can see how proofreaders missed that. It happens. And yet, God will be praised.



  1. Congratulations on completing a herculean task. Anyone who has written, InDesigned or edited a work of more than 500 pages would know what it is like. I am always impressed at the quality, almost error-free output of the major American publishers–from the writing, to the layout, to the printing and the binding.

    Trivia. Where to locate page numbers: a) at the bottom, in the middle of the page; b) at the bottom, on the outside margin of each page, c) at the top, on the outside margin. Personally, I find it easier to find a page, if the page numbers are the top, on the outside margin. The 1962 Liber Usualis is that way and, I think, most other books from Solesmes.

  2. Congratulations! I spent a week at Sant’ Anselmo a couple of years ago. It’s a wonderful place and vespers are sung beautifully. It’s good to see that there now will be a user-friendly antiphonale, which will certainly allow one-time visitors to follow and pray vespers with more ease and devotion.

    “A CTRL-F for all non-italicized commas, and hitting RETURN about a million times and trying to notice when the commas was too big, was the tedious solution.”

    Wow. A simple GREP expression in InDesign could have saved you a lot of time!

  3. Congratulations for this immense achievement. And thanks for the description of the challenges and problems; I can almost hear my editor and designer colleagues heaving empathetic sighs!

  4. This is something I would like to have a copy of! Will you share the information with us when the book is published?


    1. @Paul Inwood:
      Yes! Heart skipped a beat. But actually we had caught that.

      And in fact, the big machine at the printer in Rome just broke and the staff was given vacation time so we now have another week to proofread and it’s all been pushed back.


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