Review: The Parish Book of Chant

The process of reviewing this book from the Church Music Association of America brought forth a mixture of feelings. It seemed like such a diminutive, if not marginal, task in the midst of the times we’re living through as a church, as a nation, and as a world. I had to chide myself several times and recalled the other occasions when I chastised people who downplayed any discussion about liturgy/music when there were issues that had been deemed bigger or more important. I’m quite sure that parish musicians right now are not focusing their energies on examining the role of chant in their congregations’ repertoire, how to go about introducing chant where it is not known, and so on. The prayer of the Church, however, remains central and crucial at every time, and so—even if filed away for a future day—we need to keep evaluating the resources we offer people for sung prayer.

The Parish Book of Chant in its first edition was issued after Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Its expanded second edition (the subject of this review) was prompted by the 2010 translation of the Missale Romanum. This second edition now utilizes the ICEL translation of the Ordinary Form of the liturgy, whereas the first edition did not. The book is described on its title page as a “manual of Gregorian chant, and a liturgical resource for scholas and congregations.” It includes the order of both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms, along with a completely Kyriale, as well as chants and hymns for occasional/seasonal use, with “literal English translations” included. Editor Richard Rice has included the foreword to the first edition in this book, as well as a new foreword.

A quick look at the table of contents reveals the breadth of music included in this book. Following orders of sung Mass for both forms of the rite, there are eighteen chant Mass settings, six settings of the Credo, nearly twenty pages of miscellaneous chant settings of various Mass parts, the three sequences, the Missa pro Defunctis (Extraordinary Form), followed by more than a hundred pages of hymns and chants for communion, general use, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the seasons of the liturgical year. The concluding section is devoted to the Gospel canticles and the Litany of Saints (in both forms), including the Latin names of all the saints listed in the Graduale Romanum.

Coming to the music section, you will see that the book uses the four-line staff and neumes for its notation. This section is truly admirable for the enormous amount of work it took, and the fine quality that was achieved overall. The musical section leads off with the sung order of Mass in the Ordinary Form, using the Missa Jubilate Deo along with, as mentioned, the 2011 ICEL text as its translation. Latin texts and translations for the four eucharistic prayers and the new dismissals added by Benedict XVI are included. Mass in the Extraordinary Form follows, providing English translations for each part, offering the Prayers after Low Mass as well.

The translations for the Extraordinary form (and throughout the rest of the book) use what would be commonly referred to as “archaic” English, in a Douay-Rheims/King James style, with “-eth” endings for verbs, Thou/Thee, and so on. I realize that a congregation would not use the book simultaneously for an Ordinary and Extraordinary form celebration, but the ICEL translation definitely felt like the outlier to me.

The section of general chants and hymns begins with the note that they are “suitable for any occasion when the Proper chant is not sung.” The editor makes clear in the foreword that this book understands the word “proper” to carry more of the sense of “mandatory” rather than being a contrasting term to Ordinary meaning fixed/unchanging. That sense is definitely echoed here.

The final section of the book is a “Guide to Singing Chant” of about twelve pages, which also incorporates a pronunciation guide. The editor makes it clear that this book follows the Solesmes approach to chant. An awareness of other/more recent work in chant study is mentioned, but for sources and method, Solesmes is what is used. Following a title index, there is a one-page order for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

It was the final section of guides to chant notation and Latin pronunciation that got me to wondering about the word “parish” in the book’s title. I’m not sure that even a brief Gregorian chant guide is something that congregants would need, use, or benefit from. (It may be that producing separate editions for congregation and music ministers was viewed as an unnecessary expense.) Even for music-reading congregants, these 300 pages of Gregorian neumes would be an alien environment, perhaps a bit overwhelming. Others, I know, would take the presentation as a visual sign of a return to a liturgical time and place they either fondly recall, or fervently hope to experience. To acquire and subsequently implement this book in parish liturgy—a task that most parish musicians will likely postpone to a later time—would definitely take a deep and enthusiastic commitment.

The Parish Book of Chant is available as a free preview PDF (used for this review) on the CMAA website, or in print either from CMAA or Paraclete Press. (Softcover, 350 pages, $22.00)

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