Singing Candlemas – A guide

As we love anniversaries in our parish, Candlemas or The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  is the anniversary of the first Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form to be held at St Mary Magdalen’s for, well, who knows… donkey’s of years. (Missa Cantata this Thursday 7.30pm.)

I am too embarrassed to put up the video from our first year  (we have come on a long way.) You can find it on Fr Ray’s blog.  There are lots of beautiful photos taken at that first Mass by my friend Meli. Have a look on FLICKR.  We had at least a foot of snow that evening so it was a miracle anyone actually made it to the church.

Here instead is a list of resources to get you on your way to having a Missa Cantata for Candlemas:-



Alleluia – Senex Puerum 

Offertory – Diffusa Est:  Simple three part

Choral Wiki resources for Candlemas


Vespers Hymn   – Ave Maris stella – SSA – Three part for equal voices
Hymns to Our Lady  –  Courtesy of Tom Windsor at St Bede’s Clapham

From Maternal Heart of Jesus in Australia.
Mass Sheet from – Orange County 


A few extra musical tips taken from two indespensible books, Psallite Sapienter by B. Andrew Mills and The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described  by Fortescue, O’Connell and Reid :-

1. There is no music prescribed for the entrance of the clergy. The organ can be played. they can enter in silence or a hymn can be sung, even in the vernacular.

2. Before the Blessing of the Candles and the procession, there are five collects. Respond Et cum spiritu tuo and then Amen. This should all be in the second ferial tone.  Begin the Lumen as soon as the celebrant receives his candle. You can keep repeating the verses of the Nunc Dimittas until the distribution has been completed. The Gloria Patri verses can only be sung once though. The Exsurge is no longer sung.

3. Just before the procession, the celebrant sings “Procedamus in Pace” to which all respond “In nomine Christe Amen.”   During the procession sing Adorna Thalamum and Responsum Accepit. One of these can be omitted if the procession is short.  From experience, walking and singing something tricky do not go hand-in-hand and if possible I would recommend that the choir stay in one corner of the church if the procession is not going outside, rather than try and sing the Adorna and process.  During the procession, the church bells are rung. As the procession re-enters the church (or on the final approach to the altar, if  the procession remained in the church)  sing Obtulerunt pro es Dominum (p.1360 in the Liber.)  As soon as this Responsory is finished, begin the Introit for Mass.

4. Both the Gloria and the Credo are sung.



We are four today!!

The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time marks our parish choir’s fourth birthday. We were formed after a particularly challenging, cold, January, Sunday Mass when no one wanted to sing. The choir were just a willing, slightly coerced, group of parishioners who were brought together to lead the singing of the usual four hymns.At that time, the singing of the Ordinary in Latin was already established in the parish, something which had thrilled me when l first stumbled into St Mary Magdalen’s as a lapsed Catholic. As we moved into Lent, I started to discover these incredible pieces that I had never heard before. The Pange Lingua, the Attende Domine, Ubi Caritas and so on.

Four years on, and the choir has grown from strength-to-strength. We no longer just lead the four hymns, infact we don’t even sing four hymns anymore…   From Taize chants, we moved to Gregorian Chant, from singing Ostinatos, we moved onto polyphony.  Chant is still our speciality, its what I am now most passionate about, simply because it is the music of the Mass – it is what we should be singing.  Our neighbours, at the Sacred Heart have a superb polyphonic choir so there is no point attempting to compete with them .  Anyway, historically we were always known as the parish of the chant, and the Sacred Heart sang the polyphony.

For me, some weeks I grumble, I threaten to resign, I shout at choir members,  I get frustrated as people come and go. Looking back over these four years, it is one of  the best things that ever happened to me and I hope for the parish and I owe my thanks to Fr Ray for making it happen, and for our fantastic team of people including Adam, our organist, who turn up week after week to sing in our dusty organ loft.

As I type this, the ‘Deo Gracias’ from Benjamin Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’ have just come on the radio, which I remember singing at school. ‘DEO GRACIAS’ indeed.

Singing O Sacrum Convivium

There are so many wonderful polyphonic settings of the Corpus Christi Antiphon O Sacrum Convivium, some easier than others, um, Messiaen…

This beautiful text from Thomas Aquinas is the perfect expression of the Eucharistic mystery. It can be sung at the Offertory or at Communion:-

O sacrum convivium!
in quo Christus sumitur:
recolitur memoria passionis eius:
mens impletur gratia:
et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
Translation of Latin
O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.

We are singing Richard Farrant’s setting this Sunday which is one of the easier ones.  This can be transposed up a semi-tone if like us you have no male tenor and one of your female altos has admirably stepped in to sing tenor. Thank you Mary!

Score HERE

Pray that God sends us a tenor  –  just for Lent!


Some other wonder settings:

Giovanni Croce

Thomas Tallis





Should we really sing the Gradual?

Switching from the Responsorial Psalm to the Gradual could be deemed controversial in many parishes. Despite the stipulation that the chant of the Graduale should be the first choice  in the Novus Ordo, and the Responsorial Psalm is the second, our liturgical books give the Responsorial Psalm as the only option.

UPDATE – I should add that we already sing the Gradual. Sometimes in full in Latin, depending on rehearsal time,  or using an English polyphonic setting and sometimes I set it to a psalm tone in English based on the Rossini psalm tones.  I always worry though that members of the congregation may be confused by the absence of the Responsorial Psalm, and it is something we maybe need to address.

I have been reading William Mahrt’s fascinating new book on the “Shape of the Liturgy.” It is currently available to download from Scridb, and will be in print soon.

In this book Mahrt looks in detail at the historical place of the Gradual versus the Responsorial Psalm.  He analyses historical documentation from the early centuries to try and uncover clues about the use of music in the liturgy  citing St Augustine’s sermons and St John Chrysostom who both refer to the singing of psalm refrains. He concludes there is no record for the introduction of the Gradual but refers to the Ordines, the books with specific rubrics for the services, written from the end of the sixth century, which document the singing of the Gradual.

He continues to explore the myth of the Responsorial Psalm and its place in the history of the liturgy.

The practice of the early church is held up as a model of popular participation, and the singing of the gradual chants by the choir as as a corrupt, late practice, which robs the people of their rightful share in the singing of the Mass. Yet the telling of teh whole story casts a different light upon the matter. The simple fact is that at the time when the popular participation in the responsorial psalm is documented, the Mass commenced with the first reading. There was no introit, Kyrie. or Gloria. All that the people had to sing was one paltry response at the psalm! A Gregorian Mass today, in which the people sing the ordinary and the choir and soloists sing the propers, favours the people much more. What the people sing is more substantial, is conducive to a more stable practice, and can make use of much finer music.

There is no getting away from the fact that the sung Gradual can seem odd sandwiched between two readings in the ordinary form, but then so can a sung Responsorial Psalm.  In the extraordinary form, along with the Alleluia it serves a purpose to accompany the liturgical action on the altar as we head towards the high point of the Gospel. In the ordinary form, it accompanies no action, and a long Gradual with lots of drawn out melismatic phrases could seem unnecessary to some in the congregation. At the same time, a Gradual sung to a simple psalm tone can seem inadequate in that it does not serve as a  “musical complement to the lessons which precede and follow…”

With all that in mind, this Sunday, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B, the gradual is Timebunt Gentes.

If you do not want to sing the Rossini Psalm tones then Corpus Christi Watershed now has a fantastic resource of simplified graduals from Richard Rice and from the Chants Abreges editions from both 1926 and 1956.

There is also the English polyphonic setting from gradual 3rd sun although you will have to contend with dubious translations. Heathen – gentes etc.

Introit for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

In Years A and B for the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Introit is Dominus secus mare Galilaéae rather than Adorate Deum, the option for Year C and The Third Sunday after Epiphany. This Introit is highly unusual in that it employs a Gospel text rather than a Psalm. It is even more uncommon that this text from Matthew’s Gospel sung at the beginning of Mass will then be heard again when recited by the celebrant at the Gospel (this time from Mark), and for a third time (naturally) at Communion.

“The Lord walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and he called out to them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

This unique Introit cannot be found anywhere in the Liber Usualis. In the Graduale Triplex, it is documented from the Einsiedeln manuscript which was begun in the 11th Century and is believed to the oldest most complete Missal of Gregorian Chant in existence. So where has it come from?

UPDATE – Good old Stan Metheny has answered my question. It comes from the Mass formulary of the Vigil of St Andrew the Apostle (29th November) in the older (1961) graduale.  (I don’t have one of those…)   Stan writes:

The melody moves along at a steady narrative pace, through the ornamentation over duos fratres and vos… piscatores, evoke images of fisherman raising and lowering their nets out of the water. 

See the rest of Stan’s analysis on the Communion Antiphon in the comments box.


Click HERE for the organ accompaniment. (From Corpus Christi Watershed.)

Brighton’s shocking proposed cuts to music service

Why can’t low income children learn a musical instrument in Brighton?

Before Christmas, Brighton and Hove Council (run by the minority Green Party) announced planned cuts in the Music Service in our city. This service currently has 2500 children each week engaged in Music and Arts activities, of which a fifth of those are children from low income families.

Today is the last day to sign the Petition  which could reverse the proposal against these abominable cuts.  Go and sign it, even if you don’t live in our city, or write to the finance cabinet minister  Jason Kitcat who incidentally, lives in our parish.

From my own fortunate experience, I think learning a musical instrument is one of the most important things you can offer children. Why should families from low incomes be deprived of this vital opportunity?

The Argus has an account on the successful Mass busking protest held yesterday in Churchill Square.


A year of Introits

Yesterday I opened my Graduale Triplex to look at the introit Omnis terra adoret for this Sunday, the second Sunday in Ordinary Time, and I was astonished to find my own scribbled pencil marks and notes. (Incidentally, Sister Bernadette, the choir mistress of St.Cecilia’s disapproves of us writing in our books.)  I had written “the Magi are gone but spirit of adoration remains’ and below it were scrawled various reminders about the structure of Mode IV, a mode I have to work very hard at.  This means we have now sung the Introit every Sunday for a whole year. Surely it can only get easier!

It is tricky singing the chant in an Ordinary Form Mass especially when there is an established tradition of wall-to-wall hymn singing. It takes a while for people to adjust to the chant and in fact many people never do, primarily because they are adverse to the use of Latin, and secondarily because sometimes it just is not very well sung. At our 10.30am Mass on a Sunday we begin with a hymn (except in Advent and Lent) which is often chosen to reflect the theme of the Gospel rather than the Introit. The hymn is sung until the celebrant reaches the foot of the altar. Our church is not terribly large, so inevitably we normally only manage to fit in a couple of verses before the procession has reached the Sanctuary. The Introit is then sung by a small group from the choir while the celebrant is incensing the altar. When the Introit is sung after the hymn we only sing the Antiphon once, finishing after the Gloria Patri. The reason we do not go back and sing the Antiphon again as is customary is because the celebrant, and the congregation, are waiting for Mass to begin. In the Extraordinary Form, the celebrant has lots of prayers to get through so there is ample time for the Introit and the congregation are all busy saying their prayers.  In the Ordinary Form, it is very difficult not to have a sense of ‘holding up Mass’ with the music.

This year we are going to try and sing the Gradual more regularly from the Graduale rather than just sung to a psalm tone – previously we have only sung it the full length Gradual for significant Solemnities that fall on a Sunday like All Saints, or when we have had time to practice it . The difficulty with the Graduals is that they are long and if they are sung badly, then they are a no better addition to the liturgy than a 1980s setting of a Responsorial Psalm. We shall see…

Parish Book of Chant – 2nd edition

Richard Rice has uploaded to Musica Sacra the current draft of the second edition of the Parish Book of Chant.

He asks that people review and comment, either at the site or to his email (

You can also click on the links below:



In the current draft of the 2nd edition, he has altered the English translation to the Order of Sung Mass for the Ordinary Form, to that of the new Roman Missal translation and added the notated Missa Jubilo.

A very useful addition to the new edition is the addition of  notation for all the verses of all of hymns; this even includes the super-long ones like Puer Natus Est and Crux Fidelis. He has also included the sequences in the new edition. The only sequence in the current edition is the Stabat Mater. There is a longer section for the Missa Pro Defunctis which includes all the texts of the propers and the notated Dies Irae. The Libera Me and the extra Kyrie Eleison etc is not notated though, only the text appears.

There is a new section of chants for Communion when the Communion proper is not sung. These include Ego Sum Videte, Gustate et Videte, Hoc Corpus, Manducaverent, Panem de Caelo, Panis Quem Ego Dedero and Qui Manducate Carnem Meam. I am not really sure how useful the addition of these are. None of the pieces are particularly easy to sing for the average parish choir and couldn’t be picked up without rehearsal unlike singing a Communion hymn like the Adoro Te.

I would like to see the Simple Tone Te Deum added to the second edition (there is only the Solemn Tone which I think in America congregations are more used to singing. ) I think it would also be useful to have the Audi Benigne Conditor added for Lent. (The Vexilla Regis is there for Passiontide.)

Other than that it looks fantastic. I am hoping he doesn’t publish it too quickly; we have only owned our parish set of PBC since September . I can’t see our Parish Priest willingly forking out for another new set until these ones have all disappeared (books do  have a tendency to walk in our parish.)

Thanks to Jacques for letting me know about PBC v2

Epiphany at St James Spanish Place and the Gregorian Bocadito

As we Catholics love things to come in threes, especially at the Epiphany, I thought it was only appropriate that I got a third Mass under my belt in so many days and headed up to St James, Spanish Place to sing with their Gregorian choir at the 7pm yesterday evening.

It is incredible what Candy Bartoldus, has done with Gregorian Chant at St James. She arrived less than two years ago at a church which already has a superb established music tradition and said she wanted to start a Gregorian group to sing once a month at the then Low Mass at 7pm on a Sunday evening.  Well, the group just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Last night there were at least forty singers and still new members were approaching Candy after Mass. It really is astonishing. At this rate Candy will have all the congregation in the choir in a few months.

Mass was celebrated in the ordinary form by Father Irwin with much of the Mass sung in Latin.

He preached a brilliant sermon using the Ravenna mosaic of the Three Kings as his starting-point , coincidently also on Fr Ray Blake’s blog  yesterday, speaking of our tendencies to approach our faith more like shepherds than as wise men.

The liturgy was appropriately stuffed full of wonderful Gregorian hymns and responsories. Corde Natus ex Parentis, Hodie Christus Natus Est, Puer Natus in Bethlehem, Resonet in Laudibus, Alma Redemptoris Natus and Ecce nomen Domini. These can all be found in the Parish Book of Chant. Candy provided beautiful sheets for the congregation with all this music on them so they could join in if they wanted. We also sang the Introit, and my Schola sang the Alleluia verse and the Communion.

Two of the schola. Martina is the cantor at St James and Leutgeb, who also already had two Epiphany Masses under her belt had hot footed it from Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen.

And after Mass, what better way to celebrate this great Solemnity than have a party.

One of the wonderful aspects of Candy’s Gregorian Chant group is the incredible mixture of nationalities, which is why Latin is such a perfect language to sing in. You can imagine the wonderful array of food that had been made prepared for the party.


And the centrepiece was ‘The Gregorian Bocadito.’


which carried the inscription, “Specially created for the Gregorian Club only to be taken just after confession when the heart is full of gratitude.”

Happy Epiphany everyone!

More photos HERE