Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Gregorian Missal (Review)

Following on the heals of the new English translation of the Missale Romanum that came into force in 2011, the monks of Solesmes published an updated edition of the Gregorian Missal, a Latin-English chant book containing the notated Latin chants for the ordinary of the Mass, the Sundays of the year, and the principle Solemnities. As with the original edition, the revised Gregorian Missal provides an invaluable liturgical resource for those interested in preserving the Latin tradition in its largest church.

The first thing one will notice about this volume is how well it is bound. It has been some years since I last held a book by Solesmes and it was easy to forget just how well made their books are. The Gregorian Missal is a sturdy hard cover and the suitable "heft" to the volume leaves its impression when one realizes this is just under 800 pages - not a monster of a liturgical book by any stretch of the imagination. The covers are strong and the binding itself appears designed to take years of regular use. Indeed, Solesmes knows usability and this becomes readily apparent when examining the interior: crisp typesetting of text and notation on French vanilla paper with high opacity - this is as optimal a format as you can get.

The core purpose of the Gregorian Missal is to provide the annotated Latin chants for the modern Roman liturgy.  As noted above, it is accompanied by the new English translation of the Roman Missal, for consultation purposes only - there are no proper Gregorian chants in English. There is not much to be added to the assessment of the new English translation of the Roman Missal; the new translation is what it is and not much is going to change any one person's view of it. This said, having some of the Latin text readily available will enable one to make up one's own mind about how adequate this translation really is.

The chants themselves at times vary in complexity. A well trained scola will doubtlessly be able to execute what they encounter. Those with a beginner to basic to median comprehension of chant notation may or may not find some of the repertoire challenging. The musical notation itself comes from the annals of the Western Tradition. Even where a new text appears (due to the impact of the reform of the Roman liturgy), said text has been set to an ancient melody.

This edition uses the 2011 English translation and the 2002 Latin text. One can therefore judge the latest translation for oneself, although doing so would be an example of getting lost in the details. The core purpose of this volume is to facilitate the use of chant in the context of the modern Latin liturgy - anything outside of this purpose seems poorly directed.

If I have learned one thing in the Orthodox Church, it is that liturgy was meant to be chanted. If I have learned a second thing, it is that Orthodox churches are more likely to have the necessary tools to chant the liturgy than their Catholic counterparts. For those in the Roman Church, the Gregorian Missal is your starting resource.

Special thanks to the publisher who sent me this review copy. There was no expectation other than an honest review.


  1. I wonder if the monks of Solesmes (or anyone else, for that matter) will do the English translation for the two-year cycle of readings for the Liturgy of the Hours and publish them.

  2. I've been intending to thank Mr. Demers for his introducing this reader to the Solesmes lectionary volumes. I must say that I enjoy comparing the Latin with the French every day. I'm grateful to Mr. Demers as well as to the monks of Solesmes for sharing their edition of the lectionary with the wider church.

  3. Anonymous, I'm glad you enjoy the Solesmes lectionary. It's a treasure. I also appreciate V. for this post on the Gregorian Missal.