Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
In 2009, Benedict XVI declared the Anglican patrimony was a “treasure to be shared” throughout the Universal Church and set up three ordinariates (akin to dioceses) directly under the pope himself, to provide a permanent home for this reunited English and Catholic liturgy and tradition in the Latin Church. Ten years later, Benedict XVI’s vision in Anglicanorum Coetibus that the ordinariate would provide a further source of enrichment for Catholic worship in English continues to advance with the publication of The St. Peter Gradual by Fr. Peter Stravinskas’s Newman House Press.
The St. Peter Gradual contains the minor propers for all Sundays, Solemnities, and Feasts of the Lord in modern musical notation. These chants are certain biblical verses that are prayed at different points of the Mass, such as the Introit (Entrance), Gradual (Psalm), Alleluia (or Tract in Lent), Offertory and the Communion, when using Divine Worship: The Missal. But the gradual can also enrich parishes that celebrate the ordinary form of the Roman rite and would welcome either more sacral English in the celebration of the Mass or plainchant settings that their congregations can sing without needing extensive musical training.
“It is my sincere hope that this piece of our Ordinariate patrimony will be a true enrichment, forming God’s people in a liturgical consciousness that gives new ardor to faith and discipleship,” stated Bishop Steven Lopes, head of North America’s Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, in the foreword to the new St. Peter Gradual.
“These chants are for the faithful, fostering a rhythm of liturgical prayer by taking up threads of Sacred Scripture at various points during the Eucharistic celebration and weaving them into a tapestry of praise for God, whom we worship in the beauty of holiness,” said Bishop Lopes, who also serves on the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Divine Worship, celebrated by Catholic parishes in the Ordinariate, is the third form of the Roman Rite that reflects an Anglican liturgical heritage forever united to Catholic worship. This missal developed under Benedict XVI and then promulgated by Pope Francis in 2015 stands next to the 2003 Roman missal of St. John Paul II (Ordinary form) and the 1962 Roman missal of St. John XXIII (Extraordinary form). While most Catholics are familiar with the Mass in modern English, the Ordinariate Catholic Mass (which includes some unique prayers from the English Church’s Prayer Book tradition) is prayed entirely in Prayer Book English, a religious poetic form of English many English-speaking Catholics would recognize in how the Our Father is prayed.
Father Carl Reid, an Ordinariate priest serving Blessed John Henry Newman parish in Victoria, Canada and editor of the St. Peter Gradual told the Register that the Ordinariate’s Anglican patrimony can help English-speaking Catholics in the “actual participation” of the liturgy as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. He explained that the particular style of chant is mostly syllabic — one note per syllable — which makes it easy for a parish congregation to pick up and recite. In contrast, the Graduale Romanum, he said, generally requires the expertise of a choir to master as the chants are mostly pneumatic (2-7 notes per syllable) or melismatic (7-12 notes per syllable).
“Our people sing the minor propers here with the choir,” he said. The cantor sings the cantor parts, and the congregation joins in the parts specified for the choir.
He said a Table of Correspondence at the front of the book, which compares the Introit and Communion verses in Divine Worship: The Missal with those in The Roman Missal provides a vehicle whereby parishes that worship in the Ordinary form might avail themselves of The St. Peter Gradual. Some Catholic parishes in the area, he said, have occasionally incorporated the form of these English chants into their Masses, using the tone settings from the St. Peter Gradual, such as for the Alleluia, coupled with the Ordinary form English translation.
“That is what Anglicans brought to the Gradual: beautiful language, tones that are the same every week and not difficult, and can be learned quite quickly by those that don’t necessarily even have a musical background,” he said.
Father Reid explained the St. Peter Gradual is patterned on the English Gradual, edited by Francis Burgess, updated to be in conformity with Divine Worship: the Missal. Anglicans translated the minor propers from the Roman gradual for use with the Book of Common Prayer, but combined them with a simpler plainchant to enable congregations to pray these parts of the liturgy.
For those that have an Anglican background, Fr. Reid said, hearing these minor propers in the Mass helps bridge some disconnects between their experience of Prayer Book worship and Catholic worship with Divine Worship: The Missal.
Father Reid said St. Augustine is quoted for saying “he who sings well prays twice” and this simple English plainchant helps people to not just pray more, but to imprint these biblical verses upon their consciousness.
“In that sense I find it very helpful for lay people,” he said. “As they repeat these familiar tones, they can become a source of material for them in their own discipleship and evangelization.”
The St. Peter Gradual can be found here at Newman House Press.