Books of the Liturgical Choir

Last time we discussed the role of the liturgical choir and mentioned that it is an official liturgical role. Today we will discuss the various books of use to the liturgical choir interested in singing the traditional chants of the Church. First we will discuss the official liturgical books, the the Kyriale Romanum, Graduale Romanum, Antiphonale Romanum and Vesperale Romanum, examining their origins and content. In our follow up installment next month we will take a look at the wide variety of unofficial books which are also in use.

The official liturgical chant books are in the Latin language throughout and so it goes without saying that authentic Gregorian chant is always in Latin. If you will recall, our definition of Gregorian chant was that it is the official music of the Roman Liturgy. Vernacular chant is not, at least according to our definition, Gregorian, because the historic Roman Liturgy never made use of vernacular chants. Thus, in the strict sense, simply chanting vernacular melodies does not make them "chant" and is not an adequate reflection of the Roman tradition.

The official books of chant consist of: the Kyriale Romanum, Graduale Romanum, Antiphonale Romanum and Vesperale Romanum.

The music for use at Mass is contained in a book called the Graduale Romanum (‘Roman Gradual’ in English). The ‘Graduale’ takes its name from the Gradual, the elaborate melismatic chant sung between readings at Mass. The contents consist of:

         -An introduction and rubrics.

         -Proper chants for every Mass in the Missal. (This section is laid out in the same manner as the Missal, temporal then sanctoral, commons and votives.) 

         -The music for the ordinary is printed after the propers.

The Graduale is complete, containing all of the music for the Mass. The section containing the chants of the ordinary of the Mass is called the ‘Kyriale’ after the ‘kyrie eleison’ (lord have mercy). It is also published as a separate book under the title Kyriale Romanum. The Kyriale by itself isn’t used by the liturgical choir since it is included in the Graduale Romanum. It should be used by Catholic schools and non-choir members of religious orders. It could be used in the pews by laymen at Mass.

The Roman Gradual was promulgated by Pope St. Pius X in 1908. In 1974 a new edition of the Gradual was published with the chants rearranged for the new lectionary of the Novus Ordo Mass. The introduction of this universal Roman Gradual by St Pius X was part of a greater effort to reform church music, which included restoring Gregorian Chant as the proper music of the Roman Rite.

The earliest Graduals were books for singers containing only the text of the Mass propers, the melodies were sung from memory.  As musical notation gradually developed it was incorporated into these books. During the Renaissance the melodies were deliberately corrupted to make them “correct” (according to Renaissance musical theory). In the mid 19thcentury, under the leadership of Dom Guéranger, the monks of Solesmes Abbey in France began the work of restoring the melodies to those found in the manuscripts.  In the late 19th century a private Gradual, the work of Dom Pothier was published. Early in the 20th century Pope Pius X called for the creation of a universal Gradual with restored melodies. Several scholors and monks of Solesmes, including Dom Pothier worked on the project, which culminated with the publication of the 1908 Graduale Romanum.  

Chants for the day hours of the Divine Office are found in the Antiphonale Romanum. The ‘Antiphonal’ contains:

           -An introduction, calendar of feasts and rubrics.

          -The necessary music for the antiphons, hymns etc. of the divine office (temporal, and commons) for the hours of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline for every day of the year.

           -The other texts of those offices  (psalms, little chapters, orations)

           -The psalm tones needed to chant the psalms

t is important to note that the Antiphonal does not point the psalms for chanting. This makes it more challenging to use. The Vesperale Romanum  is a separate book, essentially an extraction from the Antiphonal,  containing only the office of vespers. The universal Antiphonale Romanum was published in 1910 and reflects the reordering of the Roman Breviary by Pius X. It’s melodies are authentically Gregorian.

The history of the Antiphonal is essentially that of the history of the Divine Office which is complex and difficult to sum up briefly. The Divine Office has its primitive origin in the daily services of the Jewish religion. It is composed mainly of the arrangement of the psalms to be prayed at different periods (hours) of the day. Much of its ordering and structure was put in place by St. Benedict in his rule and subsequently spread by the Benedictine order. Many differences in the minute details existed from place to place and between different religious orders. The form used in the diocese of Rome was adopted by the Franciscans and as a result was spread everywhere and popularized. The council of Trent established the Roman form as universal just as it did with the Roman Missal, and with the same exceptions. Many religious orders and some locations have their own authentic form of the office distinct from the Roman use.

For the modern ‘Liturgy of Hours’ there are two volumes. Antiphonale Romanum II which contains vespers for Sundays and feasts, and the Liber Hymnarius which contains office hymns. The psalms in the Antiphonale Romanum II are pointed for chanting, making it user friendly. Currently there is no complete Antiphonal in existence for the Ordinary Form ‘Liturgy of Hours’.

There has not been published an official book containing the music of matins (a Nocturnale Romanum) since before the reforms of St. Pius X to the Roman Breviary.

Article by Ben P.


The official liturgical chant books for the Ordinary Form are published by and available from Solesmes Abbey in France.  Solesmes publications are distributed in North America by Paraclete press and carried by other religious goods suppliers.

The contents of the Kyriale Romanum pre and post 1970 are the same, though arranged slightly differently. In addition to the in print editions it is digitally available for free here:

The Graduale Romanum for the Extraordinary Form is available in print form through self-publisher Lulu. Digitally it is available for free here

The Antiphonale Romanum is out of print. Available digitally here is the 1912 edition.