Unofficial Chant Books

Continuing our overview of chant books for use in the liturgy, the following books are not official liturgical books but are useful for the liturgical choir. For the most part they contain extractions from the official books. There are of course many other books containing collections of chant music.

The Liber Usualis (translates the “usual book”,) often referred to simply as ‘the Liber’ is for the Extraordinary form. This work was created by Dom Andre Mocquereau of Solesmes Abby. The first edition was published in 1896, prior to the creation of the 1908 Roman Gradual and 1912 Roman Antiphonal. Subsequent editions were updated to conform to the official versions of the melodies.

The Liber Usualis contains in one volume everything one is ever likely to use in a parish, seminary or most (non-Benedictine) religious communities.

· The introduction from the Vatican Graduale

· A brief instruction in how to sing chant, pronounce Latin etc.

· The Gregorian Propers for  Sundays, Feasts, Commons and Votives

· The Kyriale

· Vespers and Compline

· The little hours for Sundays and feasts

· Matins for the Triduum, Christmas eve and the dead.

· Some chants for benediction of the blessed sacrament

The psalms of the Divine Office are pointed for chanting, this makes singing the Office much easier. There were many different editions, with rubrics and introduction in several languages including English. The different editions also contain supplements for different countries and religious orders. The French language edition was entitled ‘Paroissien Romain’ rather than ‘Liber Usualis”. This book was designed to be practical and it is. The one real downside is that it is thick and somewhat bulky at approximately 2000 pages. The Liber Usualis was and is one of the more popular chant books.

The Liber Brevior is basically a trimmed down Liber Usualis. It contains everything a parish is likely to use. In addition it has a section with the difficult Graduals and Alleluia verses set to psalm tones for those who need something simpler. It is significantly thinner than the Liber Usualis and can fit in a coat pocket. It is also more affordable. If someone will be singing for the Extraordinary form in a parish setting I highly recommend it. The downside? The only edition was produced in 1954 so if you need the 1962 Holy Week it’s not there (there is another book available containing only holy week for those who need it).

There is also available a Nocturnale Romanum for the extraordinary form. It is important to note it is not an official liturgical book of the church, but rather a compilation providing music for matins.

For the Ordinary Form there is the Gregorian Missal. This book was produced in 1994 by Solesmes Abby. It contains: 

· The order of Mass in Latin and English (Novus Ordo)

· The Kyriale

· Gregorian Propers for all Sundays

· Propers for several Major feasts

· Propers for a few votives and special Masses

The Gregorian Missal provides vernacular translations of the chants to facilitate understanding of the singers. One could also use this book to follow along at a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin.

So of the various chant books official and unofficial what should a start-up choir get? The answer depends on the particular context in which one will be working and personal preference. I will address this question in future articles dealing with getting started.

 By Ben P


The Liber Usualis has been reprinted.

The Liber Brevior has also been reprinted, its introduction and rubrics are in English.

The Gregorian Missal is readily available from Solesmes and other distributers.

All three of these books are also available digitally for free, as are many other books of and about chant from the Church Music Association of America.