Over the past two and a half years I have had the opportunity to direct an ordinary suburban parish music program out of the land of Gather Comprehensive into the world of the sacred. This project has been multi-faceted and the work is far from over.
It began with weeding out problematic hymnody, then the slow and gradual introduction of propers, in simple English settings. The choirs also began to explore some of the simpler Latin choral repertoire from the polyphonic tradition, and so forth.
While all of this was happening we simultaneously began initiating an more important step: the singing of the Order of Mass by priest and congregation and the singing of unaccompanied chant settings of the Ordinary of the Mass by the congregation. I believe that it is the focus on these that has transformed the liturgical life of our parish. It has been the a cappella singing of the ordinary texts of the liturgy by priest and people that has ordered and focused all that our choirs have done in the area of propers, choral motets, and so on.
The question has lingered in my mind through these 2 1/2 years: "What is a reasonable introductory repertoire of Gregorian Ordinaries for a parish that is in a ground-zero situation?"
I have spent countless hours with the Kyriale Romanum, envisioning a path forward for a more complete and varied singing of chanted ordinaries in my parish. The starting point is clear–most hymnals contain it–it is Kyrie XVI, Gloria XV or VIII, Sanctus and Angus XVIII. Many parishes have undertaken to learn these and here their work with Gregorian ordinaries has stopped. It is either this "Iubilate Deo" ordinary, or it is Mass of Creation or some other organ and choir based English setting, or worse.
But where should we go next? This simple composite ordinary is very accessible and it is widely sung for good reason–they are among the simplest and most intuitive ordinaries in the Gregorian repertoire. As one begins to work through the rest of the Kyriale Romanum it becomes quickly evident that the next step is a huge one. It is so great, in fact, that it seems that most parishes have not been able to take it.
Yesterday I took up again the task of charting a course beyond this basic composite ordinary, and the few other supplemental Kyrie and Agnus settings that my parish now sings very well. It remained clear that a composite approach is still what is needed, so I began organizing the simplest chants that are found in the Kyriale Romanum in what seemed to be logical compliments. There is something about this that makes me very uneasy. There is enough hacking, cutting and pasting that already occurs in our very unstable liturgical environment, the least I can do is try to preserve the integrity of the liturgy as given in the liturgical books. This is like Fr. Z's "say the black, do the red" for the church musician: "just sing it, don't change it!" But the problem remains that the 18 ordinaries of the Kyriale are quite varied, and almost every Mass setting contained in it has that one Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus or Agnus that is the deal breaker–it's just too much to bite off right now. So the composite approach seems to be the best path forward.
So as I was crafting these custom "composite ordinaries" I was suddenly prompted to pull that most curious post-conciliar innovation off of my shelf: the Graduale Simplex. I remembered the "Kyriale Simplex" that it contained, that I have flipped through curiously a number of times before, only to put it back on the shelf and forget about it.
What I realized while taking a closer look at the Kyriale Simplex was that I had virtually recreated, in my work of custom-crafting simple composite ordinaries from the Kyriale Romanum, Masses II and V of the Kyriale Simplex! (Mass I is the same as we will find in the new Missal, the "Iubilate Deo" ordinary.)
I began to explore this simple Kyriale in more depth and realized that the work that I had been doing in trying to find the best introductory Latin ordinaries for my parish had already been done, and admirably at that, and, best of all, this was presented in a way that had the precedent of an official liturgical book!
As I looked more closely at the chants contained in the Kyriale Simplex I discovered that of the 30 chants contained in its 5 composite ordinaries, 18 of them had come from the Kyriale Romanum. The other 12, I presume, come from other sources, but undeniably are from the authentic ecclesiastical chant tradition (loosely speaking–e.g. Sanctus X was composed by Dom Pothier, I believe). It contains a Gloria from the Mozarabic chant tradition, and the Gloria "more Ambrosiano" that is contained in the Kyriale Romanum ad libitum section, along with a complimentary Sanctus and Credo from the Ambrosian tradition. The remaining chants, though not contained in the Kyriale Romanum, I presume are from the Gregorian canon, and are remarkably beautiful and easy to sing. After considering each one I was able to resonate deeply with the decision that was made to make these settings available in a book that was meant for use "in minor churches".
So what I discovered here, I would like to submit, is a hidden treasure that might be the key to getting average parishes who desire to sing more Gregorian ordinaries out of the Iubilate Deo rut. I can see why this approach might seem ideologically problematic to some, especially to those who want to do the sacred music equivalent of "say the black, do the red", but I would like to propose that we need a few intermediary steps to realistically get to this point, and I think that the Kyriale Simplex might have paved that path. Perhaps it just took us about 50 years to realize it.