Mar 15, 2008

Evangelia Cantata: A Notated Book of Gospels

Online Edition: March 2008, Vol. XIV, No. 1

Evangelia Cantata: A Notated Book of Gospels

A review-interview with the composer

Helen Hull Hitchcock interviews Edward Schaefer

Evangelia Cantata: A Notated Book of Gospels, by Edward Schaefer.

A Book of Gospels with chant notation for the three-year cycle of Sundays, Solemnities, and selected feasts of the Lord and of the saints. (English texts using the Gregorian formula for the solemn tone.) To see the table of contents and see and hear samples, visit (770 pages, hardbound. 2008 Priory Press. Cover illustration by Anne Marie Schaefer.)


When we learned that Edward Schaefer, noted scholar and music director, had published Evangelia Cantata, we were eager to learn more about this work, which we see as an important contribution to the striking revival in Catholic liturgical music that is now in progress.

Dr. Schaefer recently completed 21 years as the choral director at Gonzaga University, where he directed a renowned Gregorian schola. Today he serves as Associate Dean for the College of Fine Arts at the University of Florida, where, among many other duties, he has recently begun a schola. This new schola, under his directorship, has already sung for high Masses in the “extraordinary form” of the Mass (1962 Missal), and hopes to soon begin singing for Masses in the “ordinary form” as well.

Our interview with Dr. Schaefer follows.

Tell us a little about the work: just what is it?

Evangelia Cantata is very similar to the Book of Gospels that one would find in a typical parish today, with one major difference: the Gospels are all notated for chanting. Evangelia Cantata includes all the Gospels, in English, for the Sundays and major feasts of the three-year cycle.

The tone used is the solemn tone. This is one of the tones suggested in the current version of the Graduale Romanum, and it is the tone that is most compatible with the common chants of the Mass in the current Missale Romanum. (It was also an option in the Tridentine Mass, where it was offered as a “more ancient” tone. However, it was not often used.)

The resurgence of this “more ancient” tone is an ongoing part of the chant restoration movement that started in the mid-nineteenth century with the work of Dom Prosper Guéranger and the monks of Solesmes and that continues today.

Will priests and deacons be able to read the musical notation for the Gospels?

The notation form used is the Vatican square-note notation.

My experience has been that this notation is actually easier for deacons and priests without musical training to read. It doesn’t have many of the components of modern notation that can be confusing to an untrained person and that are really unnecessary for singing chant anyway, such as time signatures, key signatures, etc. The solemn tone for the Gospel is fairly simple, and an untrained eye can easily see when the notes go up or down.

You mentioned the Graduale Romanum. Will you describe what this is, and its purpose?

The Graduale Romanum is technically the Church’s official book containing the music (chants) for the Proper of the Mass.

The Proper of the Mass includes those chants that change every week: the Introit, the Gradual — after the first reading — the Alleluia (or Tract), the Offertory, and the Communion. There are prescribed texts as well as music for all these “Propers”.

But in reality the Graduale Romanum (or “Roman Gradual”) contains much more. It also contains the Kyriale, that is, the book of chant for the Ordinary of the Mass (i.e., the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). Furthermore, it also includes a wealth of information about the common chants of the Mass, that is, the chants for the dialogues, the orations, the readings, the Pater noster, etc.

The Roman Gradual is the book of the official music for the Roman Mass.

So you might call it the “Official Catholic Hymnal” — but we never see it. Has it disappeared altogether?

It has not actually disappeared; but it is mostly ignored.

The Gradual was revised in 1974 to reflect the changes made after the Second Vatican Council in both the calendar for the liturgical year and the Lectionary readings for Mass. The Gradual is, of course, in Latin — the official book of music would logically be in the official language of the Church.

However, because of the virtual disappearance of Latin from the Liturgy — and also because substituting other music for the Proper of the Mass was given great latitude — the Gradual is largely unknown to parish musicians.

What led you create this edition of the Gospels in English?

It’s part of my ongoing passion to restore chant to the Mass and the sung liturgy to the Church.

Until the 1960s virtually every parish had a high, or sung, Mass every Sunday. It was the principal Mass for the weekend.

The rules for a sung Mass were rather simple: essentially (almost) everything that the priest said audibly was sung, as were the Proper and Ordinary parts of the Mass.

After the Second Vatican Council, there were multitude of liturgical changes. Certain of those changes — especially the use of the vernacular and the permission that many previously silent parts of the Mass would now be prayed audibly by the priest — had a disastrous effect on the centuries-old tradition of the sung Mass (or high Mass).

There are several reasons for this. There was not adequate thought given to the implementation of the changes, especially how they might affect the high Mass — or how the changes might be implemented in such a way as to preserve the high Mass.

As a result, this form of the Mass, which dated back the fifth or sixth century and had always been the Church’s preeminent form of her public worship, virtually disappeared.

True enough, there was lots of music at Mass, but the Mass itself was relegated to a spoken rite, a form whose roots really go back to the development of the private Mass.

Today, I think most people have an understanding that the music at Mass is somehow important, but that it is not as intrinsically connected to the Mass as we might wish. We have, for the most part, a spoken Mass that is interrupted throughout by musical interludes that may or may not have anything to do with the Mass itself.

Liturgical reform should not mean the loss of the sung Mass. My hope is that this Book of Gospels, along with the notated Missal, Missa Cantata, will be useful tools toward the restoration of the sung Mass to American liturgical life.

What inspired you to work on restoring the tradition of singing the actual texts of the Mass?

After decades of work as a parish musician doing everything from playing the organ to tuning guitars, I had the opportunity to go to France and spend some time at the monastery at Solesmes.

My first Mass there was a life-changing moment. It was a Novus Ordo Mass, but sung — in other words, a high Mass. It was in Latin except for the readings and Prayers of the Faithful, which were in French.

I came out of the Mass thinking that this must be a lot closer to what the Council Fathers had envisioned than what has actually transpired over the last few decades. By the end of my trip I knew that this was my mission.

I studied the course of chant at the French national conservatory in Paris and sang for a period with Le Choeur Gregorièn de Paris (the Gregorian Choir of Paris), which sings a high Novus Ordo Mass every Sunday.

When I felt prepared, about 11 years ago, we began an attempt to restore the high Mass to the Novus Ordo. This began in a chapel at Gonzaga University, where I was the choral director. (It continues there today, and I hope it will also start soon in my new life in Florida.)

The Mass was simply a sung rite. We used the common tones for the Mass from the Graduale Romanum. The priest’s parts were sung in English, but adapted to these Gregorian tones. The readings were also sung in English.

The Proper and the Ordinary were sung in Latin. The schola (choir) sang the Proper, which historically was always sung by the schola and was never congregational music. The congregation and schola sang the Ordinary chants in alternatim, that is, alternating verses.

Eventually, we codified the chants for the priest into a Missal, which is published as Missa Cantata.

The chants for the Gospel are now available in this new publication, Evangelia Cantata. So the final editing of the Gospels in this book was the end of about a ten-year process. My intention is to publish a book with the other readings within the next year.

Why do we need such a book?

Good question. A related — and important — question might be phrased: “If we have a Book of Gospels already, why is it necessary to have a special edition with the Gospels notated? Couldn’t you just publish a set of guidelines for the formula?”

Actually, I have. That text is called Singing the Prayers and Readings at Mass.

However, what I discovered over the last decade is that the tradition of singing the Mass has been so dramatically fractured that something was needed to help restore the practice. In general, priests simply don’t know the formulas well enough to apply them to any texts.

If you are ever at a Mass in which an older priest, say 70 years of age or so, is the celebrant, you will notice that he can often sing the orations of the Mass rather easily on a particular tone. This was the tone most frequently used for sung Masses in the Tridentine form of the rite, and all priests were trained to sing at least this formula.

But younger priests generally do not have the facility to do this. They sometimes try, but it is quickly clear that they do not really know the formula properly.

In general, priests today have not been trained in the various formulas for singing the Mass. Also, they do not hear the formulas often enough to be able to learn them properly by means of the passing of an oral tradition. So a notated book gives them an easy way to be able to sing the Mass fluently and comfortably.

This was the rationale behind the Missal, Missa Cantata, and it is the rationale behind this new book of Gospels. In an ideal world, neither of these books would be necessary because all the priests would be inculcated in the practice of singing the Mass as a part of their formation. However, until that time returns, we need to give them these tools.

Who will be using this Book of Gospels?

There clearly has been increased interest over the last decade in rethinking the proper role of music at Mass and what a “sung Mass” really is. The Missal, Missa Cantata, and now this new Book of Gospels, Evangelia Cantata, are seeing use in pockets all around the country.

I think, too, that the release of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, which makes it easier for priests to celebrate the Tridentine form of the Mass, as well as the increased interest in the Tridentine Mass that this has generated, have both coincidentally spurred a greater interest in the sung or high Mass.

There are more high Masses being celebrated in the Tridentine form of the rite, so it is generating a natural curiosity about a parallel practice in the Novus Ordo.

So, I see this new volume being used in several ways. Certainly, it is an intrinsic part of restoring the high or sung Mass. At the same time, even in low (or spoken) Masses, especially with the restoration of the diaconate and so many deacons assisting at Mass — which raises a whole new discussion (for another time) about deacons at low Mass — there is increased interest in singing the Gospel, at least on certain feast days.

This book makes this possible to do so using the Church’s traditional music. Also, since the guidelines for applying the formula are included in the front of the book, it could be used as a sort of study text on the art of applying this particular Gregorian formula to English texts.

At any rate, its release has generated a huge response. For whatever reason, it seems to be filling a void.

What if the priest or deacon has never heard the chant tones? How can they learn what it sounds like?

On the web site of Priory Press ( there is actually a clip of one of the Gospels in the book being sung as the music goes by — not exactly like “follow the bouncing ball”, but close.

Until we have a recording of the complete Mass, that should at least give a priest or deacon a general idea of how this tone for the Gospel works.

I am also sure that their parish musician would be delighted to help them if it meant that the Gospels would be sung at Mass.

Do you see this book being used in seminaries for training young priests?

During my time in Spokane, Washington, I worked off and on with Bishop White Seminary there. Several of the seminarians learned to sing the Mass, and with the support of the rector, Father Darrin Connall, we had sung Masses at the seminary on several feast days. So, I know that Missa Cantata and this new Evangelia Cantata could, indeed, be very helpful in the training of seminarians.

There are, however, a few impediments that will need to cleared. The first is that the sung Mass has been so thoroughly expunged from the culture of the Church that it will take rectors with a certain sense of vision in order to implement a training of seminarians that would include learning to sing the Mass. It would be a training to change the liturgical culture rather than a training that accepts the status quo.

It will also take a willingness to incorporate sung Masses into the regular formation of the seminarians. If it remains a “classroom only” activity, it will never reenter parish life.

Finally, there will need to be a rethinking of the notion of “progressive solemnity”. Today, progressive solemnity is generally interpreted as having the low Mass serve as a kind of foundation to which various elements of music are added, depending on the nature of the day being celebrated.

If the sung Mass is to be restored to parish life, it must be the foundation. Low Masses, with varying degrees of music for different days, are all very fine, but the principal liturgy of the weekend should be a sung Mass.

It can reflect varying degrees of solemnity by such things as the complexity of the music (simple chants to large polyphonic settings), the number of servers, the solemnity of the processions, etc.

This is a very different perspective than is generally held today. Today we think that the amount of music reflects the degree of solemnity. I would suggest that the degree of solemnity can be reflected by the nature of the music, as well as other elements of the liturgy.

What else should we know about this new book?

A couple of things. First, I have to brag as a papa about the cover. My youngest daughter is preparing to attend an art school somewhere next year, and I asked her if she would be interested in a commission that she might be able to use in her portfolio.

We spent some time looking at traditional depictions of the Evangelists on Gospelaries, and I gave her some general thoughts about things that I liked. Then I asked her to come up with some kind of a concept. The cover on the book was her first attempt. I think it is striking — it carries on a venerable tradition, but gives it a contemporary, fresh look. I think she did a fantastic job. Evidently so did the art schools. She included it in her portfolio, and she has been accepted into every school to which she applied.

Lastly, while Evangelia Cantata is available from the Priory Press web site, (, it can now also be ordered on eBay and on Amazon. Other distributors will come soon.