For the forthcoming English translation of the Roman Missal (sometimes called the Sacramentary), the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) will offer to the Conferences of Bishops of the English-speaking world chants for everything that is set to music in the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia (2002):

  • The dialogues between the celebrant and the assembly such as the Sign of the Cross (“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) and the Dismissal (“Go forth, the Mass is ended”);
  • Tones for singing the presidential prayers (Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Prayer after Communion) with all prayer texts pointed for singing;
  • The chants before and after the readings such as “A reading from the book of…” and “The Gospel of the Lord”;
  • Separate tones for singing the First Reading, Second Reading, and Gospel;
  • The Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful;
  • The Preface Dialogue and Prefaces, including a musical setting of every Preface;
  • Full musical settings of Eucharistic Prayers I, II, III and IV, and the concluding Doxology;
  • Other elements such as the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Lord’s Prayer;
  • Chants for particular days and feasts such as “Hosanna to the Son of David” on Palm Sunday, the Universal Prayer and “Behold the wood of the Cross” on Good Friday, the Exsultet (Paschal Proclamation) at the Easter Vigil, antiphons for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd, and the Proclamation of Easter and Moveable Feasts for Epiphany.
  • Some of the Latin chants will also be provided, including the Sanctus, Pater noster, Agnus Dei, and intonations for the Gloria and Credo. A chant setting of the Greek Kyrie from Mass XVI will also be provided.

In some cases, following the example of the Missale Romanum, both simple and solemn settings have been provided.

ICEL’s work in preparing chant settings of the English translation has been guided by several principles:

  • To preserve and recover the tradition of unaccompanied singing in the Roman Rite, since the liturgy “is given a more noble form when . . . celebrated solemnly in song” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963 [hereafter SC] 113);
  • To facilitate “full and active participation by all the people,” which is “the aim to be considered before all else” (SC 14);
  • To take full account of the accentuation of the English language, since “the nature and laws of each language must be respected” in the adaptation of traditional melodies (Sacred Congregation for Rites, Instruction on Music in the Liturgy Musicam Sacram, 1967, 54);
  • To retain vernacular chants now in use where possible, since “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them” (SC 23).

The Commission’s musical consultors have undertaken a detailed analysis of the Latin settings, creating tables of accent patterns and musical formulas. Likewise for the new English translation, tables of the accent patterns have been created, in order to arrive at the best solution where the English text has accent patterns not found in Latin. The musicians have found it helpful to look at the work of other vernacular chant adaptations such as Spanish, French, and German. German-language scholarship has proven helpful, both because German-speaking scholars began investigating vernacular chant adaptation as early as the 1920s, and also because the German language has some similarities to English, for example, in the accent often falling on the final syllable of a phrase. The musicians also examined the previous work of English language chant adaptation in the liturgical books of 1966, 1970, 1971, and 1973. With all this in mind, their uppermost concern has been the actual celebration of the liturgy by worshiping communities and ministers.

Some of the Most Commonly Sung Chants
Preface Dialogue
For the Preface Dialogue at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the setting currently used in most of the English-speaking world is retained, with appropriate adjustments for the revised text:

This current setting fits the natural accentuation of the English text admirably. Also, this melody is already well-known to many English-speaking Catholics around the world.

The musicians considered and rejected a setting of the Preface Dialogue based on the Latin solemn tone (Graduale Romanum, 1974 [hereafter GR] 809-810; Graduale Simplex, 1975 [hereafter GS] 8):

This new melody might be difficult for congregations; furthermore, it does not fit the English text as well as the current setting. The current and proposed setting, with its moderate ornamentation, will work very well with the proposed new Preface tone (presented further below).

For the congregational response “It is right and just,” two other possibilities were considered and rejected:

It was not considered advisable to retain the opening on two As (left above) as the current setting does, since the revised Preface tone reintroduces the pattern of using only one A in all such cases. It would be unwise to ask congregations to learn a revised setting (see right above) with just one note different from the familiar opening. The solution was to start on C.

Doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer

The opening phrase treats the English text exactly as in the revised Preface tone. This is preferable to retaining AC and CB note groups on “through” and “with,” which would result in unattractive repeated notes:

Note that the revised setting stays on the reciting note C rather than cadencing on “almighty Father,” as might have been suggested by the current setting. The reason lies in the syntax of the revised text, which calls for a repetition of the first musical cadence on “Holy Spirit” rather than on “almighty Father.” It is felicitous that the full concluding cadence of the revised Preface tone (see the next section) is able to be used for “honor and glory.”

The current Preface tone is based on the Latin simple Preface tone. The revised Preface tone will be slightly more ornate, based in part on the Latin solemn Preface tone with necessary adaptations for the English language. (This new Preface tone will be similar to the tone of the Easter Proclamation Exsultet.) Some singers report that a slightly more ornate setting is easier to sing because of its melodic appeal in comparison to a less ornamented setting. The Latin solemn Preface tone is more ancient, and it was the sole tone in use for centuries, dating back to the formative era of the liturgy. The simple tone was derived from it in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Latin solemn Preface tone:

Latin simple Preface tone:

A single revised Preface tone is being proposed as the English language Preface tone. Here it is illustrated by the beginning of the Preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV:

It has been considered preferable to follow the Latin tone by having a single note A before the reciting note C in all cases. The current Preface tone sometimes has more than one anticipatory A, and other times it begins directly on C. The revised English text argues against this solution, for in some cases there would need to be three or more anticipatory As, and in some cases this would result in only one or two syllables being left for the reciting note C. Once the singer becomes familiar with the standard formula, it should not be difficult to render the revised setting convincingly and without distortion.

Note that the setting of “give you thanks” accounts for two final accents (on “give” and “thanks”), unlike the Latin solemn Preface tone formula which only consults one final accent. A more Latinate one-accent cadence would have been:

But in this case, unlike the concluding cadence formula (such as “under heaven as we sing” above), a two-accent formula can be devised for the sake of the English language. Although such a two-accent formula never occurs in the Latin Prefaces, it does in the Latin Exsultet:

Drawing on this “beata nox” exception, the revised Preface tone has a two-accent formula (final accent and secondary accent) which treats the various English accent patterns as follows:

The treatment of the concluding cadence formula is well illustrated by comparing the two excerpts below, both from the Preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV. When the English text ends on an accented syllable such as “sing” at the cadence, the melodic formula must be abbreviated to a single final A. But when the English text ends with a word such as “ceasing,” a fuller melodic form of the cadence is possible.

Cadence with final-syllable accent:
Cadence without final-syllable accent:

In this concluding cadence formula, textual considerations determine when to move from the reciting note B to begin the cadence formula, and whether or not to split any of the two-note groups such as AG or GA. Compare the following examples, all from the Preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV. The first example below is the fullest cadence formula, closest to the Latin solemn tone; the others are slight modifications of it as called for by the accentuation of the English text.

Happily, the three-note note group with quilisma of the Latin tone will be retrieved in the Prefaces, as at the end of the Preface in the example below over “voice”:

Congregational Chants of the Order of Mass

The current English Kyrie setting will be retained, both as a free-standing acclamation and with a musical formula for added invocations:

After much experimentation, it was agreed that the English text of the Kyrie, with its very few syllables, does not lend itself to a melodic adaptation from any of the Gregorian chant melodies of GR or GS. The Kyrie printed above as an alternative response (from GS 451: Setting G) fits nicely with the modality of the chanted English invocations. This Kyrie may also be sung as a free-standing acclamation.

A setting of the Gloria based on chant Mass XV is being provided, with the hope that a common setting will become known throughout the English-speaking world. Because the Latin setting is not much more than a formulaic tone, it was possible to take necessary freedoms for the sake of the English text:

It is likely that an English setting of the Profession of Faith based on Credo I of the GR will be proposed. While it is true that the melody of Credo III is better known, it seems preferable to leave that familiar melody for use with the Latin text in the hope that it will remain in use or come to be used more widely in Latin.


This setting follows the Latin melody closely. There would have been good reasons, based on natural English accentuation, for placing a single note A on the second syllable of “Holy,” as in the current setting:

But it was decided to imitate the Latin with its displaced accent more closely here, in part because the Latin setting is likely to be sung with great frequency by congregations in the future, which argues for similarity between the Latin and English settings.

Memorial Acclamation
The Memorial Acclamation settings apply the basic modal melodic elements of the Latin Mortem tuam (GR 810, GS 10) to the new English translations:

The Lord’s Prayer
The “Our Father” presents an interesting pastoral conundrum. In the United States, a very successful simplified setting with admirable treatment of the English language is already widely used. Australia has its own widely used setting based closely on the Latin Pater noster, and other countries have their own settings as well. Many would regret tampering with an element of the reformed liturgy that the people sing so well. Several possible pastoral solutions were given serious consideration. ICEL could have selected one from the many current settings of various countries to include in the Roman Missal. Or ICEL could have refrained from proposing a revised setting, with the suggestion that each country retain what is presently in use. After much consideration it was decided to offer to all the Conferences of Bishops a new setting based on the Latin Pater noster (GR 812, GS 9-10). Each country will examine the setting and decide whether or not to introduce it, either alongside or as a replacement for settings currently in use.

The first word of the revised setting, “our” on G-A, is admittedly a challenge, for it might come out as a two-syllable “ow-er.” Still, it was decided to retain this eminently memorable opening of the Latin setting, rather than simplifying it by remaining on B for the first three syllables, or by shifting the opening notes to be G A-B B.

Within each phrase, the revised setting employs that part of the respective Latin melody which best fits the English text. “Hallowed be thy name,” for example, draws on the corresponding Latin phrase “sancificetur nomen tuum”:

The revised English setting employs the notes from “sancti- . . . nomen tu-.” This allows for a modally strong beginning on A and G following the preceding phrase, and it lessens the incorrect accent on “be” which would result from a setting such as this:

Note groups C-B and A-B were used for “kingdom,” both to avoid a modally unstable run down the scale from C to G, which is uncharacteristic of Latin settings (see below), and also to balance the emphasis on the important words “kingdom” and “will.” Similarly, B rather than G is placed on “Give” so as to avoid a run up the scale from G to C (see below). “Forgive us” is not set with a run up the scale on G A-B C (see below), which would overemphasize “us.” The result of such careful use of Latin formulas is an English setting that is as redolent as possible of the Latin setting while fitting the English text as naturally as possible. Other possible solutions in the Lord’s Prayer were also rejected:

Agnus Dei
The Lamb of God setting is readily suggested by the familiar Latin melody:

The treatment of “have mercy” adds a note not found in Latin in order to have correct stress on “mercy” rather than “have.” Experimentation has shown that this added note on “have” should be A rather than G.

Other Chants from the Order of Mass

Sign of the Cross
Some of the other work of ICEL is presented here, beginning with the first ministerial chant of the Mass:

A literal adaptation such as this was rejected:

This preserves the notes and the note order of the Latin chant, but at the expense of undue stress on “of.” The proposed setting is similar to the current setting, which has an abrupt cadence on the final accent “Son”:

It perhaps might have seemed preferable to open directly on A, as in the current setting. (If some priests find it easier to omit the initial G in the new setting, it will hardly cause much harm.) But it eventually proved necessary to begin on G to parallel the revised prayer tone of the orations, which is closely related to this chant.

After examination of the Latin tone as well as the current English tone, it was judged more advisable to revise the current tone rather than develop a revised setting based on the Latin. Here is the Latin, with two rejected English solutions:

The first English version follows the Latin quite literally; the second version shifts the melodic elements to match the English accents. Neither fits the English text as well as the Latin or the current English setting. Furthermore, these versions would be less likely to elicit the proper response from the congregation, since they do not echo the melody of the priest’s part. Here is the proposed revision:

This setting uses the modal elements of the current setting, with adjustment for the revised text. A more literal following of the current setting would have been:

Current setting:

Rejected solution:

This is an inadequate solution on grounds of accentuation of the text as well as the establishment of stable modal centers. The two syllables on “also” in the current translation enabled the modal center of A to be established solidly. But with the new text, the rejected solution would have led to unstable rapid alternation between G and A.

Reading Tones

A nice addition to the English Missal will be newly developed reading tones, one for each of the three readings of the Mass. They are all based on the Latin models, with necessary adjustments for natural rendition of the English text. Here is the Epistle tone:

Because English has so many accent patterns not found in Latin, it is necessary to have a procedure and explanation as complete as this. When one wishes to sing a reading, it will be necessary to notate it entirely ahead of time, and the above explanation is intended to show how to do this. Here is the beginning of the Second Reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A, in two of the Scripture translations currently in use:

Layout and Notation

Layout and notation play an important role in facilitating the sung rendition of liturgical texts. ICEL has developed an attractive five-line notation that facilitates ease of singing and makes clear the primacy of the text. This notation is considered to be integral to the new English language chant settings.

  • Hyphens between syllables are used for clarity at melodic cadences;
  • White notes are used only for reciting tones; otherwise, black notes without stems are used in order not to imply equalist rhythms;
  • Notes in note groups are spaced close together rather than evenly spaced in order to make clear the syllables to which they are subordinate;
  • Slurs to mark note groups are placed under the notes so as to be closer to the text;
  • Notes and note groups are generally centered over the entire syllable rather than over the vowel;
  • A black note on the same pitch as the reciting tone is used only over an accented syllable at the beginning of the cadence formula;
  • Liquescents and episemas are not used;
  • The quilisma is used only in the Preface sung by the celebrant, not in congregational chants.

In the music to be provided to the Conferences of Bishops, ICEL seriously considered employing the venerable four-line square note notation of the Latin chant books. Once one learns the medieval notation, which does not take long, it is in some ways easier to read than modern five-line notation. But pastoral considerations argued against this approach. There is danger that the traditional four-line notation would pose a practical hindrance and psychological barrier for some singers. The uppermost goal must be to enable sung liturgy.

Though a standard G clef (without accidentals) is used with this five-line notation, it is not intended to suggest an absolute pitch, but rather, as in four-line notation, relative pitch, to accommodate various ranges of voices that will be singing these chants. Recordings of this music at different pitches will eventually be made available on line free of charge on various Web sites. A celebrant, for example, will be able to click on the text of the Sunday Preface to be chanted and hear a recording of it. Furthermore, composers will be able to provide their own accompaniments (at more than one pitch) of people’s parts such as the Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamations, and Agnus Dei.

It is a daunting responsibility to prepare liturgical books for the liturgy, which is “a sacred action surpassing all others” (SC 7). ICEL hopes that its efforts will help the people of God to worship worthily, and thereby achieve the purpose of the liturgy, which is the sanctification of people and the glorification of God (see SC 10).

For access to the music discussed in this report, please click here and enter the username and password provided by your national liturgical office.

Introduction to the Music of the Forthcoming English Language Roman Missal © 2009, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL); excerpts from the English translation, musical settings, and music engraving of The Roman Missal © 2009, ICEL. All rights reserved. This article (text and music) must be reproduced without alteration.