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1963 Liber Usualis (Latin-English texts)

A review by Louis J. Tofari


I am thrilled to announce that Preserving Christian Publications has just reprinted the 1963 Liber Usualis with the ENGLISH instructional and rubrical texts and USA PROPER FEASTS and in impressive fashion!


For over two decades, Preserving Christian Publications (aka, PCP) has been rendering a great service to the Church by resurrecting many important—and even necessary—out-of-print publications for the traditional Roman Rite (see a list after this review).


Having previously worked for PCP as a reprint manager, I can personally attest to their commitment to produce books not only of good quality, but also of usability and durability. And their newest offering, the 1963 Liber Usualis, is no exception!


PCP’s latest project has further significance for me, as circa 2003, I initiated the importation of the Latin-only 1962 Liber Usualis in this country, when a new copy of this edition was nearly impossible to find, let alone for a reasonable price.


Since that time, many Americans have desired to see the Liber Usualis version for the United States to be reprinted, since often they cannot read all of the Latin texts. Thus PCP’s most recent contribution is indeed a God-send, and will certainly assist with the continued restoration of Gregorian chant in our own country.


Some readers might be wondering what is the Liber Usualis? The full Latin title is: Liber Usualis Missae et Offici Pro Dominicis et Festis Cum Cantu Gregoriano, or The Usual Book of the Mass and Offices for Sundays and Feasts with Gregorian Chant, otherwise known by its abbreviated title as the “Liber Usualis” or even just “The Liber”.


As the title describes, this book contains the chants for the various Masses of the Roman Missal (i.e., the Kyriale parts and propers), as well as the hours of the Divine Office (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Sext, Terce, None, Vespers, and Compline).


The Liber also provides the chants used at Benediction and the Forty Hours Prayer as well as some Gregorian hymns. The Liber also features the texts of the Mass Ordinary, so it can double as a lay missal for schola members or even the laity who like to follow the chants of the Mass propers.


The Liber Usualis was produced by the Belgium company of Desclee, Printers to the Apostolic See and the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and the long-time publishing arm of the Solesmes monks—whose interpretation of Gregorian chant was prescribed by Pope St. Pius X to be used throughout the Roman Rite.


It should be noted that the Liber is actually not a liturgical book, but rather a compilation of materials from the official chant books of the Roman Rite, such as the Graduale Romanum, the Kyriale, and Cantorinus. Thus the Liber Usualis is a book of convenience since it omits the need to use several books during the sung divine services in a typical parish situation.


PCP’s Latin-English edition contains all of the materials found in the Latin-only Liber Usualis, plus a few more important items for the dioceses of the United States of America. Also, as this was printed in 1963, it is the latest “English” version of the Liber available for the 1962 Roman Missal and Breviary.


Taking six months to reproduce, the quality of manufacturing featured by PCP’s 1963 Liber Usualis is impressive and will certainly give years—if not decades—of valuable service, and here are some highlights.


The first striking feature about the 1963 Liber Usualis is its compact size. Those familiar with the Latin-only Liber—which I affectionately call “the 5-pound brick”—will certainly appreciate the reduced dimensions of PCP’s edition which measures: 7.25” (inches) tall, 4.75” wide and 2” thick (as opposed to 3” thick for the Latin-only version). They’ve also managed to slightly reduce the weight of their Liber bringing it down to 2lbs, 3oz (as opposed to the 2lbs, 14oz of the Latin-only edition).


For durability, PCP’s Liber features a hardbound cover, while the inside binding is reinforced with heavy-duty endsheets (the material that connects the cover to the book block), and the pages have been stitched together with high-quality Smyth-sewing. Inserted into the binding are six satin ribbons of good length: two of gold, and one of green, red, violet, and blue.


The pages are of a cream-colored bible paper traditionally used in liturgical printings such as breviaries, rituals and you guess it, Libers. A fortiori, the clarity of the chant notations and text matches Desclee’s original printing.


In giving the finishing touches to their Liber Usualis, PCP gold-embossed the front cover and spine in an elegant manuscript font, and applied red ink to the page edges, a classic treatment given to smaller books by liturgical printers. As for the printed material itself, this Latin-English Liber Usualis is a boon for Americans!


Firstly, there are the texts printed in English, namely, the instructional and rubrical matters. It should be noted that the prayers, readings and chants are only in Latin—so a lay missal will need to be consulted for the English translations.


Secondly, in addition to the propers found in the universal Latin-only edition, the 1963 Liber Usualis supplies an appendix providing the Proper Feasts observed in the United States and a note concerning some changes made to the American liturgical calendar (e.g., the transfer of feast of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini from December 22 to November 13).


This Liber edition also includes a special Mass for Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Graces, while PCP added a supplement for Votive Masses of the Immaculate Heart of Mary offered during the seasons of Septuagesima, Lent and Paschaltide and updated the Table of Movable Feasts to make it current up to 2041.


But the kicker to all of these great features of PCPs’ 1963 Liber Usualis is its price: just $76.00!


In concluding this review, I would like to express my gratitude to Preserving Christian Publications for investing their substantial time, effort and money into reproducing the Latin-English Liber Usualis for the 1962 Roman Missal and Breviary—and kudos for another fine publication!


Other liturgical items offered by Preserving Christian Publications:


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