Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Am I Ready to Execute Gregorian Chant?

. . . if that's anything like slaughtering it, I can do that!

from the just issued Sacramentum Caritatis:

62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions. In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, such liturgies could be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant. (184)

Despite the strategically placed "could," I think I can already detect the soft drone of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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Blogger Steve Bogner said...

There are other qualifiers there, in addition to 'could'. There are 'large' and 'international'... so I suppose that would most likely be the World Youth Days, then?

We shouldn't forget that contemporary music and native-language can have just as much beauty and inspiration as Latin & Gregorian chant. It all seems so much like an expression of personal preference to me.

12:38 PM  
Blogger St. Izzy said...

That qualifier "could" isn't quite there in the official version. I quote:

Ad melius ostendendam unitatem et universalitatem Ecclesiae, cupimus commendare suasiones Synodi Episcoporum, consonantes cum normis Concilii Vaticani II: (182) exceptis lectionibus, homilia et oratione fidelium, aequum est ut huiusmodi celebrationes fiant lingua Latina; similiter Latine recitentur orationes pervulgatae (183) Ecclesiae traditionis et forte cantentur quaedam partes in cantu Gregoriano.

And frankly, at international gatherings I'm more than ready to "better express the unity and universality of the Church" by leaving behind personal and cultural preferences in favor of a universal language and form. Isn't this what it means to be Catholic? To be Universal rather than personal?

11:13 PM  
Blogger Joe said...


See if you can get a lip-sync dispensation for the Gregorian chant...



12:30 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Blame it on the rain . . .

Let us pray to the Lord.

6:38 AM  
Blogger Garpu the Fork said...

Making a "joyful noise"? ;) That part of the letter, along with aesthetics in liturgy, is one of the parts I'm excited about. Then again I've never been a fan of contemporary pop music in the Mass. My worry is that there won't be any innovation in the music--i.e. that our sacred music repertoire becomes like the Orthodox Church, when we had centuries of commissioning "new" (relative to their time) composers. Somehow I don't think we'll see Masses by my contemporaries anytime soon.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Gashwin said...

You know what I say Mark ... bring on the Latin! Magis, melior, dulcior!

3:31 PM  
Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

Maybe instead of thinking "oh no, now we _have_ to sing Gregorian chant," it could be more fun to think, "Wow, cool, now this wonderful ancient tradition is open to us again and our leaders are saying, 'Feel free to dip into this at any opportunity!'"

I'm a chanter myself but I don't see chant as a displacing element, and I definitely _don't_ want the "federal government" to force everyone to sing it and nothing else! I'm just saying, be open to it and don't be scared. Chant isn't coming after you with women's head veils and "mumble Masses" and Schubert's sentimental Ave Maria, and it's not some crypto SSPX thing. It's not gonna break your guitars and tamborines. In fact it's easier to sing than a lot of the pop music out there!

7:01 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


That's not what I'm thinking.

I like contemporary Church music, but I also like Gregorian chant.

And, besides, the chant is often much easier to sing than the more contemporary stuff!

8:45 PM  
Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

Mark Mossa, SJ said:

"I like contemporary Church music, but I also like Gregorian chant.

And, besides, the chant is often much easier to sing than the more contemporary stuff!"

I'm responding more to the lack of enthusiasm in the comments as a whole, than to you in particular ;)

We're very lucky out here to have Prof. Bill Mahrt nearby at Stanford. He is a tireless advocate of the Gregorian chant tradition -- see e.g. http://musicasacra.com/.

As for innovation -- what I haven't seen thus far is a sacred plainsong which respects the rhythmic characteristics of the English language, while respecting the solemnness and sacredness that befits the Divine Liturgy. This Easter Vigil our schola is helping the deacon with the Exsultet -- last year we did it in Latin, but this year we've been asked to sing it in English. The tone is the same but it grates against the English text, because the rhythms of the two languages are totally different. My director constantly has to get on my case to "stop singing it like Italian," but fact is, it sounds less awful that way!

If we're going to do vernacular liturgy, we need a chant tradition that fits our English language. Y'all surely recall your fellow Jesuit G. M. Hopkins, no? His sprung rhythm fits more naturally with the irregular consonant/vowel alternation of English. If we take that style of verse and fit the appropriate melodic patterns to it, we could create a truly indigenous chant tradition.

In any case, the most important thing is to move beyond Gebrauchsmusik and try to create something with eternal meaning.

And as for the Orthodox -- you might be forgetting that many of the pieces that give the "characteristic sound" of Russian sacred choral music were composed in the past two hundred years. I guess if you follow the pop charts, that doesn't represent "innovation," but on the time scales at which the Christian Church operates, that's fairly recent ;) You'll find in the history of Russian liturgical chant an openness to different traditions: see e.g. http://www.novgorod.ru/eng/cult/cd2/hist_e2.htm

1:32 AM  

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