Monday, November 17, 2008

Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant is a musical repertory made up of chants used in the liturgical services of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the liturgical tradition which the Church has given us is a vocal, monophonic music composed in Latin using sacred texts from the Ancient and New Testaments. This is why Gregorian Chant has often been called a "sung Bible". Linked intimately to the liturgy in this way, the goal of the Gregorian melodies is to favor spiritual growth, reveal the gifts of God and the full coherence of the Christian message. Abbay de Solesmes - Histoire de Chant Gregorien

The name Gregorian chant points us to Pope St Gregory the Great (590-604 ).

One thing I find sad about our family's now irregular participation in Mass in the Extraordinary Rite ( aka the Latin Mass), is the lack of Chant in our lives.

We used to attend Sung Latin Masses regularly. I have to admit that chant in Mass touches me spiritually, helps feed my soul.

It became conventional wisdom that listening to Gregorian chant increased the production of beta waves in the brain, reinforcing the popular reputation of Gregorian chant as tranquilizing music Wikipedia

I understand that peacefulness of Gregorian Chant. Today has been a quiet Kumon morning. I have free time. It is fairly leisurely, for us at any rate...Usually, however, mornings before Kumon work afternoons are hectic. Frantic even. Definitely busy.

I had such a busy, busy morning last Thursday before Kumon. At lunchtime, while still working and before going to work, while the kids were creating and eating their lunches, while I was naughtily skipping lunch due to time restraints, I put some Gregorian Chant in the CD player.

We own quite a few CDs of Chant, my dh also has a special fondness for Chant. But I chose to play the CD that comes with the kids' Christian Latin Course - Lingua Angelica. Not only Mass parts but also Christus Vincit, Veni Creator Spiritus, Pange Lingua, Panis Angelicus. Amongst others.

The music brought calm and peace. Even the nineteen year old son came down stairs and said - that's peaceful.

Pange lingua gloriosi Corporis mysterium

Sing my tongue of the mystery of the glorious body and precious blood.

The rhythm of Pange Lingua is said to have come down from a marching song of Caesar's legions. Ecce, Caesar nunc triumphat qui subgegit Gallias.

Adrian Fortescue said - there is not, nor is there ever likely to be any religious poety in the world worthy to be compared to the hymns of the Latin office. These were created in what has been called The Age of Faith, which began in the first century. This music is the heritage of all modern Christians.

I may be listening to David Bowie on CD in the car. I may like the tune of the following song, and sing with the youth choir at Mass last night, Heart of Worship ~

I'm coming back to the heart of worship And it's all about you All about you Jesus. I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it When it's all about you, All about you Jesus.

Ultimately, however, I find peace, spiritual food, a satisfaction of a nameless longing, in what we commonly call Gregorian Chant.

Sounds weird, esoterical, pretentious even, I know..But at least someone else shares my thoughts and experiences -

We have gone from solemnity, sacred awe, songs that every generation could recognize, or even sing from memory, to trendy clap trap, liturgo-pop, and Whoopi Goldberg songs that change every six months as they fall off the liturgical top 10 list.

As a child, I remember going from the solemn and sacred, haunting tune of "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum" to the tom-tom beat of "They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love".

What was going on? What is still going on? ...The Sacred Liturgy is the source and summit of our faith. Is it God-centered or "us"-centered? Is the Mass a Christian pep rally to make the troops feel good about themselves? Or is it the most holy, sacrosanct act of worship that any human being could ever give to Almighty God? Do we sing a new and beautiful song to the Lord? Or do we sing the Gathering Hymn to ourselves? Do we create the liturgy or is it given to us and to which we must join ourselves and be uplifted to the Eternal One?....

Sacred music must immerse us in the holy and the divine. It should lift our hearts, souls and especially our minds to God. It should use sacred texts and sacred language. Its role is not to exhilarate us emotionally, but to draw us into the divine action that is the true worship of God.

Monsignor Richard Schuler, pastor of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota and former editor of Sacred Music says, "Church Music is sacramental. It is sound that has become holy through dedication to a sacred purpose, the worship of God; sound that is most closely connected to the Word of God; sound that is created and performed by persons dedicated to God's praise and adoration. It is sound and words that bring the listener to a relationship with God. Church is (should be) essentially prayer, the raising of the heart and mind to God". (Sacred Music, summer 1993, Vol. 120, No. 2, p.4)....

Gregorian chant, the Mozart "Coronation Mass", Palestrina's "Missa Assumpta est Maria", or modern religious music like "If I Were a Butterfly", "Kumbaya" and "They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love" -- which expresses the Sacred, the Eternal? ... excerpts taken from Adoremus Bulletin - From "Tantum Ergo" to "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love"


Chris said...

I know what you mean. I feel the same way about hymns. There are a lot of beautiful songs we sing in church now that touch my heart and soul but the hymns that I sang as a child move me very deeply. They are so reverent and holy.

Julie said...

Worship is life changing, isn't it! We give unto God and He just fills us with His love!

Luke said...

I must confess to being more of a fan of polyphony for listening (it's also more challenging but thus satisfying to sing), but I do agree with the Fortescue quote. I think it's partly that Latin is a powerful language, but partly also because modern English isn't - since we habitually speak casually, it's difficult to achieve the same level of reverence and awe in religious writing.

I liked your social capital post, it's a very interesting area! And yes, I think the friars play an important role in mediating and modelling!

Anne (aussieannie) said...

We love Chant here too, I've been in a Gregorian Chant choir now for 6 years and my oldest children are in is so beautiful and uplifting. Sometimes I'd go off to choir not feeling the best but the chanting would lift all that off. I play it while schooling, birthing and so much more...there is nothing quite like it really...

Laura A said...

There are many different kinds of music being played in our home, but I do like chant. And we have that Linqua Angelica CD, too!

I think that's true about the pep rally mentality. Perhaps there's a time and place for it, but whenever I have felt a part of it, it tends to make it harder to come back home and live a quotidian life. I think chant is easier to weave into the day, perhaps because the people who wrote it understood the importance of daily rhythms.

Greg said...

I never knew that about Pane Lingua - from a marching song by Caesar's troops? That triples its awesome factor! Street cred off the charts :)
Having just finished 'Gaudete' I'm now going to look that up on youtube. Thank God for the internet.
Interesting you should post about this actually. Recently I've been reading about and listening to (yes, on youtube again!) music by lae mediaeval composers who worked in a style called 'Ars Subtilior'. Very complex and apparently an inspiration to twentieth century avante-garde composers. Lots of church music there!