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Gregorian Chant and Congregational Participation: The Possibilities and Conditions for a Revival |
Monsignor Valentino Miserachs Grau, President of the Pontifical Institute of
Sacred Music | From Musica Sacra—Sacred Music: A Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge
1. Admonitions by the Magisterium
That the assembly of the faithful, during the celebration of the sacred rites
and especially during the Holy Mass, should participate by singing the parts of
the Gregorian chant that belong to them is not only possible, as we will see in
a moment—it is the ideal.
This is not my opinion but the thought of the Church. See in this regard the
documentation from the Motu Proprio Tra Ie Sollecitudini  of Saint Pius X until our own time,
passing through Pius XII (Musicae sacrae disciplina), chapter 6 of the Second Vatican Council's
Constitution on the Liturgy, the subsequent Instruction issued by the Congregation for Rites in 1967, and the recent Chirograph of John Paul II
commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Motu Proprio of Saint Pius X.
Another example is what was said by the recent Synod of Bishops [October 2005]
in its conclusions (no. 36) about the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations:
In celebrating the Eucharist during international meetings ... it is proposed:
The Synod, in exhorting them "not [to] neglect opportunities", looks
forward to the day when this will be carried out. What it says about the
formation of priests in this regard will likewise be very useful.
—that the [con]celebration of the Mass be in Latin ... and, where
appropriate, Gregorian chants be sung;
—that priests, beginning in the seminary, be trained to understand and
celebrate Mass in Latin, as well as to use Latin prayers and to appreciate
—that the possibility of educating the faithful in this way not be
overlooked [emphasis added].
2. The Formation of Priests
The motivation for this hope is widely demonstrable, if not self-evident.
Indeed, it is incomprehensible that Latin and Gregorian chant have been banned
almost absolutely over the past forty years, especially in the Latin countries.
Incomprehensible and avoidable. Latin and Gregorian chant, which are closely
united to the biblical, patristic and liturgical sources, are part of that
lex orandi [law of praying] that
has been forged over a span of almost twenty centuries. Why should such an
amputation take place, and so lightheartedly? We should have tried to haec
facere et illa non omittere [do
these (new) things without omitting those (traditional ones)]. It would be like
cutting off roots—now that there is so much talk about roots. Shelving
all at once a tradition of prayer that developed over two millennia has
produced favorable conditions for a heterogeneous and anarchic proliferation of
new musical products that, in most cases, have been unwilling or unable to take
root in the essential tradition of the Church, causing not only a general
impoverishment but also damage that would be difficult to repair, assuming that
someone wants to apply an effective remedy.
3. Give Back to the Congregation the Gregorian Chant that Belongs to It
Congregational Gregorian chant not only can but must be restored, along with the chanting of the
schola and the celebrants, if we desire a return to the liturgical seriousness,
holiness, sound form and universality that should characterize all liturgical
music worthy of the name, as Saint Pius X teaches and John Paul II reiterates,
without changing so much as a comma. How could a bunch of silly tunes, cranked
out in imitation of the most trivial popular music, ever replace the nobility
and sturdiness of the Gregorian melodies, even the simplest ones, which are
capable of lifting the hearts of the people up to heaven?
We have underestimated the Christian people's ability to learn; we have almost
forced them to forget the Gregorian melodies that they knew instead of
expanding and deepening their knowledge of them, through proper instruction on
the meaning of the texts. Instead, we have stuffed them full of banalities. By
cutting the umbilical cord of tradition in this manner, we have deprived new
composers of liturgical music in the living languages—assuming but not
conceding that they have sufficient technical preparation—of the
"humus" that is indispensable if they are to compose according to
the mind of the Church.
We have underestimated—I repeat—the people's ability to learn.
Obviously not everything in the repertoire is suitable for the people: this was
a "distortion" of the rightful participation that is asked of the
assembly, as though, in the matter of liturgical chant, the people should be
the only actor onstage. We must respect the proper order of things: the people
should chant their part, but equal respect should be shown for the role of the
schola, the cantor, the psalmist and, naturally, the celebrant and the various
ministers who, on the other hand, often prefer not to sing. As John Paul II
emphasizes in his recent Chirograph:
From the smooth coordination of all—the priest celebrant and the deacon,
the acolytes, the altar servers, the readers, the psalmist, the schola
cantorum, the musicians, the
cantor and the assembly—flows the proper spiritual atmosphere which makes
the liturgical moment truly intense, shared in [i.e. , participatory] and
fruitful. [no. 8]
Do we want a revival of congregational Gregorian chant? It should begin with
the acclamations; the Pater noster;
and the ordinary chants of the Mass, especially the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. In
many countries the people were well acquainted with Credo III and the entire ordinary of Mass VIII (de
Angelis) , and not just that!
They knew the Pange Lingua,
the Salve Regina, and other
antiphons. Experience teaches that the people, in response to a simple
invitation, will also start to sing the Missa Brevis and other easy Gregorian melodies that they know
by ear, even if they're singing them for the first time. There is a minimal
repertoire that must be learned, contained within the famous anthology Jubilate
Deo of Paul VI, or in the Liber
Cantualis. If the people get
used to singing the Gregorian repertoire that is assigned to them, they will be
in good shape to learn new songs in the living languages also—those
songs, of course, that are worthy of standing alongside the Gregorian
repertoire, which should always retain its primacy.
4. Conditions for a Revival
A persevering educational effort is required. This is the first condition for
an appropriate and necessary recovery: something we priests often forget, since
we are quick to choose the solutions that involve the least effort. Or do we
prefer, instead of [giving] substantial spiritual nourishment, to pepper the
ear with "pleasant" melodies or the jarring jangling of guitars,
forgetting that, as Patriarch Sarto [the future Pope Pius X] incisively pointed
out to the clergy of Venice, pleasure has never been the right criterion for
judging in sacred matters?
A work of formation is necessary. And how will we be able to form the people,
if we are not first formed ourselves? Recently, at the Pontifical Institute of
Sacred Music, the general congress of the Consociatio Internationalis Musicae
Sacrae [International Association for Sacred Music] was held to address this
very topic: the formation of the clergy in sacred music. For years now,
seminarians and men and women religious have gone almost entirely without a
real formation in the musical tradition of the Church; they have not even had
the most elementary musical training. Saint Pius X, and the entire Magisterium
of the Church after him, understood very well that no "reform" or
salvage efforts are possible without an adequate formation. One of the most
substantial fruits of the 1903 Motu Proprio, which has endured and is being
rejuvenated in our day, is the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome,
which has celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its foundation. How many
masters of Gregorian chant, of polyphony, of the organ; how many practitioners
of sacred music, scattered to every corner of the Catholic world, have been
formed in its halls! Not to mention the other higher schools of sacred music,
and even the diocesan schools, and the various courses and seminars of
formation in liturgical music. But is Gregorian chant really taught there? And
how is it taught? Has not the prejudice crept in that Gregorian chant is
outdated, something to be shelved definitively?
What a serious mistake! I would go so far as to say that without Gregorian
chant, Church music is mutilated and that Church music cannot even exist
without Gregorian chant. The great masters of polyphony are even greater when
they base their work upon Gregorian chant, mining it for themes, modes and
rhythmic variations. This spirit that informs their refined technique and this
faithful adherence to the sacred text and the liturgical moment made Palestrina,
Lasso, Victoria, Guerrero, Morales, and other composers great. The renewal
started by the Motu Proprio [Tra Ie Sollecitudini] will be that much more valid and vigorous, the
more it takes its inspiration from Gregorian chant. At their best, Perosi,
Refice and in our own day Bartolucci made Gregorian chant the substance of
their music. And this is true not only in terms of their complex or choral
compositions but also in terms of creating new melodies, in Latin or the
vernacular, both for the liturgy and for popular devotions. True sacred singing
by the people will be that much more valid and substantial the more it takes
its inspiration from Gregorian chant. John Paul II adopted in its entirety the
well-known rule formulated by Saint Pius X:
The more closely a composition for the Church approaches the Gregorian form in
its movement, inspiration and savor the more sacred and liturgical it becomes;
and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it
is of the temple.
But how can one address the creation of a high-quality repertoire for the
liturgy, in the living languages as well, if composers ignore Gregorian chant?
5. Formation Matures in Practice
Surely, the best school for mastering a repertoire, for penetrating its
secrets, is the real-life practice of that repertoire: something that we, the
bridge generation between the old and the new, still had the fortune to
experience. But after us, unfortunately, the curtain was lowered. Why this
resistance to restoring, either completely or partially, depending on
circumstances, the Mass with Gregorian chant and in Latin? Are today's
generations perhaps more ignorant than those of the past? The new Missal
presents the texts of the ordinary in Latin as well, alongside the modern
languages. The Church wants this. Why should we lack the courage needed for a
"conversion"? Gregorian chant must not remain in the preserve of
academia, or of the concert hall, or of recordings; it must not be mummified
like a museum exhibit but must return as living song, sung also by the
assembly, which will find therein the satisfaction of their most profound
spiritual yearnings and will feel that it is truly the people of God. It is
time to stop procrastinating, and the shining example must come from the
cathedral churches, the major churches, the monasteries, the convents, the
seminaries and the houses of religious formation, and thus even the parishes
will end up finding the supreme beauty of the chant of the Church contagious.
6. Gregorian Chant and Inculturation
And the persuasive power of Gregorian chant will reverberate and will
consolidate the people in the true sense of catholicity. And the spirit of
Gregorian chant will inform a new brand of compositions and will guide with the
true sensus Ecclesiae the efforts
for a proper inculturation. I would even say that the melodies of the various
local traditions, including those of faraway countries with cultures different
from ours, are near relatives of Gregorian chant, and in this sense, too,
Gregorian chant is truly universal, capable of being proposed to all and of
serving as a link or an amalgam with regard to unity and plurality. On the
other hand, these same faraway countries, these cultures that have recently
appeared on the horizon of the Catholic Church, are teaching us to love the
traditional chant of the Church. These young Churches of Africa and Asia,
together with the ministerial help they are already giving to our weary
European Churches, will give us the pride of recognizing, even in their singing,
the stone from which we were carved. And not a moment too soon!
Two other factors that I maintain are indispensable for the practical renewal
of Gregorian chant—and of good sacred music in general—are the
1. In the first place, and inseparably from what we have said about the
necessity of training priests, religious and the faithful to hand down the
traditional repertoire and to inspire the faithful with a love for it, there is
the seriousness with which we need to consider the problem. Seriousness is
required in order to avoid the amateurishness and hit-or-miss approach of
certain volunteers. It is necessary to hire for this work—and to secure
for them a fair remuneration—people who have gone to great pains to
prepare themselves for this service. In a word, we must know how to spend money
on music. It is unthinkable that we should spend money on everything from
flowers to banners [addobbi]
but not on music. What sense would it make to encourage young people to study
and then to keep them unemployed, if not downright humiliated or tormented by
our whims and our lack of seriousness?
2. The second necessary factor is concerted action. Again, John Paul II
The musical aspect of liturgical celebrations cannot, therefore, be left to
improvisation or to the arbitration of individuals but must be well conducted
and rehearsed in accordance with the norms and competencies resulting from a
satisfactory liturgical formation. [Chirograph, no. 8]
Respect for the norms, then—that is what is generally desired today. We
are waiting for authoritative directives, communicated with authority. And the
coordination of all the local initiatives and authorities is a service that
rightfully belongs to the Church of Rome, to the Holy See. This is the
opportune moment, and there is no time to lose.
Musica Sacra--Music at Mass: A
Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge
Musica Sacra - Electronic Book Download
The Second Vatican Council praised the Church's rich patrimony of sacred music and called for its continued liturgical
use, with "pride of place" given to Gregorian chant. The Council Fathers also asked for the development of
choirs capable of singing beautiful sacred music and the encouragement of the congregation to sing those parts of the
Mass proper to them. What is involved in implementing these multiple reforms aimed at drawing the faithful more deeply
into the sacrifice of the Mass?
This question is expertly addressed in these papers collected by the Congregation for Divine Worship. All of the various
authors are noted for their scholarship in or experience with the aspirations for sacred music expressed in the Second
Vatican Council's document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Conciilium. With depth and candor they discuss the successes, as
well as the continued challenges, involved in implementing the liturgical reforms envisioned by the Council Fathers.
These papers are sure to make a significant contribution to the current conversation about the important place of music
in the worship of God.
This scholarship is worthy of the importance of its subject. I hope the pastoral common sense also on display in this
book will put its erudition to work, achieving what Pope Pius X had hoped for with less than success, and rescuing
sacred music from the Slough of Despond in which typical parish worship is now mired.
- Fr. George W. Rutler, Church of Our Saviour, New York City
"When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that
spontaneously turn into song". This incisive observation by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his book, The Spirit
of the Liturgy, provides a key to unlock the mystery of why worship and praise of God are so essentially linked to
music - and also to why it matters what we sing and how we sing it.
"Musica Sacra is the proceedings of a "study day" held in December 2005, the second in a series the
Congregation for Divine Worship sponsored to explore aspects of liturgy following the Second Vatican Council. It
provides not only an important scholarly review of the history of liturgical music in the earliest centuries of the
Church, but also presents concrete experiences of musicians currently at work in the Church to assure that the priceless
musical treasure of our Christian heritage can continue to invigorate and deepen the Catholic faith of people
- Helen Hitchcock, Editor, Adoremus
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Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
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The Preface to The Old Mass and The New: Explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI | Bishop Marc Aillet
Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Reform of the Liturgy and the Position of the Celebrant at the Altar | Uwe Michael
Lang | From Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (2nd edition)
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
How Should We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy
by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
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Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | Martin Mosebach |
From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy
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The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, O.P.
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