Will Gregorian Chant Soon be the Rule Rather than the Exception?

January 02, 2018
Source: District of the USA

In article published this Christmas by Crux, the organic trend towards young Catholics’ attraction to the beauty of Gregorian Chant was optimistically praised. 

The article mentions the experiment made at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, VA, where Gregorian Chant has become a genuine attraction. In the beginning, the return to Gregorian Chant was upsetting to some of the parishioners. But recently it has started attracting more and more faithful and triggers curiosity on the side of newcomers.

For James Senson, music director at St. John the Beloved, the main reason of the growing popularity of Gregorian Chant is because  “It’s so much a part of the Church. It’s the text of the church.”

The Crux article further quotes Theological College seminarian Gabe Bouck saying that “the liturgy should speak to the glory of God,” and:

...the liturgy is the highest peak of any sort of worship experience that we will ever encounter this side of eternity. So, if I know that if there is nothing greater on this earth that I can do than to worship God, then everything that goes into that liturgy needs to be the best and the most beautiful that I can possibly bring to it.”

With the liturgical changes, many young adults and recent converts to Catholicism have witnessed the absence of the sacred in Novus Ordo Masses. Music has a special, almost primal connection to our souls and psyches.

The Origins of Gregorian Chant

Originating in the 9th century, this form of sacred music quickly spread throughout the western Church, used in a widespread form throughout churches, parishes, and religious houses of all orders.

With time came changes, modifications, and a confusing mix of forms in various geographical areas took root.

It was not until the Motu Proprio, "Tra Le Sollecitudinni" published by Pope St. Pius X in 1903, that these deviations were curtailed and musical norms were clearly defined for the Universal Church.

On these grounds Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, 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.

The ancient traditional Gregorian Chant must, therefore, in a large measure be restored to the functions of public worship, and the fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses none of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.

Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.

Later 20th Century Support for Gregorian Chant

Facing a loss of the sacred in the liturgy, in 1985, then-Cardinal Ratzinger published a document titled “Liturgy and Sacred Music.” His effort seems to pull bishops and the parishes from the novelties that were spreading throughout the world, with the approval of the bishops.

Some salient points from Cardinal Ratzinger:

From the very beginning, liturgy and music have been quite closely related. Mere words do not suffice when man praises God. Discourse with God goes beyond the boundaries of human speech. Hence by its very nature the liturgy has everywhere called upon the help of music, of singing, and of the voices of creation in the sounds of instruments. The praise of God, after all, does not involve only man. To worship God means to join in that of which all creatures speak.”

Today’s Revival

Following the example of Pope St. Pius X, Gregorian Chant plays an integral role in the liturgy performed by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X.  The founder of the SSPX, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, wanted his priests to lead a liturgical life. That does not mean a spiritual life along with some liturgy; it means the liturgy nourishing the life of the Society’s members.

In particular, Christmas Matins and the Tenebrae of the Sacred Triduum, sung in Gregorian chant, delighted the founder’s mind; he wanted that same grace for his sons:

The members of the Society will nourish their spirituality at the sources of living water that the Church offers them in the holy liturgy, an incomparable source of wisdom, faith, graces, of ascetical and mystical life. They will cultivate their love of the ceremonies, the singing, Gregorian chant, they will neglect nothing pertaining to the beauty of the place of worship, of the objects intended for worship, [they will take great care] of the sacristy, and of everything connected with the administration of the sacraments.