Several Gregorian chant items of interest:

Thursday, March 17, I am presenting “Chant in Parish Worship” in the NPM webinar series on Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. 2pm ET. $25. Registration info here (you must be or become an NPM member to register).

I’m teaching Gregorian Chant I and II June 6-8 and 9-11 this summer. Come for the whole week!

With kind permission of Pastoral Liturgy, the fine LTP journal ably edited by Mary Fox, here is my “The Value of Unaccompanied Vernacular Chant in the Liturgy” from the current issue.



21 responses to “Chant!”

  1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

    An excellent article on unaccompanied vernacular chant. It is so very important to restore the singing of the dialogues to the liturgy where this practice is not common, as well as introduce those responses that you have pointed out (such as before and after the Gospel). They are simple, do not add any extra time to Mass and they are what makes the Mass a sung Mass as opposed to a Mass at which there is singing.

  2. Linda reid Avatar
    Linda reid

    Thank you for this wonderful article, Fr. Anthony!!
    It has long been my opinion that chanting the vernacular dialogues, prayers etc.would elevate the the celebrating of the liturgy far better than “shoe-horning” the vernacular into Latinate vocabulary and syntax!

  3. Brian Duffy Avatar
    Brian Duffy

    “It has long been my opinion that chanting the vernacular dialogues, prayers etc.would elevate the the celebrating of the liturgy far better than “shoe-horning” the vernacular into Latinate vocabulary and syntax!”

    EST! EST! EST! Brilliant!

    With the exception of New Skete Monastery, the Orthodox have been using odd translations for years but their chanting makes all the difference.

  4. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    Thank you Father
    When I saw the phrase (page 1) that “the liturgy should not be so elevated …that it appears to be an escape from the real world” I felt a quibble. It is heaven come to earth. Then I read: “When we think of heaven … we think of singing” (page 3).
    With training an knowledge we can appreciate more of our liturgy. Then we can enrich it. With your efforts I am sure that the best will be made of the opportunity you mention at the start of the article. Let us hope that all your readers, whose views so ofton diverge, will be alongside you in this.
    Just before the Papal Mass in Westminster cathedral we had Lauds in English and I suspect that this was what you have in mind. It was wonderful.
    God bless

    1. Tom Poelker Avatar

      I get a bit itchy whenever I see things like
      “with training and knowledge” and
      “we can appreciate our liturgy”

      They make me think of art and music appreciation classes or trying to present classical music at HS assemblies because they are good for you.

      I do not think that is the purpose of the liturgy. I think liturgy is meant to reach people where they are rather than ask people to reach out and understand the service. I think of liturgy as being God’s gift for the nurture of the church more so than it is the gift of the faithful to a God who does not need sacrifices or sin offerings. We need to experience the Christian community gathered around the table and to be instructed in Scripture.

      We do offer praise and thanksgiving to God, but for our good not because God demands it. We do it because we need to be reminded that we are not self-created, pulled up by our own bootstraps, but our very selves are gifts of God.

      We do participate in Calvary at Mass, but that is not the point. Jesus does become present, but not for the purpose of adoration but to share himself with the entire community and thereby build up that community.

      Certainly I am forgetting other truths about the liturgy, but how we do liturgy is more about the community than it is about appreciating any form we have inherited or perform it beautifully or enrich its form.

      These are the places I think we need to focus. I think congregational vernacular chant and regular use of Scriptures including the Psalter make the liturgy more effective for its basic purposes.

  5. Tom Poelker Avatar

    Yes! Vernacular chant.

    The other important thing, neglected is a pointed Psalter with a very few psalm tones.

    I’ve lost track of the Psalter situation in the US.
    What is available or coming soon?

  6. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    Dealing with the text it seems to me that we benefit by realising what the words mean and their origin. I wonder if many realise that the “Lord I am not worthy…” uses the words of the Roman Centururion and demonstrate our humility.
    Dealing with the music the same process of learning may help. Both by learning that Byrd’s Mass for 5 voices was for a household singing Mass in secret, for fear of being found out ,and by practicing chant we may appreciate its beauty more and also not feel excluded even if our participation is apparently passive.
    We might also benefit from greater understanding of the visual arts. Study the windows and sculpture at Chartres cathedral to see that every picture tells a story (Malcolm Miller).

  7. Tom Poelker Avatar

    Peter Haydon :


    Study the windows and sculpture at Chartres cathedral to see that every picture tells a story (Malcolm Miller).

    Been there, done that, wished I had a better guide book and days instead of hours. Sainte Chapele (sp?), Notre Dame, St. Denis, Solesmes, what a trip, and that was just the churches I could squeeze in on two family trips to France.

  8. Tom Poelker Avatar

    Peter Haydon :Dealing with the text it seems to me that we benefit by realising what the words mean and their origin. …
    Dealing with the music the same process of learning may help. … we may appreciate its beauty more and also not feel excluded even if our participation is apparently passive.

    At first reading I was inclined to agree with your comments, but I think there is quite a bit of difference in studying liturgical texts which are meant to convey meaning and are related to Scripture and other texts and in studying liturgical music to better understand its theory and beauty.

    I think that we need to have a lot more music performance education in our schools, but I have no idea of how to fit it in. I think that most of the vocal music we hear today is not applicable to liturgical use with its screaming and lack of concern for expressing text as well as emotions.

    My understanding of all art is affected by the description of Michaelangelo in the novel, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”. I remain impressed by the idea that a craftsman is called to accomplish a task and that art is the result of doing the task at the level of genius. I have little interest in the creation of art “to express oneself” or in the study of art methodology.

    I want liturgical music to be focused on congregational participation. I want parish musicians to do all possible to encourage sung participation, including vernacular chant.

    I want song for its support of communal participation. I am not interesting better music for music’s sake.

  9. Tom Poelker Avatar

    I may come to regret making that last sentence sound so absolute.

    What needs to be added is that just as I take my musical performance experiences and theatrical production experiences and apply them to liturgy, I expect musicians to do the same. I do not think most members of any congregation need to study music or theater in order to fully and actively participate. In the average US parish, people on the planning team need to have such training and use it to inform pastoral decisions, and all presbyters should have a certain minimum of such training at a much higher level than the present norm.

    What I do not want to be doing is trying to do better theater instead of better liturgy. Different principles and standards apply in these related fields.

    I ask the same of expert musicians.

  10. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    I doubt that we diverge much here. Just as we make an effort to turn up in clean clothes we make an effort to sing well: a lttle practice helps. We are not aiming at musical perfection for its own sake. We also make an effort to understand the readings and the propers. The homily should help here.
    We may have been to Chartes but we have not done it: we have, at most, sampled it. There is always more to learn. Look how in the upper part of the window of the Good Samaritan we have the story of Adam and Eve. Surely the point is that “A second Adam to the fight, and to the rescue came” as Newman put it. I think we had that in the second reading last Sunday. Sadly much of the decoration in churches these days seems devoid of such substantial content. Malcolm Miller explains that the juxtaposition of these stories was not accidental as it is found in other cathedrals. The magic of Chartres is its completeness: most is lost elsewhere.
    If you can see it there is a programme on BBC2 (see the iplayer) on Churches: How to read them. Again we can lament how much visual art is lost. How much music is lost we may never know.
    Incidentally I suspect that many of the less educated would have got little out of a liturgy that they could not understand (or hear) and could not follow (they may have had no hand missals and been illiterate anyway). I suspect that the stained glass, sculpture and painting were of great importance in teaching the faith.

    1. Tom Poelker Avatar

      The observation that modern church architecture is devoid of content is direct related to your later mentioned change in literacy and adoption of the vernacular. There is no need to provide diversion from a clericalized service in a foreign language or to provide illustrations for the illiterate.

      Instead we have moved to deleting distractions. Unfortunately, we have not gone far enough toward FCAP of all present. I think that simple vernacular chants are a good move in that direction.

      The educational time available, including the homily, needs, I think, to give priority to explaining how everyone is expected to participate and why, how liturgy works as ritual rather than entertainment or cultural exhibition, how liturgical ministry works as service to the community rather than as privilege for a few and certainly not as symbolic participation for sub-groups.

      We need qualified musicians who find their liturgical ministry specifically in empowering the participation and confidence and communal skills of the congregation. I expect this will be artistically frustrating for many church musicians, but I expect them to satisfy their cultural needs elsewhere and serve the needs of communal prayer in the liturgy.

      I think we need to get away from the idea that the liturgy is a good place for creative persons to find employment and exhibition opportunities. Rather, we ask them to understand how liturgy works and use their skills to support liturgy ministries and communal participation.

  11. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    I wonder if I explained myself clearly.
    Much decoration of churches in the past served not only to make beautiful the church but also to instruct and illustrate the faith. Many modern churches are much plainer. This is perhaps more in keeping with the idea of “Noble simplicity” but the loss is of an educational opportunity. I mentioned this as an aside to your earlier comment and it was not directly related to the original article by Fr Ruff.
    As for the homily I wonder as to whether you mean that it is intended to instruct the congregation in participation. GIRM 65 states: “It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture …..”. Perhaps I have misunderstood your point.
    While I might word your last two paragraphs differently I think that you are spot on.

    I would repeat my original point that our appreciation of chant is an acquired taste that benefits from guidance and learning.

  12. Tom Poelker Avatar

    Sitting with my laptop away from my library, so I will have to go seeking later, but I thought that the GIRM said the homily was to address the reading or the liturgy.

    I’m glad we are aimed at the same goal even via different routes regarding musicians in relationship to congregational participation.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      The homily has a varied purpose:

      * The homily teaches and illustrates the truths and mysteries of the faith as well as the norms for Christian living, touching upon the whole of Christian teaching. (Cf. CIC, can. 386 §1, 528 §1, can. 767 §1; CCEO, can. 614 §1)
      * The homily provides liturgical catechesis. (Cf. GIRM, n. 13)
      * The homily explains the texts heard in the liturgy. (Cf. GIRM, nn. 29, 55, 65)
      * The homily is based on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. (Cf. Divino Afflante Spiritu, n. 50; GIRM, n. 65; Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 67)
      * The homily should be relevant to the liturgical celebration of the day or season. (Cf. GIRM, n. 65)

  13. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    A shame about the misprint in “Lift up your [A not B] hearts”…..

    and also (more controversially) that Anthony did not allude to the anthropological argument against chanting the ministerial dialogues in this way. It would have been good to have his take on this.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Anthony did not allude to the anthropological argument against chanting the ministerial dialogues in this way

      Paul, I’m not familiar with the argument you’re referring to. Could you briefly summarize or point me to an article to read?

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Let me try, and Paul can help me if I’m not describing the concern well.

        I think the question is whether it is anthropologically ‘normal’ to sing dialogues. In daily discourse, we don’t sing greetings to one another. Thus there is good reason to say that singing the greetings and dialogues makes the liturgy ‘contrived ‘ or ‘artificial.’ Readers of this blog will know that I don’t want the liturgy to be that. I don’t at all think that ‘sacred’ means exotic, strange, far-removed from daily life, precious, mannered.

        I think we all agree that liturgy should be at least a bit ‘above’ daily life, that ritual needs stylized and beautiful forms to work its effect on us. And I think we all agree that if the liturgy is way too far removed from daily life, it become irrelevant. Where we differ is in our judgment of all the many things in-between the extremes.

        Is chanting the dialogues contrived? Maybe so. It certainly could be that. I think I’m a bit more optimistic than Paul that, in the proper context of an inclusive, participative liturgy, sung dialogues could add life and dynamism to the liturgy. It could make the liturgy ‘special’ but not ‘precious.’ It could draw people in, and give a quite strong sense that the entire congregation is the holy, priestly people. But I readily grant that it could have a bad effect, making the liturgy dull or heavy or stuffy.



      2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        While we do not normally sing “Good morning to you” we do sing “Happy Birthday to you” and not just as a group. My 87 year old aunt sings happy birthday to me over the telephone! It not only affirms me, it affirms her. Mutual encouragement is certainly part of the reason for the dialogs. They are not simply politeness, or interpersonal coordination to be done as efficiently as possible.

  14. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

    Fr. Anthony, it was a pleasant article to read, but I was left wondering (until the very end) where the modifier “unaccompanied” came into play. Only in the last section, and very briefly, do you mention the primacy of the human voice over musical instruments. I would have appreciated a little more development in that regard.

    I also appreciated your quotations from Musicam Sacram, which document is sometimes treated as incompatible with (and thus inapplicable to) the 1969+ Missal.

    I would like to hear more unaccompanied singing at Mass in general. I’ve attended a dozen or so Divine Liturgies, and the sustained chanting without instruments struck me, at first, as alien to liturgical song. I’d always thought that we should be accompanied with an organ (or piano…). I got used to it rather quickly though.

    Imagine my surprise when I finally came across these quotes from papal documents!

    [T]he music proper to the Church is purely vocal music. […] As the singing should always have the principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never oppress it. (Tra la sollecitudini 15-16)

    Voices, rather than instruments, ought to be heard in the church: the voices of the clergy, the choir and the congregation. […] [F]or no instrument, however perfect, however excellent, can surpass the human voice in expressing human thought, especially when it is used by the mind to offer up prayer and praise to Almighty God. (Divini Cultus)

  15. Tom Poelker Avatar

    1975 GIRM #41 “The homily … should develop some point of the reading of of another text form the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day …” 1985 Sacramentary [previous edition similar]

    I am also curious about there being an argument against chanting dialogs.

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