Gregorian Chant: Music for the Few? Or the
by Lucy E. Carroll
Chant, particularly Gregorian chant, is inexorably tied to the
image of the Catholic Liturgy. Watch a documentary that mentions the
Church or the pope, and what music is playing in the background? If not
the Schubert "Ave Maria", then it is probably chant. Yet in our
parishes today, a generation or two have grown up never having heard or
sung any Latin chant.
The method of chanting currently in use in the Catholic Church is
called the Solesmes Method, for the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes,
France, which led the great revival of Gregorian Chant at the end of
the nineteenth century. It was Solesmes that collected the chants and
printed the Liber Usualis, the collection of chants for the Mass and
I remember attending one of my first musicology conferences. I saw
a notice of a future talk on chant, and told a colleague I wanted to
attend. "Oh, no", he laughed. "They will tell you that you are singing
it all wrong."
Indeed, musicologists studying ancient manuscripts (paleographers)
are questioning our performance of chant as they begin to decipher some
early manuscripts. Are those of us who are singing it, singing it
incorrectly? To come to an understanding of the chants and their usage,
a brief and generalized history of the chants is needed.
Various Kinds of Chant
There are many kinds of chant in the Catholic liturgy. Gregorian
is the most common and plentiful, and is from the pure Roman tradition.
Its origins are obscure, but it was collected, codified, and refined in
the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (c 540-604), and it continued
to be written for many centuries.
There is also Ambrosian chant, from Milan, which began with Saint
Ambrose, 4th century. Few manuscripts have survived; those that do are
from about the 11th and 12th centuries. A Gloria and a Te Deum are in
common usage, as well as an Advent hymn, Veni Redemptor Gentium.
Sarum, from England, is akin to Roman.
Gallican, or Merovingian chant, is from France, used until Roman
chant replaced it in the early 9th century. The Exultet is one rare
Mozarabic or Spanish, has many Oriental influences. There remains
a Tantum Ergo setting found in the Liber that is Spanish chant.
There are also Eastern traditions of Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic,
and other styles of chant. For our purposes, we will include all
Western styles in the term "chant".
It is important to understand that chant did not come to us fully
formed, inscribed with colorful illumination on sheets of vellum bound
in calfskin and tinged with gold, borne to us poor mortals on wings of
angels amid thunder clap and heavenly choirs. No, it was the product of
evolution (the good kind of evolution). Chant evolved, or grew and
developed, over nearly two millennia. It began as an oral (spoken) /
aural (heard) art.
It did derive from Hebraic cantillation and chanting, but it soon
took on its own nature, for the new Christian liturgy it accompanied
was unlike the Hebraic Temple service. Musical instruments, an
important part of Temple worship, were not used in early Christian
worship for several centuries. Yes, instruments were used, but only for
special events, devotions, dramas, not for the Mass. Eventually the
organ made its way into the large monastic churches, to keep everyone
together. But chant, by its definition, is an unaccompanied, single
There are three styles within Gregorian chant: syllabic (one note
per syllable), neumatic (some nuemes or groups), and melismatic (many
ornamented passages). The melismatic grew up where there were choirs,
scholas, or groups of monks and nuns able to study and rehearse it.
Now, one thing is certain: we have no idea what it sounded like
when it first appeared. We have no recordings, CDs, or tapes. And as
chant traveled, with Christianity, around the known world, it began to
take on characteristics of the different countries.
Perhaps it had more rhythmic feel here; perhaps less, there. After
all, even the pronunciation of Latin was affected by the language of
the country. I have a lovely recording of Gregorian Masses from Poland,
with some pronunciation that would raise the eyebrows of Roman purists.
Just consider the varied pronunciations of English in America alone.
And yes, for a time in the Middle Ages, little bells or tintinnabula
accompanied the singing.
But chant was first sung as the music of the people. Chant was for
everyone. It grew for one purpose and one purpose only: to serve the
liturgy. It is, in its pure form, totally unsuited to birthday parties,
cocktail parties, senior proms, or slasher flicks. To use it in a
setting other than the sacred liturgy, one must alter its very musical
Notating the Chants
For several decades, the chants were sung and not written down.
Then the monks began to put symbols over the texts in the sacred books,
just symbols: higher, lower; everything was approximate. If one didn't
already know what the chant sounded like, it couldn't be learned from
those little squiggles. They were just reminders.
Then a horizontal line or two was added. Symbols changed: they
became rounded, cursive, or hobnail; there were many styles before the
square notes as we now know them. Eventually books of music were
prepared, in the now-familiar four-line staff and square notation. Many
of these were lavishly ornamented, in the style of Bibles and Missals.
The square note format was evolved from the use of the quill pen:
holding it one way gave nice square marks, holding it sideways gave the
Chant and the Liturgy
As the great monastic houses grew, the work of the Divine Office
took on great musical stature. The exquisite hymns of the Office, and
the very practical psalm tones, evolved. The Propers of the Mass, too,
became musically ornate, for they were sung by groups of monks,
priests, or nuns, who had the time to meet together regularly. In
parish churches, choirs or scholas took over this responsibility.
But the Ordinary of the Mass, and many hymns, belonged — and still
do belong — to the folks in the pew. Glorias and Credos are usually
syllabic or only slightly neumatic in style, so they can be sung by
all. After all, the priest turned around to the congregation for the
Credo to invite all to sing; he intoned it and left the rest to the
folks to sing. Once the Creed began, he turned back to the altar.
Sadly, in our over-zealous rush to fill in with the latest top-ten
hymns, which are not liturgy but adjuncts to liturgy, the folks in the
pews have been deprived of two musical prayers that truly belong to
them: the Gloria and the Credo.
So there are two basic repertoires of chant: those intended for
all, and those more difficult pieces intended for monastic scholas. To
use only the schola is to cheat the folks in the pew of their musical
birthright and the opportunity to join in this timeless music. To use
only the congregation is to cheat us of our musical heritage and legacy.
Interpreting the Notation over the Centuries
Are the musicologists correct? Are we singing it all wrong when we
sing in the Solesmes fashion? Six musicologists on a panel to discuss
chant will result in at least seven opinions; they will not agree with
themselves let alone with each other.
Chant did indeed change over the centuries. In the Abbey of St.
Whomever in Switzerland, it would have sounded different in 1412 than
in 1312. Even in 1312, it would have sounded different in another abbey
in another country. There were no global communications in those days.
Music traveled long journeys over hills, mountains, and towns, and
during those journeys, it changed.
Did you ever play "whisper down the lane?" And what about folk
songs? There are many versions of some folk songs. If even our American
folk songs can have so many variants in the space of two centuries,
imagine how much chant metamorphosed over more than a millennium as it
evolved to serve the liturgies of many lands.
And then, of course, there were the times of persecution.
Manuscripts destroyed, monasteries demolished. Much was lost. Indeed,
in the 18th century, chant was nearly gone from the churches. It took
the Benedictines of Solesmes, in re-establishing their monastery in
France, to study the ancient manuscripts and synthesize all that was
known of chant, in theory, manuscript, and tradition, so that chant
could be restored to "pride of place".
Now here we must be just the slightest bit technical. Chant does
not have a fixed meter; that is, you can't count 1-2-3-, 1-2-3. It has
free rhythm. In Bach's time, the Baroque era of the 17th-18th
centuries, music became fixed into rigid counting: four beats in a
measure, strong accent on one, or three beats in a measure, whatever.
But there had to be a steady, recurring beat. As this style become
popular (and remains in use today), the old, un-metered music either
disappeared or was changed. Many of the great German hymn tunes
harmonized by Bach were not just harmonized, but forced into rigid
rhythms that their original composers wouldn't recognize.
and chants, too, found themselves being altered into rhythms that
were certainly not as they were first sung.
Some of the later chants and hymns, while not written in forced
meter, still were more balanced phrase-wise. That is, they were
strophic, each verse able to use the same music, for each strophe or
verse had the same number of word accents as other strophes or verses.
Adoro te devote and Creator alme siderum, for example, are more like
the strophic hymns of the 16th and 17th centuries than of the freer
chant of the Mass ordinaries or of the Te Deum settings.
Early Attempts at Restoring Chant
One can find chant in print from the time before Solesmes where
the music is forced into rhythms we would not recognize.
Those who would impose a rhythm on the chants are called
"mensuralists"; the rest of us use "free rhythm". The mensuralists
began in the 19th century to restore the ravages of chant. Father
Dechevrens, SJ, would have written chant within a fixed time signature,
like modern music. This forced a rhythm that was surely inappropriate.
Pére Houdard did not fix a time signature, but considered
that each neume or group was equal to one beat. So, if there were two
notes in a group, they were eighth notes. If three, as in a torculus,
it would be a triplet. Four notes in a group would then become
sixteenth notes. This was very restrictive, and gave a strange rhythm
that is quite surely not in any way authentic to the ancient methods.
Dom Jeannin, a Benedictine of Hautecombe, put the chant into
measures, but altered the time signature for each measure, in the
manner of modern music. This stretched the music inordinately. There
were others, as well, all slightly different, all supposedly using the
same medieval sources.
Dom Ferretti, a director of the Pontifical School of Sacred Music
in Rome, leaned toward mensuralism. His book Il Cursu Metrico, however,
met with no success. He then adapted the Solesmes Method as we know it
It makes absolute sense: we know that polyphony evolved from
chant, and the free-flowing lines of early polyphony, like chant, are
devoid of strong accents, rigid meter, or chromaticism.
The Solesmes Method
Even at Solesmes, the re-discovery did not happen overnight. Dom
Pothier advocated free speech rhythm, based on his understanding of
classical languages. Dom Guéranger had just restored Benedictine
life in France and given them back the Opus Dei: they had to sing.
Chanoine Gontier, with Dom Guéranger, wrote Methode
raisonnée de Plainchant in 1859. Fixed rhythms and meters were
abandoned. Dom Poithier then wrote Les Mélodies
Grégoriennes in 1880. The book was translated into German and
Italian, and began the universal re-evaluation of plainsong.
Dom Mocquereau, the disciple of Dom Pothier, discovered free
musical rhythm, for he found that the speech accents and rhythms were
not always identical to the musical accents and line. Interestingly, as
a trained musician, he didn't like chant: he felt it had little or no
However, he soon realized that it was the music that gave the
freedom of rhythm, not the text. Final syllables or weak syllables were
ornamented, posing an enigma. As he came to understand the fluidity of
line, he soon began to find great beauty in the chants. His work in
analyzing the melodic lines and the texts then led to what we know
today as the Solesmes Method. Much was added based on current practice
in those abbeys and monasteries where chant had continued; thus, there
are some differences with the Vatican editions and the Solesmes
Then, on the very eve of the Second Vatican Council, Dom Gregory
Murray challenged the free rhythm of Solesmes. The battle raged.
Scholarship versus Tradition
Now, what are we to do? If we follow musicologists, then we might
end up saying, "Today we will do Kyrie VIII as it was done in St.
Swithin in Somerset in 1434, based on the Vatican edition; the Gloria X
as sung in Beaune Abbey in 1421, the Sanctus XIV according to the
mensuralist theories of Dom Ferretti . . ." and so on. That may be fine
for concerts of ancient music and study forums and the like, but it is
totally unsuited for the folks in the pews and the choir lofts. No, Dom
Mocquereau, and his successor Dom Gajard, gave us the synthesis of
styles. They gave us pure chant, as it came together over centuries and
continents, through space and time. It is our traditional style, it is
valid, and it is a unifying method that allows all of us to taste of
the glories of chant, even if the monks of St. Eustache might have sung
it differently in the 15th century.
So where does that leave us? Chant has been restored to us, in a
manner and a method we can use. And we can use it. Chant is best used
when sung from chant notation. That notation evolved for the many
monks, nuns, and priests in the monasteries and abbeys, not all of whom
would have qualified as music majors. Some members of our choir at the
monastery much prefer chant notation, since most of them don't read
regular notation. When we started, we used the Adoremus Hymnal, and
read the chant from square notation. One day several years back I gave
them a transcription of a different Sanctus and Agnus, one not in the
hymnal. I did it in traditional transcription, eighth notes and quarter
notes. They had trouble with it. "Can't we have the chant notes?" One
asked me. Next rehearsal I gave pages photocopied from my old Liber
Usualis, and they sailed through the music.
Until 1970, chant was transcribed into eighth notes and quarter
notes. In the wake of Vatican II, it was transcribed with black and
white note-heads. As a musician, I much prefer the former method, which
gives more of a rhythmic feel to the music. However, the best way to
read it is in the square notation.
How to Use Chant
So where are we? Do we need to know all this? Yes, in a way! Folks
will divide into three groups: Purists who follow the 19th-century
reform of Solesmes; musicologists who try to decipher based on other
medieval manuscripts and writings; and finally, those who would alter
or adapt the chants to more "modern", "accessible" and "interesting"
There are times, such as in a traditional Tridentine Mass, when
purists must have their way. Purists will use the Solesmes method, and
use an a cappella schola, and chant notation, and it will be beautiful.
But at other times, the chant can be just a bit more flexible.
In the both ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass, to
encourage the congregation to sing, the pipe organ can be used
successfully. No one better understood the harmonies inherent in the
modal melodies than Achilles Bragers. His treatise on harmonizing chant
is still the most accurate. Some modern harmonizations ignore the modal
structure of the chant and just vary major and minor chords; this is
untrue to the melodic structure of the chants.
To be true to our tradition, in these instances, the Solesmes
method is preferred, as it is universal and . . . traditional!
Latin Chant Is Best in Latin
And what of the question of language? There are, sadly, priests
who simply haven't been permitting Latin. "We don't do Latin anymore,
what is the matter with you?" a visiting priest yelled at our lay
sacristan one morning about five years ago. Well, yes we do use Latin.
The Council said that Latin remains the official language of the Roman
rite. During the very Council itself, Pope John XXIII wrote an
instruction stating the importance of retaining Latin and teaching it
well in seminaries and schools. This has not changed. One sentence in
the recent liturgy document released by Cardinal Arinze seems to be
overlooked: "a priest may say the Mass in Latin any time, anywhere." No
permission is needed. Our current Holy Father Benedict XVI has reminded
us of this in his recent motu proprio.
Sometimes English does suit. Some chants, like the later hymns
(Adoro te, Conditor Alme) have some good translations. And the
Gregorian psalm tones can be used for English. But any attempt to put
the rest into English is doomed to failure. Now, I studied how to adapt
chant to English while at the Pius X School of Liturgical Music, in the
waning years of the Council. But it just doesn't work with the dreadful
and ever-changing translations. In the beginning, it wasn't so
Gloria in excelsis Deo / et in terra
pax / hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Glory to God in the highest / and on earth
peace / to men of good will.
Glory to God in the highest / and peace to
His people on earth.
That translation just doesn't fit the music; it is two phrases
instead of three.
This highlights how important good (and stable) translations are —
for the music as well as for the meaning of the original text. In
liturgy, the music must serve the text — but if translations are
constantly altered or are bad to begin with, this mutilates the music.
In opera, for example, translations from the original language can
be done; but the lyrics are often altered in order to fit the melody,
which, in opera, takes precedence over the words. There is melody in
chant, and this must be respected also. A vernacular version of a Latin
text must take the music into account, as well — or it will fail.
Vernacularizing chant can and has been done successfully; but it would
better to leave it in Latin than to make a musical mess.
Chant Is Meant to Be Used
And what about other stylistic interpretations of chant? Choirs
can experiment: with organum (singing a fourth or fifth lower,
consistently), mensuralism (adding more rhythmic feel), with adding
hand bells, with ornamentation and what not. These should be for
special pieces, of course, before or after Mass, at communion, at a
concert or special event, but not for the Mass parts themselves.
Richard Proulx, writing for GIA publications, has a number of choral
chant arrangements in Latin or English, with organ and / or hand bells.
These are interesting.
One mustn't be afraid to use the chant. After all, its purpose is
to serve the liturgy. At the monastery I have no qualms extracting an
Alleluia from the Liber and using it as a Gospel Acclamation Alleluia.
And the Gregorian psalm tones work just as well in English as in Latin.
Tone 2 and 8g work best. And how much better to chant the psalm than
have the congregation listen to untrained soloists warbling through
some dreadful composition where the text is obliterated and the music
is less sacred than chant?
What's in a Name?
Over the centuries, the chants were catalogued and re-catalogued.
The names by which we know them in the Liber Usualis are later titles.
The Mass of the Angels — Mass VIII — for example, consists of a Kyrie
from the 15th or 16th century in mode 5; a Gloria from the 16th
century, mode 5; a Sanctus from the 12th century, mode 6; and an Agnus
from the 15th century, mode 6. The grouping did not become known as
Missa de Angelis until late in its life. It is perhaps best to keep
these Masses together as they are in the Liber, for uniformity, and for
In the wake of the Council, certain chants were culled from the
great repertoire and put into a little book called Jubilate Deo. The
easiest Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus were put together into
a Missa Jubilate Deo. The same Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus, with a
different Gloria, became known as the Missa Primitiva.
I must confess to a hearty dislike for these re-names; I continue
to call them by their Liber Usualis names. However, I have no qualms
about mixing and matching other chant pieces. Our congregation at the
monastery can sing the Kyrie from the litany, Kyrie VIII, Kyrie XVI;
Kyrie XII Pater Cuncta (a congregational favorite); Kyrie XI Orbis
Factor (a choir favorite).
They know Gloria VIII, the Ambrosian Gloria, and one
psalm-tone-like Gloria in English.
They can sing Sanctus and Agnus X (Alme Pater); XVI; XVIII, (Deus
Genitor Alme); and VIII (de Angelis).
They can also do a simple chanted Creed in English, working to the
day when we add a Latin chant Credo as mandated in the GIRM.
The monastery choir and congregation also sing many Latin chant
hymns: Jesu Dulcis Memoria, Salve Regina, Regina Caeli, Alma
Redemptoris Mater, Veni Emmanuel, Ave Regina Coelorum, Pange Lingua,
Stabat Mater, Veni Creator Spiritus. Many Sundays we all chant the
Pater Noster, and each Sunday we chant the seasonal Marian anthem. Our
choir and congregation have been at this for six years now. On the
longer hymns, if we do not do all the verses in Latin, sometimes we do
one or two, and one or two in English. Sometimes the choir does the
Latin. But with the nuns in front of the congregation and the choir up
and behind them, our little congregation has lots of encouragement. For
congregational singing, I play the organ.
Restoring Chant, Once Again
What to do in parishes where chant has been abandoned? Well, it
was abandoned before. A century ago, Pope Saint Pius X wrote his
still-valid motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, on sacred music. Reform
swept the country, and chant was restored. It can happen again, but it
must be done with charity and optimism. Parishes where vox dei hymns
and pop-style songs about buzzard wings and "entering into the song"
predominate will not quickly return to more sacred forms. It must
It begins first with the priest. The altar chants must be chanted.
And they ought not be made up, but come out of the Missale Romanum. And
it is forbidden to accompany the priest's chanting with any instrument.
The priest's chants can be added first in English, then in Latin. We do
about half and half on a given Sunday.
Next, the organist — that's organ, not guitar — can play chant and
chant-inspired pieces as preludes, interludes, and at Communion. The
choir can do chant pieces before Mass, at the Offertory, at Communion.
It would be beneficial to toss out those tour-de-force solo
extravaganzas that pass as responsorial psalms, and restore chanted
psalms. I write these for our monastery: the psalm is to a Gregorian
tone or a Gregorian-like melody, and the congregation part derives from
it, simple and singable.
Those jumpy alleluias must go, too; replace these with chant
alleluias, and chant the acclamation to a psalm tone.
Hymns are a good place to start for the congregation: in English,
but in a good translation. Then, allow the choir to sing a verse in
Latin. Soon the congregation will be able to sing that verse in Latin,
With the priest singing altar chants, the cantor using psalm tones
and the congregation singing simple chant hymns, the time will be right
for adding Ordinaries in chant. Slowly, slowly, slowly! This is why
there must be a choir at Mass, the way the Council envisioned, and as
our current pope has recently reminded us. Congregations do best when
there is a group into which they can join: there is safety in numbers.
Soloist cantors should be formed into little choir groups. A parish can
begin by having all the cantors sing together as a choir once a month
at a particular Mass.
We don't use a cantor on Sunday morning at all at the monastery.
Liturgy sheets for the congregation give the pages and numbers of
musical pieces in the hymnal or missalette. In a parish, this can be
put up on hymn boards and listed in the parish bulletin.
The choir director or organist or several choir members can visit
each of the parish organizations and teach a chant or two. With a
little work, chant can be restored to the people.
There is much that can be done so easily to restore dignity to the
Mass. Throw out the pianos, electric and folk guitars, drum sets:
restore the pipe organ, restore chant. Quiet, dignity, and respect will
soon follow. When the music sounds sacred, the folks will respond
accordingly. When it sounds like the top forty pop songs, they will
chat and tap their feet. The music is supposed to lift us up to God,
not mire us in maudlin secular sentiment. No music lifts us out of the
mundane and into the sacred more so than Gregorian chant, and the more,
The Chant Mandates
Pope Paul VI mandated that a booklet be prepared with all the
Latin chants that Catholics should know, worldwide. Jubilate Deo.
(About $1.10 at GIA). It's all there, with non-singable English
translation, just so the folks understand: Mass parts and simple hymns.
What parish can't afford $1.10 per every-other parishioner?
If the folks aren't interested, or falsely believe that chant is
"old church" and thus somehow forbidden, then parish leaders can
download the liturgy documents pertaining to music. They are all at the
Adoremus website: Pius X's Tra le sollecitudini, Pius XII's works, the
Council's Sacrosanctum Concilium, Paul VI's Musicam Sacram, and John
Paul II's chirograph on music. Download them, over-line the wonderful
mandates, bring them to liturgy meetings, print them in the parish
bulletins, proclaim them from the pulpit! Put them on signs and banners
around the church!
Because chant is prayer.
Lex cantandi, lex credendi! As we sing, so we believe. If we sing
about wine of wisdom and bread of healing, we will not understand the
Real Presence. But if we sing the Adoro te we repeat the truth of the
Eucharist: visus, tactus, gustus, in te fallitur. Sed auditu solo, tuto
creditur. (seeing, touching, tasting, are deceived. But only hearing
can be fully believed. That is, ignore the outward signs: Christ said
this is His Body and Blood, and so it is.) The folks in the pew don't
understand Latin? Put the correct translation of the verses in the
parish bulletin. Read it from the pulpit.
And as to John Paul's Chirograph on the centenary of Tra le
sollecitudini, the pope reminded us that we are obliged to "[purify]
the cult of insipid styles, informal modes of expression, and
uninspired musical texts which have little to do with the greatness of
the mystery being celebrated, in order to insure dignity and
appropriate forms of liturgical music."
How much clearer can that be? We must get rid of buzzard wings,
"entering the song", "walking on cobblestones", "drinking the wine of
wisdom", and the heresy of saying "I am the Blood of Christ", and bring
in true liturgical music in sacred style. Bring in chant.
Pope John Paul also quoted Paul VI, commenting on a decree from
the Council of Trent: "not all which is distinguished outside the
temple (profanum) is worthy to cross its threshold." The publishers are
sorely misleading us when they tell us that schlocky music in all
manner of secular styles is okay for Mass.
Again, our late Holy Father wrote, "With regard to liturgical
music compositions, I make my own the 'general law' that which Saint
Pius X formulated . . . 'The more closely a composition for church
approaches the Gregorian form in its movement, inspiration and flavor,
the more sacred and liturgical it is, and the more it departs from that
supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple'".
Goodbye rock groups, folk groups, mariachi bands, gospel choirs.
Hello pipe organ, hello chant!
Because chant evolved only to serve the liturgy, because it
disdains secular forms, it is sacred in nature. The Benedictine Dom
Gajard, that great mentor, said,
It [chant] goes far beyond music, which becomes
merely a means to an end. It is above all a prayer, better still, the
prayer of the Catholic Church, which here attains its full expression.
It is, therefore, something pertaining to the soul and stands on a
higher plane, like the entire liturgy, of which it forms a part and
from which it cannot be separated. It is a form of spirituality, a way
of reaching up to God and of leading souls to God. It is supremely
efficacious as a means of sanctification and of apostolate.
If we can restore the sacred in music, and orthodoxy in
translation of texts, this will do much to deepen the understanding of
the truths of our faith. Qui cantat, bis orat. (Who sings, twice prays)
Chant Is for the Few and the Many
So, chant is the music of the many, the official sacred music of
the Catholic liturgy. It is for the person in the pew.
Some chant is also for the few, for those in trained choirs and
scholas. It is for the religious in monasteries, abbeys, and convents.
It is also for schoolchildren.
Its mysteries will keep musicologists busy doing research and
writing scholarly, conflicting articles forever. It is for the
Tridentine rite. It is perfectly at home in the properly done Novus
Ordo. It will sell CDs, books, manuscripts, videos. It will continue to
be used as soundtracks behind documentaries on Catholic issues. And, it
will continue to lead souls to God, wrapping its fluid mellifluous
lines around our souls and lifting us up out of the mire of daily life
and toward the ineffable wonders of heaven. Let us together proclaim,
Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam!
Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite
monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in
Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB,
and is the creator of the "Churchmouse Squeaks" cartoons regularly
featured in these pages.
© Adoremus — Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
"Horizontalism … Does Damage to Catholic
Faith and Worship"
Cardinal Arinze Address to Institut Supérieur de Liturgie
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2007 ( Zenit.org).- Here is an address given by
Cardinal Francis Arinze at a colloquium to celebrate the golden jubilee
of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie of the Institut Catholique
de Paris. The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Sacraments gave the address Oct. 26.
* * *
At the Service of the Mysteries of Christ
1. Fitting Celebration. Time
God be praised that the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie is
celebrating a half-century of its life and service. In these 50 years
this institute has made a significant contribution to liturgical
reflection, life and allied formation in the Church. We pray the Lord
Jesus to bless and reward all who in the past, or at the present time,
have contributed to the work of this important section of the Institut
Catholique de Paris. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments offers its warm congratulations to the
A jubilee celebration such as this is a time not only for thanksgiving
but also for reflection, for re-examination of orientations, for
clarification of the road map, and for resolutions for the future. Let
us touch on some of the areas which a higher liturgical institute such
as this one could seek to serve. It is important to show the light in
matters liturgical. The "ars celebrandi" and the homily deserve special
mention. An ecclesiology of communion includes clarity on the roles of
the priest and of the diocesan bishop. A consideration of these
elements will help us to conclude with a listing of the major services
expected of a liturgical institute.
2. Show the light in matters
Primary among the duties of a higher liturgical institute is to be a
beacon of light in matters liturgical. It informs and forms leaders who
appreciate the riches to be found in the public worship of the Church
and who will be ready to share them with others. It throws light on the
close link between theology and liturgy, between the faith of the
Church and the celebration of the mysteries of Christ, between the "lex
credendi" and the "lex orandi."
While, therefore, a higher liturgical institute should promote
research, it above all bases its strong and durable foundations on the
faith, on the Tradition of the Church and on the heritage enshrined in
liturgical texts, gestures and postures. Such an institute appreciates
that the sacred liturgy is a gift we receive from Christ through the
Church. It is not something that we invent. It has therefore
unchangeable elements which come from our Savior Jesus Christ, as in
the essential forms of the sacraments, and changeable elements which
have been carefully handed on and guarded by the Church.
Many abuses in matters liturgical are based, not on bad will but on
ignorance, because they "involve a rejection of those elements whose
deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized"
("Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 9). Thus some abuses are due to an
undue place given to spontaneity, or creativity, or to a wrong idea of
freedom, or to the error of horizontalism which places man at the
center of a liturgical celebration instead of vertically focusing on
Christ and his mysteries.
Darkness is chased away by light, not by verbal condemnation. A higher
liturgical institute trains experts in the best and authentic
[theological]-liturgical tradition of the Church. It forms them to love
the Church and her public worship and to follow the norms and
indications given by the magisterium. It also provides appropriate
courses for those who will promote ongoing liturgical formation for
clerics, consecrated people and the lay faithful.
As Pope John Paul II wrote the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for
Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments a month before his
death: "It is urgent that in parish communities, in associations and in
ecclesial movements there be assured adequate courses of formation, so
that the liturgy be better known in the richness of its language and
that it be lived in fullness. To the measure to which this is done, the
result will be benefits showing themselves in personal and community
life" (Letter of John Paul II to Cardinal Arinze, March 3, 2005, No. 5).
3. Promotion of "ars
A consequence of sound [theological]-liturgical grounding and proper
formation in faith and reverence is that the "ars celebrandi" will be
promoted not only on the part of the celebrating priest, but also as
regards all others who take part in liturgical functions, above all,
the deacon, but also altar servers, readers, those who direct the
singing and all the faithful who participate.
"Ars celebrandi" is based on the theological truth articulated by the
Second Vatican Council, namely that "the liturgy is considered as an
exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the
sanctification of man is manifested by signs perceptible to the senses,
and is effected in a way which is proper to each of these signs; in the
liturgy full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of
Christ, that is by the Head and his members" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium,"
A liturgical institute should help everyone concerned in a liturgical
celebration to appreciate this truth. The first place goes to the
celebrating priest or bishop. If they are sufficiently inserted into
the meaning of liturgical celebrations which have Christ as their Head,
if they respect the Scripture, Tradition, historical roots of the
sacred texts and the theological riches of liturgical expressions, then
the results will be a happy manifestation of the "ars celebrandi."
Liturgical celebrations will beautifully manifest the faith of the
Church, nourish this faith in the participants, awaken this faith in
the dormant and the indifferent, and send the people home on fire to
live the Christian life and spread the Gospel. This is very far from
the cold, man-centered and sometimes openly idiosyncratic mannerism
which our Sunday congregations are sometimes forced to endure. Both the
Letter of Pope John Paul II already mentioned (No. 3) and the October
2005 Synod of Bishops (Proposition 25) emphasize the importance of "ars
4. The homily
"The homily," says the Second Vatican Council, "is to be highly
esteemed as part of the liturgy itself" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No.
52). In it the Word of God is bread broken for the people. The sacred
readings are related to the realities of life in the world of today.
The homily, well delivered, should make the people's hearts burn within
them (cf. Luke 24:32).
Unfortunately, many homilies as delivered by priests or deacons are not
up to what is desirable. Some homilies seem to be mere sociological,
psychological or, worse still, political comments. They are not
sufficiently grounded in Holy Scripture, liturgical texts, Church
tradition and solid theology. In some countries there are people who do
not appreciate that the delivery of the homily at the Eucharistic
Sacrifice is a pastoral ministry assigned only to ordained ministers:
deacon, priest or bishop. Lay people laudably conduct catechesis
outside Mass, but not the homily which demands ordination.
A higher liturgical institute can help spread the right convictions
regarding the homily. It can help create a climate of opinion which
will lead to more substantial pastures for the people of God,
considering that for many Catholics the homily is probably the only
ongoing religious and catechetical formation that they receive in the
week (cf. Letter of Pope John Paul II, No. 4; October 2005 Synod:
5. The liturgical role of
It is crucial that a higher liturgical institute delineate clearly the
role of the priest in the sacred liturgy. The Second Vatican Council
says that "the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large
measure on a ministry of priests which is vitalized by the spirit of
Christ" ("Optatam Totius," No. 1).
The common priesthood of all the baptized and the ministerial
priesthood of the ordained priest come from Christ himself. Confusion
of roles in the hierarchical constitution of the Church does damage. It
does not promote witness to Christ nor holiness for clergy and laity.
Neither attempts at the clericalization of the laity, nor efforts
toward the laicization of the clergy, will bring down divine graces.
"In liturgical celebrations," says Vatican II, "whether as a minister
or as one of the faithful, each person should perform his role by doing
solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms
require of him" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 28). It is false
humility and an inadmissible idea of democracy or fraternity, for the
priest to try to share his strictly priestly liturgical roles with the
It is not therefore superfluous to state that a higher liturgical
institute, just as any theological faculty, should help people to see
that the priesthood is an integral and constitutive part of the
structure of the Church and that therefore we absolutely need ordained
priests to celebrate Holy Mass, to absolve people from their sins in
the sacrament of penance and to anoint the sick (cf. James 5:14-15).
Moreover, if fuller spiritual benefits are to come to people at
weddings and funerals, then we need priests to celebrate the
Eucharistic Sacrifice, preach spiritually enriching homilies to the
people, some of whom would otherwise rarely come to Mass, give them
blessing and be a sign that the Church is near them at such a milestone
in their lives. No doubt, it is necessary that the priest does not
merely perform liturgical functions, but that his ministerial
activities come from the heart and that his pastoral presence be a
spiritual nourishment for the people.
If the role of the priest is weakened or is not appreciated, a local
Catholic community may be dangerously lapsing into the idea of a
priestless community. This is not in line with the genuine concept of
the Church instituted by Christ.
If a diocese does not have enough priests, initiatives should be taken
to seek them from elsewhere now, to encourage local vocations and to
keep fresh in the people a genuine "hunger" for a priest (cf. John Paul
II, "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," No. 32). Non-ordained members of the
faithful who are assigned some roles in the absence of a priest have to
make a special effort to keep up this "hunger." And they should resist
the temptation of trying to get the people accustomed to them as
substitutes for priests (cf. op. cit., No. 33). There is no place in
the Catholic Church for the creation of a sort of parallel "lay clergy"
(cf. "Redemptionis Sacramentum," Nos. 149-153,165).
Priests on their part should show themselves transparently happy in
their vocation with a clear identity of their liturgical role. If they
celebrate the sacred mysteries with faith and devotion and according to
the approved books, they will unconsciously be preaching priestly
vocations. On the other hand, young people will not desire to join a
band of clerics who seem uncertain of their mission, who criticize and
disobey their Church and who celebrate their own "liturgies" according
to their personal choices and theories.
A higher liturgical institute and a theological faculty are precious
instruments in the hands of the Church for the sharing of the correct
theology on the priest as Christ's instrument in the sacred liturgy.
6. The role of the bishop
Obviously ecclesial communion has to mean "communion" with the diocesan
bishop and between bishops and the Pope. In the diocese, the bishop is
the first steward of the mysteries of Christ. He is the moderator,
promoter and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the diocesan
Church (cf. "Christus Dominus," No. 15; Code of Canon Law, Canon 387;
"Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 19). The bishop directs the
administration of the sacraments and especially of the holy Eucharist.
When he concelebrates in his cathedral church with his priests, with
the assistance of deacons and minor assistants, and with the
participation of the holy people of God, "the Church reveals herself
most clearly" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 41).
Catholic theological faculties, liturgical institutes and pastoral
centers are there to help the bishop, the chief pastor in the diocese.
They also in appropriate ways cooperate with the bishops' conference
and the Apostolic See and help to explain and spread their documents
and instructions. They are obvious treasured advisers to the diocesan
bishop, bishops' conferences and the Holy See. They appreciate and help
people to understand that the sacred liturgy is not a free-for-all
research area, but rather the public and official prayer of the Church
for which the Pope and the bishops are chiefly responsible. A Catholic
institute or theological faculty thus sees that it is not right for it
to run parallel to the bishop or the Holy See, or to regard itself as
an independent observer or critic.
Here we must thank the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie for the
positive role it has played for half a century in the Church, in
promotion of the sacred liturgy and of ecclesial communion. This leads
us to conclude with a listing of some of the services expected from a
higher liturgical institute.
7. Services expected from a
higher liturgical institute
It follows from the foregoing considerations that a higher institute
for the liturgy should be a house of light and love. It should prepare,
inform and form experts on the sacred liturgy. It is its role to
inspire people with faith and with love for the Church so that they
appreciate that liturgical "norms are a concrete expression of the
authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest
meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the
celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated"
("Ecclesia de Eucharistia," No. 52).
This means that liturgical institutes should arm people to reject
banalization, desacralization and secularization in matters liturgical.
Horizontalism which makes people tend to celebrate themselves instead
of the mysteries of Christ does damage to Catholic faith and worship
and deserves to be avoided.
An institute such as yours exercises great influence because of the
orientation and spirit which it imparts to its students, because of its
publications and because of its moral authority in giving ideas to
diocesan liturgical and pastoral centers and to publishing houses. This
influence goes beyond France and reaches villages in Africa, Asia and
A higher liturgical institute can be a powerful help to the bishop, to
the bishops' conference and to the Holy See, in the formulation of
liturgical directives and in the articulation of the theology which
underpins liturgical rites. Since "the liturgy is the summit toward
which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is
the fountain from which all her power flows" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium,"
No. 10), no one can fail to see the importance of the apostolate of a
Institut Supérieur de Liturgie, I greet you as you complete your
50th year! May the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Savior whose
mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy, obtain for this institute and
all its sisters throughout the world joy, efficiency and ecclesial
growth in the discharge of this high vocation and mission.
3 Masses on Christmas
ROME, DEC. 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: When, where and why did the practice of Midnight Mass begin? --
F.S., Columbus, Ohio
A: Like many liturgical practices the origin of the three Christmas
Masses (midnight, dawn and during the day) is not totally certain.
Christmas as a liturgical feast falling on Dec. 25 originated at Rome,
in or around the year 330. It is very likely that the feast was first
celebrated in the newly completed basilica of St. Peter.
From Rome the celebration of Christmas then slowly spread eastward and
little by little was incorporated into the liturgical calendar of the
principal Churches. Some of these Churches had celebrated Christ's
birth on Jan. 6 and they have continued to give more importance to this
date even after accepting Dec. 25.
During this period the Church at Jerusalem had established some
Egeria, a woman who made a long pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 381 to
384, described how the Christians of Jerusalem commemorated the
Christmas mystery on Jan. 6 with a midnight vigil at Bethlehem,
followed by a torchlight procession to Jerusalem arriving at dawn to
the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis in Greek).
Fifty years later at Rome, Pope Sixtus III (432-440) decided to honor
the proclamation of Mary's divine maternity at the Council of Ephesus
(431) by building the great basilica of St. Mary Major on the Esquiline
Among other elements Sixtus III built a chapel that reproduced the cave
of Bethlehem. (The relics of the Crib, still found today in St. Mary
Major's, were not placed in this chapel until the seventh century.)
Sixtus III, probably inspired by the custom of the midnight vigil held
in Jerusalem, instituted the practice of a midnight Mass in this
In Rome the custom already existed of commemorating important feasts
with two distinct offices, one held at night and the other toward dawn.
It is easy to see how the simple feast initiated by Sixtus III at St.
Mary Major's increased in importance and developed. The first
development was that the oldest Christmas office, which was sung at St.
Peter's, began to be also held at St. Mary Major's.
A further development occurred around 550. The Pope, and some members
of the curia, celebrated a second Mass sometime before dawn at the
Church of St. Anastasia.
At the beginning this happened because St. Anastasia's feast day also
fell on Dec. 25 and had nothing to do with Christmas. Later however,
probably inspired by the practice of the dawn Mass in the Church of the
Resurrection in Jerusalem, and coupled with the similarity of the name
Anastasia, this celebration was transformed into a second Christmas
After this almost-private Mass, the Pope would go directly to St.
Peter's where a large assembly of faithful awaited the solemn dawn
office of Christmas. This custom continued at least until the time of
Pope Gregory VII (died 1085).
Initially the privilege of three celebrations at Christmas was reserved
to the Pope. The first evidence we have of a single priest celebrating
the three Masses is from the Monastery of Cluny before the year 1156.
All priests may still avail of this privilege and celebrate three
Masses on Christmas Day providing they respect the proper hours. The
first Mass is celebrated at Midnight (the vigil Mass of Dec. 24 does
not count as the first of the three Masses), the second at dawn and the
third at some time during the day.