Gregorian Chant: Music for the Few? Or the Many?
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 Divine Office.

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 surviving example.

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 line melody.

Varied Styles

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 nature.

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 diamond-shaped marks.

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 today.

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 musical value.

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 editions.

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" forms.

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 difficult:

    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 tradition.

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 happen slowly.

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, also.

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 better.

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 ( 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 of Grace

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 institute.

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 liturgical

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 celebrandi"

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," No. 7).

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 celebrandi."

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: Proposition 19).

5. The liturgical role of the priest

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 lay faithful.

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 the Pacific.

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 liturgical institute.

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 ( 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 particular customs.

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 hill.

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 grotto-like oratory.

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 Mass.

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.