The Schola Cantorum of Zamora conducted by Vicente Urones Sánchez.

Around 755, in the cathedral of Metz, St. Crodegango and his Schola Cantorum, inspired by the Holy Spirit, transformed ancient Roman chant into what would later be known as Gregorian chant. Why do I mention this historical background? Because it was the consecrated to religious life who devoted themselves fully to the composition of Gregorian chant. However, nowadays only a small percentage of men and women (who possess great sensitivity) have a unique and special vocation in the Church as Gregorianists. Their calling consists mainly in helping the Church to return to the essence of Gregorian chant in the liturgy. In this article, I will strive to enlighten readers about what is largely unknown regarding these members of the Church, and their indispensable role and function. 

Gregorianist is the modern term used to identify the members of the Church who dedicate themselves to serving in the area of Gregorian chant. If we seek the official sources of the Church, then we can conclude that they are the liturgical musicians par excellence. Only a few of these gregorianists are committed to conducting scholae, and to offering workshops and courses wherever the Latin Mass is celebrated. Unless they attend the Tridentine Mass, Vetus Ordo, in a diocese where they are allowed to offer their talent, the vast majority of them find themselves sitting in the pews during Mass, for they are prohibited from offering their gift when the Mass is celebrated in the Ordinary Form, Novus Ordo. It should be emphasized that the Novus Ordo Mass is not incompatible with Gregorian chant, quite the contrary, but it is necessary to accept and respect what was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. 

Aside from serving in Mass, gregorianists, directors of scholae, or experts of Gregorian chant as they are also known, for the most part, dedicate themselves to studying and researching the spirituality, history, notation, rhythm, modality, semiology, Latin, Sacred Scripture, liturgy, and all that is related to Gregorian chant. They, in general, have great understanding and knowledge about the subject, because to dive deep into Gregorian chant it is necessary to learn it from the inside, that is, the liturgy. However, there is a group of scholars who see Gregorian chant as a mere object of study, as a branch within musicology, and sometimes this gives rise to the idea that it is an inaccessible chant, very difficult to approach for non-specialists and members of the Church. But let’s not talk about these “scholars” for the moment. Let us focus on what concerns us: a Gregorianist whose primary goal is to serve in the liturgy, from within the heart of the Church, and to offer his talent in teaching sacred chant. Indeed, an anointed and properly trained cantor or director of scholae can lead an assembly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to the reverence and sacredness inherent in Gregorian chant and show us how God is glorified in the liturgy with a sacred chant. 

But I ask myself, who calls these faithful to serve and what is the Church’s response to their talent? It is clear that it is not the man who calls. Nevertheless, beyond the ignorance of this charism and of those who exercise this role, the Gregorianist is called by the Holy Spirit to serve in the Church. In one way, we have those who are called to transmit the message of the Word of God through Gregorian chant and to collaborate musically in the liturgy, and on the other hand, we have the faithful called by God to receive and participate in the sung prayers to glorify God together. When an assembly embraces Gregorian chant there is unanimity among all parts of the body of Christ. By embracing Gregorian chant, through these brothers, in the sacred liturgy, we also accept to glorify God in full unity. When this is done, the message written to all members of the universal Church for generations becomes a reality. One of the most recent, which shed light on the Church, and which had the greatest impact was the Motu Proprio of St. Pius X, in Tra Le Sollecitudini, who writes this: “A religious composition will be the more sacred and liturgical the more it approaches in air, inspiration, and taste to the Gregorian melody, and will be the less worthy of the temple the more it departs from this sovereign model.” I would add that Gregorian chant is something unique and exclusive to the Church that does not receive any external influence: it is of God, for God, and about God. When it comes to choosing a repertoire for the Mass, this is impossible for any musician in the Church to overcome, hence the primacy given to Gregorian chant by the Second Vatican Council. However, not all liturgical musicians share this opinion. 

Let me share an anecdote I experienced in a parish where I worked. Although I was not a gregorianist, I proposed to the director of the parish choir that the Ordinary of the Mass be sung in Gregorian chant. She replied that the people in the community did not like it. I should clarify that I did not ask her to sing the entire Mass in Gregorian. I am convinced that there can be a balance between Gregorian chant and music that is suitable to the liturgy in the vernacular. Yet, when I asked her why she did not want Gregorian chant to be sung she did not give me any explanation. After this, the choir director retired from her position at the church, and the people of the parish began to ask for Gregorian chant. This confirms that it was not the community who did not like the Gregorian chant, but the director; she was focused on her experience and it was her personal choice. Added to this rejection, some priests support these directors to “give them their place”, and do not accept Gregorian chant in their parish. But not all parish priests feel this way, some pastors wish to welcome Gregorian chant in their parishes, especially when they have communities where there is a lot of national diversity. However, there is an issue with choir directors refusing and imposing their will. Sadly, the priests give up and remain silent because they are afraid of losing their musicians. 

This says a lot about the musical situation the Church is going through. Examples such as the above should move us to reflection. The Church must accept and welcome the talent of the Gregorianists and put an end to these selfish and unchristian attitudes. Sacred Scripture says in I Corinthians 12:18-27, “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”

Undoubtedly the Church needs gregorianists, for if one part of the body suffers, then we all suffer. It is unjustifiable that the directors of scholae and cantors should be deprived of offering their talents in the sacred liturgy, for the sole purpose for which Gregorian chant was created was to praise God in the liturgy. Likewise, it is very contradictory that in the Church the offering and multiplying of talents is preached and that those who cultivate Gregorian chant are forbidden from giving back their gift to God. They are as much members of the Church as any of the other faithful. And as a consequence of this prohibition, the entire assembly is left unable to hear, learn, and sing the official chant of the Church, and to attain great spiritual gifts. As faithful, we have the right to ask our bishops, our parish priests, that Gregorian chant be sung in our parishes: no one should impose his criteria over the Will of God, manifested through the Council’s Fathers in Vatican II. There are no excuses, to begin with, if you wish to learn Gregorian chant you can and should turn to the gregorianists, consult books such as the Graduale Simplex, the Kyriale Romanum, or, even better, subscribe to Neumz where you will have the scores, synchronized recordings and translations of the texts from Latin into five languages. Did you know that there are more and more religious communities that are encouraged to utilize Gregorian chant thanks to Neumz? Commendable examples that should be imitated.  

To conclude, there must be a zeal to preserve unity and holiness in the sacred liturgy. More and more people are being called and attracted to Gregorian chant. Hódie, si vocem ejus audiéritis: Nolíte obduráre corda vestra, “if today you listen to my voice, do not harden your heart” (Psalm 94). Let us listen to the voice of the Lord in our hearts so that we will move away from secularized liturgies, to the taste of this world. Let us then allow the Holy Spirit to work and let our brothers and sisters offer their gifts and talents to contribute to beautifying the liturgy, creating an atmosphere of devotion and fervor that will take us out of the worldly noise and lift us up to heaven.  

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our previous article: “One of the biggest prejudices and fears about Gregorian chant”.