I trust that you have read the previous articles of this series to learn and understand what is currently occurring in the Church concerning Gregorian chant, and of course, the perspective of a beginner (like me) on all of this. I remind you that in the first article, “One of the biggest prejudices and fears about Gregorian chant”, I exposed the prejudices that exist about Latin and Gregorian chant on behalf of the members of the Church; in the second, “The Gregorianists”, I concentrated on introducing you to the Gregorianists and the place they occupy today in the Church. 

In this third article, I will devote myself to sharing what I have learned over the years and what is not taught or instilled in us, Church musicians, faithful, and even seminarians, about Gregorian chant to serve in the music ministry in the liturgy. To do so, I will compare and mention the differences between Gregorian chant and popular religious music, what are the spiritual fruits that each bestows, and the origin of their texts and compositions. I assure you that in the end you will understand and draw conclusions for yourselves as to whether the music of your parishes is a source of unity on a universal level or not, and whether we are making a mistake in our choice of repertoire for the sacred liturgy. It is all an awareness of who we are and what is being offered to God. 

I mentioned in my last article that around the year 755, in Metz, the transformation of the so-called ancient Roman chant into what would later be known as Gregorian chant began. It was the consecrated to religious life, canons to be more precise, who dedicated themselves fully to the composition of the Roman or Gregorian chant for the sacred liturgy. Just as their consecrated life was one of dedication, as workers of the liturgy and prayer, so too were the melodies they composed: all oriented toward God. In a certain way, being a consecrated religious person and composer of Gregorian chant produces an effect, on a spiritual and liturgical level, that benefits us all as a Church: by the fusion between the Word and melody. Therefore, it is not surprising that Gregorian chant is considered a model to follow according to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. 

Gregorian chant from its origin has no worldly influence and possesses the reverence and purity that leads to glorifying God unanimously in the liturgy, universally as one body and one faith. Nevertheless, today there are consecrated men and women and priests who, while writing mostly in the vernacular, are not closed to the possibility of serving with Gregorian chant. These servants of God compose music for the liturgy using musical motifs that come from Gregorian chant, and even translate Gregorian chant texts into the vernacular, although for some Gregorianists these adaptations fail to produce the same effect as in their language of origin, Latin.

On the other hand, if these liturgical musicians, whether consecrated or lay, are knowledgeable in the subject or if they have informed themselves from the official documents of the Church, then they will recourse to Gregorian chant because they know that it has primacy in the Church: this is what we are exhorted and advised to do as a first alternative. In my opinion, these church musicians are the ones who have found a middle ground or musical balance for the liturgy. This is because they know the criteria on how and when to utilize both, Gregorian chant and hymns that are known to be suitable for the liturgy in the vernacular. Thus, we can state emphatically that, just as more than a thousand years ago, everything is in concordance, from the liturgical compositions to the heavenly vocation and vision. To compose something secularized or of the world for the liturgy is a contrariety. Sadly, it is common to hear in parishes nowadays the compositions of lay people, who compose something for “God”, but in reality, it is more about singing and playing something about themselves and often has nothing to do with the liturgy. This often happens because of their lack of formation to serve in the liturgical music ministry. 

The present situation is very complex because of the lack of training on behalf of the vast majority of the faithful and, above all, of the clergy. Unfortunately, it is also worth remembering that due to the lack of vocations to the consecrated life, in which one lives a more radical life and in conformity to the Lord, it is the laity who, for the most part, try to humanize the mystery of God and assume the musical direction in the liturgy. 

In the past, this position was carried out with great zeal by consecrated religious in the parishes, who also possessed the necessary knowledge and training. However, the musicians and faithful of today’s liturgical assembly serve and participate in the Mass without knowing the origin of the modern hymns, and their purpose. Most are even incapable of choosing a suitable repertoire for the liturgical celebration. Moreover, lay people, given the authority as liturgical musicians, compose music for the Mass without knowing the liturgy, the doctrine, and its meaning, or even the different parts of the Mass: in other words, they write for something they do not know and, worse still, they do not question in the least what they are proposing. 

When one encounters such a situation, one feels frustration and pity: one wants to help them to improve and to do it correctly. This would fall under the Spiritual Works of Mercy of instructing the ignorant. Nonetheless, many defend themselves by saying that they have been in their ministry for many years, that no one has taught them, and that they grew up thinking they were doing it right. 

How is it that a composer who does not know the liturgy is allowed to compose for the Mass or takes the liberty to do so? This is the origin of the musical disaster in the Church. It is not the fault of the Council, because the Council says the contrary of what is being done by the clergy and the laity. What is certain is that because of the lack of formation and guidance of music ministers, we all pay for it. They do not realize that, after the Second Vatican Council, their ministry has consisted in imitating the Protestant Church’s style of composition. On the musical and compositional level, the Catholic Church adopted after the Second Vatican Council, about sixty years ago, the style of the separated brethren, where more strength is given to personal testimony, popular rhythms, and even secular chant melodies are adapted to religious texts. In addition, it was also the Reformed who, upon separating from the Catholic Church, abandoned Latin to embrace the vernacular language. Thus it was that, starting with the Second Vatican Council and without justification, we moved further and further away from what belongs to us and what we should embrace musically as a Church.  

On the other hand, the Novus Ordo music ministers often lament the fact that there is no repertoire of the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass for every Sunday and solemnity, and this is true. For some Masses and solemnities, there are no chants in the vernacular, and for this reason, they end up choosing chants of Protestant origin or of Catholic composers that are non-liturgical. 

One does not have to be a musician to realize that a text is altered or that it does not conform to the liturgy. This is something that never occurs with Gregorian chant because, if we realize it, Gregorian chant has a place and identity: it is the Roman Rite. One of the positive results of Vatican II was the creation of the Liturgical Year Cycles, the A, B, and C years to cover more readings. Taking this into account, in 1974 a new version of the Graduale Romanum, that of Paul VI, was elaborated to include all the chants of the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass according to the conciliar reform. To adapt to the three liturgical years, pieces were chosen from the ancient background, and appropriate to the readings.

In conclusion, I can unequivocally state that this venerable repertoire, the greatest musical treasure of the Church, is the word of God flourishing in music. The melodies of Gregorian chant have been perpetuated for over a thousand years in the Church and are much loved by the faithful. The new generations that are increasingly being formed are becoming aware of the wrongs committed in the liturgy because of music that is too worldly and unspiritual. There are no excuses for elevating and dignifying the liturgy musically with Gregorian chant since the means exist to achieve this, nothing impossible is being asked of us. Furthermore, not even the fact of not knowing how to read music should exempt us from our obligation to include and learn Gregorian chant as a repertoire of the Rite of the Roman Liturgy, since more than 85% of the musicians of the Church, worldwide, do not read music and that does not prevent them from exercising their music ministry. Did you know that in the beginning of Gregorian chant, everything was learned by ear, by oral tradition? Just as it happens today, we learn by listening to the chants. There are no excuses, if you want to start learning Gregorian chant you can resort to books like the Graduale Simplex, the Kyriale Romanum or, even better, subscribe to Neumz where you will have the scores, synchronized recordings, and translations of the Latin texts into five languages. Did you know that there are more and more religious communities that are encouraged to take up Gregorian chant thanks to Neumz? Commendable examples that should be imitated.