Gregorian Choir

To sing is to pray twice!

Music in your soul?? Looking for a way to more fully participate in the liturgy??

We have formed a Vocal Group under the direction of Edith Newman. The group specializes in unaccompanied music with an emphasis on Gregorian Chant. A love of music, commitment and a willingness to work hard are the only requirements. Practices are held on Fridays at 4:30 p.m. in the Rectory.

New members are ALWAYS welcome!!!

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Gregorian Chant Apologia

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Here are the answers to all the questions you have been aching to ask about Gregorian chant:

Just what is Gregorian chant?

Gregorian chant is the musical repertoire associated with the liturgies, the Mass and the Divine Office, of the Roman Catholic Church. It is melodic chants, or melodies, composed on sacred Latin texts and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sung Bible’. It is meant to be sung unaccompanied and without harmony. It is quite literally prayer in song and is the universal music of the universal Church.

That’s not real helpful. Where did Gregorian chant come from, anyway?

Gregorian chant has its roots with our Jewish ancestors. It was common practice in ancient and then in Roman times to chant the Psalms in synagogue or wherever Jews gathered for prayer. Indeed, it is reported in Mark’s Gospel that Our Lord Jesus chanted the psalms with his disciples at the Last Supper (Mk. 14:26). This practice was continued by the early Christians and spread with the early Church. Pope St. Gregory the Great, when the Church was finally free of persecution in the 6th century, compiled and arranged the chants then in common use in Rome. In the 8th century the Frankish King Charlemagne, wanting the singing of the liturgies to be consistent throughout his kingdom which covered much of Europe, imported the Roman chant. Thus, what comes down to us as Gregorian chant is actually a synthesis of Roman and Frankish musical traditions with roots in the East.

So it’s old. Is there a lot of it?

Remember, Gregorian chant is the product of 2 millenniums of musical and religious development. It is a large part of our religious and cultural heritage. Sorry, but the repertoire is vast! There are thousands of settings for every conceivable time and purpose. We have not even scratched the surface here at St. Thomas.

So why are we interested in this old stuff?

First, it is not old it is timeless! Second, it is quite beautiful even the way we sing it. Third, we are explicitly told to use Gregorian chant in the Documents of Vatican II.

What? I thought the Second Vatican Council got rid of all that old stuff?

Wrong, although that belief is quite understandable given the common practice here in the States. I am going to have to get technical here but I’ll try to be quick and painless. Article 114 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care”. Article 116 states: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” I think that is pretty emphatic!

But what about the Latin? I thought Vatican II got rid of that too?

Wrong again. Article 36 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites”. Article 54 provides some wiggle room: “In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and the common prayer, but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Article 36 of this constitution. Nevertheless, steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” That is precisely what we are trying to do here at St. Thomas. However, I’m not sure that Vatican II envisioned laminated song sheets!

I don’t know, I’m still not sure about the Latin.

It is a little scary but only because we’ve neglected it for a long time. In Gregorian chant the text and the music are inextricably linked. You cannot translate it into English without also rewriting the music. That would be a travesty. We are being very careful to provide an English text of everything we chant in Latin. You can understand English with your mind and the Latin with your heart.

OK. So where do we go from here?

Well, as we said the repertoire is vast. We hope to make Advent a little special, increase the sense of the sacred. The hymns that we sing at Mass, the Entrance and Communion hymns, are not really what the Roman Rite envisions at these points in the liturgy. (We won’t bore you by quoting the appropriate articles!) The singing of hymns was generally reserved for the Divine Office. The official rite calls for an antiphon with psalm verses sung between. In the United States common practice omits the entrance antiphon altogether and replaces it with a hymn. We intend to return to the tradition of chanting the Introit or entrance antiphon for the four Sundays of Advent. They are quite beautiful and set the tone for celebration in a concise and scriptural way.

And then what?

Well, we are open to suggestions. Tell us if there is something you would like to explore. We would like to hold a Vespers service at some time in the future. It is our hope that we will begin to attract new people to St. Thomas. You can help by spreading the word. Tell other people about this Mass.

Gregorian Musical Forms

Chant

The Gregorian Chant repertoire is vast and can be intimidating to those of us new to it or rediscovering it after many years. It is helpful to divide this huge amount of music into three broad categories: Proper of the Mass: Ordinary of the Mass; Divine Office.

The Proper of the Mass

The Proper of the Mass refer to those parts of the liturgy that are unique to the day. Specifically they are: the Introit; the Gradual; the Alleluia; the Offertory antiphon; the Communion antiphon. The Introit is what we know as the entrance antiphon and is primarily meant to set the tone for the liturgy and secondarily serve as a processional for the priest and ministers. The Gradual is the Responsorial Psalm that is sung after the first reading. Originally it was chanted by the Deacon while standing on the stairs leading up to the pulpit. The Latin for ‘stairs’ is gradual, hence the name. The Alleluia is the verse chanted just before the Gospel. Alleluia is a Hebrew word meaning God be praised and is accompanied by a verse frequently from the New Testament. During Lent the more ancient Tract, an Old Testament verse, is substituted. The Offertory antiphon is referred to by St. Augustine so we know it was in use in North Africa and Rome in the 4th century. It is best thought of as a ‘musical offering’ though in the modern liturgy it also serves as processional music. The Communion antiphon usually refers specifically to the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is intended to set a reverent and spiritual tone for the communicants. The Proper as a whole is intricate even florid music. It is almost contradictory in nature as contained within the Gregorian form is a fervent indeed an exuberant expression of faith. Such difficult music is not necessarily meant to be sung by the entire congregation but is rather the province of the Schola (Gregorian choir) and soloists. In recent times we have substituted hymns for the Proper of the Mass. While this is permitted it is not encouraged. Indeed, the Vatican feels so strongly about this that they have published the Graduale Simplex. This book contains simplified chants for use by small congregations and churches rediscovering chant. Here at St. Thomas during Advent and Lent we forgo the opening hymn and chant the Proper Introit.

The Ordinary of the Mass

The Ordinary of the Mass is the unchanging part of the Liturgy: the Kyrie; the Gloria; the Sanctus; the Agnus Dei. These, of course, need no explanation. They are written in a simpler more melodic even ‘popular’ manner. As such, they are intended to be sung by the entire congregation. Here at St. Thomas we are familiar with two Mass settings; Mass VIII (Mass of the Angels) and Mass XVII (Sundays in Advent and Lent). You may or may not be pleased to know that the Sacramentary contains in excess of twenty Mass settings. We have much to explore!

The Divine Office

The Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours is the great public prayer of the church. Unfortunately, though recited privately by many religious and lay people it is now sung in only a few monastic houses. The two forms specific to the Office are: the antiphon; the hymn. The antiphons are meant to frame the recitation of the psalms. They range from the simple and melodic to the intricate and florid. There are more than 4,000 antiphons in the repertoire, vast indeed! The hymns are proper to the Divine Office although we have adapted many of them to the Mass. A hymn is sung at the beginning of each ‘Hour’ and is intended to set the tone for the office. Here at St. Thomas we hope to begin a monthly Vespers Service in the near future.

What if I would like to know more?

Join us. We welcome new voices. We work hard but we have fun and learn a lot.