Gregorian Chant – the true bread of piety
In taking the name of Benedict, our Holy Father, as he has explained, wished to give the liturgy a particular importance in his pontificate.
In 1985, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he already expressed himself with these words: “From the very beginning, liturgy and music have been quite closely related. By its very nature, the liturgy has everywhere called the help of music, of singing, and the voices of creation in the sounds of instruments.” The Church has always shown herself to be the protector and zealous advocate of the arts. Sculptors, painters and artists of every kind have given themselves in order to make Catholic churches houses of prayer. These wonderful works of art are an expression of the beautiful, and music, amongst all of them, most especially appertains to religion. If she has also encouraged the development of polyphonic music, providing it be religious, she nevertheless maintains that whilst they may be beautiful and add solemnity to the liturgy, it is Gregorian chant alone that is the true bread of piety, having an integral relationship with the liturgy.
The Order of St. Benedict
The Order of St. Benedict has distinguished itself in particular with its zeal for the “laus perennis” of perpetual prayer. In the rule of this great spiritual father, nothing must take precedence before the Opus Dei (work of God), according to the Gospel “opportet semper orare” - we must always pray.
The Benedictine monk is a man of prayer and of sung prayer in the very spirit and tradition of the Church. He leaves his intellectual activities, his work and his rest in order to offer himself to God in chanting the office of the night, Matins, then those of the day, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. “Seven times a day I shall praise you… I shall rise to praise you in the middle of the night.” (Ps 118)
Far from the eyes of men, in singing the Gregorian chant in his choir, he becomes, as it were, a musical instrument for the glory of God - “Semper laus ejus in ore meo”, “May his praise forever be upon my lips.”
This treasure of the Church can be defined as: “the solo and unison choral chants of the Catholic Church, whose melodies move, as a rule, in one of the eight Church modes, without time, but with definite times-values, and with distinct divisions”.
“The prayer of the Church… is the prayer the most agreeable to the ear and heart of God, and is the most powerful. Blessed is he therefore who prays with the Church, who unites his particular intentions to those of this Bride, the beloved of the Spouse who is always answered!” (Dom Guéranger)
They sing the word of God for God himself, according to the chants that tend towards prayer and the lifting up of souls upwards, just as the incense offered at the altar ascends towards the dome. Its binary or tertiary rhythm, its eloquent silence, its momentum and rest, its soaring upwards and grave descents are in perfect harmony with the nature created by God in its order, weight and measure.
Rhythm is the soul of chant
As the choir of monks, forms to chant the antiphons and pieces of the Mass, their voices become as one, since the chant allows them to change pitch according to a rhythm that is like a breath of life. Therefore choir masters often remind their monks that “rhythm is the soul of chant.”
These chants and sung prayers, that have been the prayer of the Church throughout the ages, are now more often heard in the parishes.
Thanks to priests who love the sung prayer of the Church, thanks to communities that form their vocations in the love of this musical art, Gregorian chant will always accompany the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “Semper et ubique – always and everywhere”, as our Holy Mother the Church wishes.
The sons of Saint Benedict offer to God these chants that are the inspired fruits of their prayers throughout the centuries.
They also address to you the first words of their rule “Listen my son.” They invite those who listen to unite themselves to their prayer, that prayer which lends to devotion, helping both the ear and the heart to be taken over by this spirit that naturally leads to adoration.
Canon Wulfran Lebocq is Prior of the Irish Apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.