Could the Church’s Understanding of the Primacy of Gregorian Chant Ever Change?

The Roman Catholic Church officially holds that Gregorian chant should have “pride of place” in the Roman liturgy. Though this position was reaffirmed at the last ecumenical council, we can all agree that it is not a teaching of apostolic origin and is not a de fide dogmatic definition. How weighty is this official position? Could it ever change? Should it? There is good reason to think that it both could and should.

The official understanding of the Roman Catholic Church that Gregorian chant holds primacy of place in the Roman liturgy, and that it is a model for sacred music in the liturgy, has found frequent articulation in modern times. Pius X, in his famous motu proprio on sacred music of 1903, asserted that Gregorian chant is the “supreme model of sacred music.” He wrote, “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.”

Between 1903 and the Second Vatican Council all the papal and curial documents on sacred music contain some type of statement giving primacy to Gregorian chant, and every listing of the genres of sacred music lists Gregorian chant first. The liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council stands in this tradition when it states at no. 116, “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.” The liturgy constitution directed at no. 54 that the faithful be enabled to say or sing the people’s parts in Latin. In the decades since the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See has repeatedly reaffirmed these statements.

For many readers, there is probably something disconcerting about this litany of official affirmations of Latin chant, which stands in such stark contrast to postconciliar liturgical life. By far, most celebrations of the Roman liturgy, in the United States and around the world, have little or no Latin chant in them. Most, if not all, the music in the liturgy is in the local vernacular(s), with a wide variety of styles of music. In some particular communities, for example  cathedrals and monasteries, including Saint John’s Abbey here in Collegeville, some Latin chant is regularly sung by congregation and schola—but chant is typically one genre among many rather than the dominant genre that sets the tone for everything else. To be sure, there has been a remarkable resurgence of Latin chant in conservative quarters of the US Catholic Church in the last decade or so, but this is limited in scope and thus far has not affected most of the wider church. Taken as a whole, fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, the church does not give primacy to Gregorian chant.

In the spring semester 2014, a young monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Br. Lew Grobe, OSB, undertook a study of the opinions of monks, graduate theology students, and guests on the use of Gregorian chant in the liturgy of Saint John’s Abbey. His study, which involved learning about the history of Gregorian chant and official church statements on its value, was part of the field education component of his seminary studies. He concurrently sang in the Gregorian chant schola I conduct. The schola sings two or three times a month at abbey Sunday and weekday liturgy, primarily singing Latin Mass propers, with verses either in Latin or, less frequently, in English. The results of the study from the 175 respondents, though not claiming to be scientific, are highly suggestive. The study offers a rare opportunity to see how, in one particular place, the intentional cultivation of Latin chant is received by worshipers.

Respondents from all groups in the study appreciate Gregorian chant. Most respondents, but certainly not all, think that it is important for a Benedictine monastery to preserve Gregorian chant. A strong majority of respondents reports that they are spiritually engaged when the schola sings Latin chant and that they listen not just to the sound of the music but to the Latin text as it is interpreted (a translation is always provided in the leaflet). I was gratified that the schola gets very high marks for the musical quality of its singing. Most seem to think that the amount of Latin chant in abbey liturgy is about right, with a small number thinking there should be more, and a substantially larger number thinking there should be less.

Respondents’ comments show a very wide diversity of experiences and opinions. For the purposes of this article, it is important to attend to the many comments that are critical of Latin chant and skeptical of its liturgical value, for these comments reveal the gap between the ideal of official documents and the worldview of not a few contemporary people.

A typical critical comment is this: “Now that we have our liturgies in English and are used to praying in English, I see it as backward movement to have Latin and Gregorian chant at our liturgies.” Another is this: “I feel that chant is not needed at all in any liturgy.” One person writes, “It is more prophetic for our monastic witness to look to new forms of liturgical music and be less reliant on past forms. Occasional Gregorian is inspiring. Regular use of Gregorian is nostalgic but belongs now more in concerts and music halls and less in church.”

One commenter loves the “ ‘universality’ of chant,” that “there are monasteries and churches all over the world who sing the same words.” But several other commenters say that Latin chant impairs participation. One guest appreciates listening to the schola but says this of congregational chant: “Since I sing stumblingly and do not have any comfort with Latin, when we sing Mass parts in Latin (Sanctus, Agnus Dei), I try to sing but do not succeed at getting my mind into the fact that I am praising God’s holiness or mercy because I am too taxed by the pronunciation of the next word.” One person writes, referring to our occasional practice of interpolating a congregational English refrain between Latin antiphon and verses, “If the congregation is involved, I prefer that everyone sings the Latin rather than schola Latin followed by congregational English. It feels like there is a message that the congregation isn’t ‘smart enough’ to handle Latin.”

Several respondents write that solo singing by the schola feels like a “performance” that excludes the congregation. Although some commenters appreciate the spirited interpretation of chant coming from recent European research, other commenters nonetheless say in various ways that Gregorian chant is dull or uninteresting. For example, one person writes, “Unfortunately the chant Gloria and Mass settings are not festive and do not add to the festivity of the day.” Several commenters express preference for congregational hymns in English over Latin Mass propers sung by schola alone.

There are significant differences between the views of various groups. These no doubt reflect generational difference among Catholics in general. Graduate students, whose average age is considerably younger than that of the monks, are much more affirming of the value of Gregorian chant than monks. Graduate students affirm more strongly than monks that it is important for a Benedictine monastery to preserve Latin chant. They are more likely to desire more Latin chant in the liturgy, whereas a very large group of monks, including those who affirm the value of Latin chant, say they would like less Latin chant in the liturgy.

So we have, on the one hand, official church statements that give Gregorian chant primacy of place in the liturgy and, on the other hand, worshipers from one particular locale with quite extensive experience of Gregorian chant who give it rather mixed marks, including a good number who find it impacts negatively on their liturgical participation. And this is at a Benedictine monastery where one would expect Gregorian chant to be more widely used and appreciated than in other worshiping communities! If the official position on the primacy of Gregorian chant faces such challenges even in this setting, one can only imagine how that position fares in the rest of the church.

Any time one encounters such a chasm between theory and reality, between official statements and actual practice, it cries out for explanation and resolution.

One response would be that the church’s official understanding of the primacy of Gregorian chant is not adequately understood, and greater pastoral efforts are needed to bring about assent to church teaching. One might diagnose the dissent as a symptom of harmful influences coming from a shallow entertainment culture, or perhaps harmful influences coming from liberal theology and progressive liturgical reform, eliciting a failure to appreciate and accept in humility the beauty of the church’s liturgical tradition. This response, which tends toward authoritarianism, gives the benefit of the doubt to tradition and church authority rather than to the existential reality of people in specific cultural contexts.

While there is no doubt some truth to this response, and I would not rule it out entirely, I think it falters as a comprehensive explanation. There are deep methodological issues at play which suggest that the official understanding of the primacy of Gregorian chant is not the last word on the matter. The official understanding rests on assumptions that stand in tension with other aspects of church teaching, and this sets up an instability. Working out this instability will ineluctably lead to a more evolved articulation of the church’s understanding of the place of Gregorian chant in Catholic worship.

The central methodological issue was stated well by longtime Worship editor Kevin Seasoltz in this journal in November 1980 in the article “Monastery and Eucharist: Some American Observations.” Fr. Kevin wrote:

In the past four centuries there has been a gradual change in the cultural context of Western theology from what has been called a classical culture to what is known as a scientific or contemporary culture. The former culture was preoccupied with the abstract, the ideal, the universal and the essential. Concerned with sameness and permanence, it did not attend to differences, process or development. In contrast, contemporary culture, influenced above all by the development of modern science, is preoccupied with probability, process and the particular. This shift has resulted in the dissolution of a common world of suppositions, principles and methods.

Certainly this shift is reflected in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World affirmed the principles of cultural pluralism as a fundamental ideal of the Church. Other documents sanctioned a political shift in the structures of the Roman Catholic Church and the relationships among church members at every level.

This passage shows the problem in asserting that Gregorian chant, always and everywhere, should have primacy of place. Such a position is clearly part of a “former culture [that] was preoccupied with the abstract, the ideal, the universal and the essential.” This position is “concerned with sameness and permanence.” It does not take adequate account of “cultural pluralism as a fundamental ideal of the Church.” Once one takes culture seriously, as Catholic theology must, it becomes difficult to assert that one musical genre has priority over all others. It becomes necessary to attend to the experience of all members of the church, including those in the study who reported negative experiences with Gregorian chant.

To be sure, not everything in Catholic teaching is up for grabs, and the announcement of the fact of cultural pluralism cannot be the trump card that supposedly makes inevitable any possible desired evolution or change in church teaching. But there is a hierarchy within church teachings, and some admit of development more than others. There are core dogmatic teachings, and then there are moral teachings, within which teachings on sexual ethics have greater stability than those on social and economic issues, and then, much further down the line, are statements about the nature of worship, including those about the primacy of Gregorian chant. This is not to say that worship is not central to the church’s life—it is, of course—but to acknowledge that the use of music and the arts in worship occurs in widely varying cultural circumstances, and statements of musical and artistic ideals are necessarily contingent and changeable.

A central teaching coming from the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, expressed most strongly in the 1967 Roman document Musicam sacram, is that the purpose of music in worship is functional. Music has a specific function within a ritual structure, with particular reference to the liturgical participation of the entire assembly. Taking this functional understanding of music seriously means that one cannot assert a priori that specific music functions in the most ideal way; rather, one must inquire of particular people, within a particular cultural context, how the music functions for them. It can be expected that the answers will vary widely from one cultural context to another. The functional understanding of music in Musicam sacram calls for a shift from the “former culture” to a multicultural context that “attend[s] to differences, process [and] development.” This is the tension within official church statements; this is the instability that calls for a development in the understanding of the place of Gregorian chant.

As someone who appreciates Gregorian chant, and has spent a large part of my professional life promoting it, it is challenging for me to confront this issue. On a personal level, I am sympathetic to Max Johnson’s words in the summer 1999 issue of the Monastic Liturgy Forum Newsletter:

Might I also be so bold as to put in a plug here for the more frequent use of Gregorian chant in monastic communities, not as museum pieces to be dragged out of the archives and dusted off on occasion as a reminder of the past, but as a part of the living liturgical tradition of Benedictines? . . . I am concerned about the liturgical context of Gregorian chant, which is especially preserved in the monastic Office and Mass, which, after all, is its home.

I too hope that Gregorian chant can continue to be used in monastic communities, and also elsewhere, not as “museum pieces,” but as “part of the living liturgical tradition.” But if this is to happen, it will not be because more people accept the official understanding that Gregorian chant is intrinsically superior to other genres of music and that, because of its hallowed history, it deserves primacy of place. It will be because real people in the real world experience it as meeting the functional needs of worship music. Whether that will be the case, and whether Gregorian chant will and should remain in use, must in principle remain open questions.

As for one Benedictine monastery in central Minnesota—since you, the reader, might be curious—Gregorian chant will remain in use, but in response to the input of guests, students, and monks, it will be used less in the future. This decision, like all pastoral decisions about worship, is contingent and subject to revision.

Reprinted with permission from the September 2014 (Volume 88,  Number 5) issue of Worship (“Amen Corner,” pp. 460-466). 


  1. What’s telling is that the long series of magisterial documents that favor chant — not just from Pius X through Benedict XVI, but from well over a millennium, as the book “Papal Legislation on Sacred Music” demonstrates — offer either reasoned arguments or the argument of tradition in favor of chant as the liturgical style of music par excellence, while Fr. Ruff offers here sociological and cultural arguments that vary like the shifting tides and sands. As Vatican II itself noted in Lumen Gentium, we can see the weight of a teaching by how often it is repeated or how it is phrased. In the case of chant’s inherent primacy for the singing of liturgical texts, we have BOTH a superabundance of affirmations and very strongly worded affirmations. If, at the end of the day, the Church has been wrong for well over a thousand years about the way the liturgy should be sung, then I’d recommend looking into a different religion — the truth content here is too weak and deceptive.

    I suppose one could try to squirm out of this by saying that “modern man is so different that he has to have a different kind of music and a different kind of liturgy.” This is modernism, pure and simple, and good luck with it!

  2. I wouldn’t so squirm. I would say that modern and non-European cultures *can* have a different kind of music. I don’t think new or different genres are objectively worse or better.

    Gregorian chant preserves a certain rigidity in the text, but I don’t see a theological or musical problem with the composition of new texts or the adaptation of Scripture for metrical singing. Or a problem with harmony as such. And in addition, a lot of us think the given texts are a bit too narrow. There are reasons why contemporary music fills a great need and evinces great fruitfulness: settings of texts like Isaiah 43, Deuteronomy 30, Hosea 11, Ezekiel 36, Philippians 3:7-11, Ephesians 3 or 4 … you don’t see those expressions in the propers, do you?

    “The Church has been wrong,” you attempt to put into our mouths. I’m not swallowing it. The Church is different. Music is different. Inspiration continues. And sorry, you’re not getting rid of us by suggesting we leave Christianity. On that note, if Christianity doesn’t seem pure enough for you, there’s the solution of the desert fathers and mothers. They left the cathedrals for the desert–a noble pilgrimage that fed Christian monasticism. “My way or the highway” is a political slogan, unseemly and unfitting for a Christian.

  3. So if it’s possible to deviate from the council on such an issue as Gregorian chant then is it also possible to deviate from it in the opposite direction and return to the 1962 missal?

    1. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #3:
      Sure, Stanislaus, you or others can believe whatever you wish about the Council. Now I’d invite you to speak to the substance of this post, which is whether or not the Church’s statements on chant could change, and whether other aspects of Church teachings suggest a possible change.

      1. @Anthony Ruff – comment #8:
        I was addressing the substance of the post. All of this time I’ve been hearing from you and others that Benedict went against the directives of the council and of Paul VI in issuing Summorum Pontificum. Now all of the sudden it seems that that’s not necessarily a bad thing and that even in light of experience it could be a good idea to overturn a directive of the council. I find such a double standard to be very puzzling.

      2. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #12:
        Not ‘overturn’ but development. And in fact I say little – this is perhaps a weakness of my post – about what that development would look like and in what way chant would be commended in a changed milieu, with what sort of wording.
        So do you think that development can/should happen regarding chant or not? That’s the question.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #15:
        I think that it is very difficult to determine criteria for what constitutes development and what constitutes rupture. Hence, if eliminating the pride of place of Gregorian chant is a development under some interpretations, then it would seem that, under some interpretations, the council’s call for a richer lectionary, simplified rites and prayers of the faithful could be developed away.
        What I do find hard to accept is the notion that liturgical music is functional, it seems to presuppose a distinction between form and content that is difficult to sustain in a postmodern setting.

  4. Would it perhaps be fruitful to put a finger or two on just what it is about Gregorian chant that makes it uniquely valuable? What’s most striking to me about the chants is the sheer intimacy they have with the text, resulting no doubt from the greater liberty the composers had in comparison with the ensuing polyphonic tradition. Even at its best, harmony has to be worked out “at one remove” from the text, whereas the chant has a directness and simplicity all its own.

    The trouble with actually using Gregorian chant today is that no one can hear this intimacy unless they thoroughly understand Latin, grammar and all. So, however great it sounds (at least to those who have acquired the taste), and however reverent a mood it evokes, the marvelously detailed rhetoric of the music doesn’t come across at all. Exceptions: Alleluia, Kyrie eleison, and maybe Agnus Dei. Some of the more neumatic or syllabic chants could be reworked into English, but then most of the official translations of the psalter and other Biblical texts just don’t chant well to begin with.

    If we can’t always use chant in our liturgy, maybe there are other ways we can take inspiration from it. By the 16th century there was lots and lots of polyphony, the vast majority of which was not liturgical music but art music, in comparison to the chant. Then, with the innovation of pervasive imitation, it again became possible to compose the music directly to the text. Think of how William Byrd sets a Latin phrase, often syllabically, and builds each point of imitation from there. One could make the argument that his approach was uniquely successful as liturgical music just because its relationship with the text echoes that of Gregorian chant.

    And why not apply such a standard to the liturgical music of our time? Perhaps the most practical way to accord Gregorian chant a pride of place is to imitate its obeisance to the sacred text, both in our work within particular styles and in our choice from the range of styles available at the outset of a…

  5. There are other “problems” with chant for a culture accustomed to music with harmonic accompaniment and a steady rhythm. One of the biggest complaints is that it is slow and boring. As a lover of early music, I readily concede it doesn’t have to be, but the truth is that before Vatican II, there weren’t all that many chant experts keeping a tempo that demonstrated a sparkling and lively quality to melody.

    I’m not convinced chant has to be in Latin, but Latin is a problem. It is a dead language, spiritually, for many of the world’s Christians, if not most of them. Chant is especially suitable to a language that expresses itself in vowels, and that does not describe some of the world’s languages.

    And some might say, “Let them learn Latin.” And personally, I might not disagree–I did learn it in high school. But there is no suitable reason to place such an obstacle as an absolute when people can communicate and sing in their own language. At worst, Latin becomes a stumbling block of gnosticism for people.

    That suggests chant is no problem, as long as the people sing it. Repeatedly the liturgy documents and others, all the way to the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy stress the value of the people participating through song. It would seem that how they are able to sing: that is the song of the Church. Chant can be part of that. But not all the time.

    One last point: if we’re talking heightened language, why not let music itself be the language of expression of the praise of God? Who says that harmony and rhythm cannot be such an expression? Too much focus on the text might not be a good thing. Especially when it is clear we have a certain poverty of texts in the very heart of the Church’s “official” graduals.

    It seems to me this argument is not all vs nothing, but all vs some. I don’t think the all’s have it.

  6. A fascinating account. I feel that some, at least, of the problem lies in the inability of the Magisterium to entertain the idea that Gregorian chant might form part of the deposit of the faith, and thus have both an authoritative and normative role. To a large extent this is due to an inadequate musical education on the part of both prelates and theologians. And yet, it seems clear to me that many of the earliest commentators saw the chant in this way (e.g. Amalar of Metz, Hugh of St Victor). This is emphatically NOT to say that Gregorian chant should be the only musical genre appropriate to the liturgy, of course.

  7. I would take a look at John Paul II’s 2003 chirograph on the centenary of Tra le sollecitudini. Here are a few brief extracts:

    The music and song requested by the liturgical reform – it is right to stress this point – must comply with the legitimate demands of adaptation and inculturation. It is clear, however, that any innovation in this sensitive matter must respect specific criteria such as the search for musical expressions which respond to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration (art. 6)

    That seems to me to be saying two important things at once, even if he then goes on to warn against both frivolity and superficiality and a musical language “that is incomprehensible to the majority”. Clearly JPII did not think that inculturation necessarily equated to assembly participation.

    Having affirmed the special place of Gregorian Chant, art. 7 then continues:

    Like St Pius X, the Second Vatican Council also recognized that “other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations”. It is therefore necessary to pay special attention to the new musical expressions to ascertain whether they too can express the inexhaustible riches of the Mystery proposed in the Liturgy [which might relate to Ian Coleman’s point] and thereby encourage the active participation of the faithful in celebrations.

    Once again the emphasis on assembly participation. but coupled with a possible munus ministeriale for music in expressing the faith of the Church.

    Art. 12 has these wise words:

    With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple”[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it.

    As a composer, that resonates with me a lot, and I think the thing that composers can take from the Chant is modality. I have always thought of myself as a modal composer, rather than a tonal composer (and the modes of course include the Ionian mode!). For me, that is what being imbued with the same spirit means in practice.

  8. I find it interesting that whenever a documentary or tv program on the Catholic Church use music, it’s usually Gregorian chant. It seems there is a very intimate connection that even non-Catholics see.
    As to the language issue, I’m not fluent in Latin, not even close. I still find it more engaging and spiritually “uplifting” than that in my native tongue.

  9. Perhaps the reason why there are so many papal, curial, and councilor documents prescribing the use of chant is because local churches keep introducing other forms of music that prove more popular. Every age has creative endeavors into church music which the authorities then try to reign in with more admonitions. I think it’s good for some people to press forward while others pull back, it’s in that creative tension that the Holy Spirit works.

    If a stretch of highway has lots of posted speed limit signs, double-fine enforcement zones, and officers shooting radar, it’s not because everyone is already obeying the speed limit.

  10. Anthony Ruff writes [If Gregorian chant is to remain in use otherwise than as a museum piece]: It will be because real people in the real world experience it as meeting the functional needs of worship music. Whether that will be the case, and whether Gregorian chant will and should remain in use, must in principle remain open questions.

    A study that the Association of Anglican Musicians conducted several years ago revealed that most people preferred the kind of liturgical music with which they grew up. If the music in their “parish of origin” was traditional, they described it as most conducive to their liturgical participation. If it was liturgico-pop, they found it most suitable.

    In most American Roman Catholic parishes where the clergy and musicians are attempting to “revive” the use of chant in the liturgy, most people are encountering it for the first time. It is as alien to their experience as guitars were to worshippers in 1964.

    Graduate students are more likely to have encountered (a limited amount of) chant in their youth than the middle-aged are.

    I believe that if chant had not fallen out of use 50 years ago, few would be calling for its elimination now.

    I believe the primary causes of its demise are two. (1) Musicians-including the leaders of CMAA-accepted without question the dictum from Solesmes that satisfactory adaptation of the chant on English texts was impossible. (2) Liturgists, under the influence of secularization theologies–may use of the plural is intentional–asserted that liturgical celebrations must be grounded in “the secular experience” lest worshippers relegate their faith to a psychological “compartment,” unrelated to other aspects of their lives. Consequently, they promoted the introduction “ordinary secular language” and of liturgical music that sounded like the popular secular music to which most worshippers listened every day.


  11. Scott Pluff : If a stretch of highway has lots of posted speed limit signs, double-fine enforcement zones, and officers shooting radar, it’s not because everyone is already obeying the speed limit.

    Thank you, Scott, for this observation that is so relevant to this topic. Throughout history, the “documents” and other pronouncements would not have been so vehement if they were actually describing existing and accepted practice.

  12. Continued from Previous Posting

    I have seen clear evidence that Roman Catholic Musicians today are giving more respectful attention to vernacular adaptations of the chant than they were 50 or even 10 years ago.

    I no longer encounter much talk about the need for “secularizing” the liturgy. What liturgists were saying about it 50 years ago was ill-considered. The “secular experience” is not monolithic. It comprises diverse situations. Speech and deportment in various situations varies widely. The style of speech employed in bars differs almost as much from the style of speech used in board rooms and court rooms as it does from the language of the Book of Common Prayer. Music used in various situations also varies. The use of a particular style of music and a particular style of language in the liturgy is natural. Attempts to conform liturgical language and music to “secular” language and music–as if there were such a thing–were sadly misguided.

    They have diminished worshippers sense of the “Godward” character of worship. Indeed, the deportment of many officiating priests suggests that they make little distinction between addressing God and addressing the people. PASTORAL SOLICITUDE requires the clergy to lead people from the only thing they know to something better.

    Telling them that the Vatican says something else is better is more likely to arouse resistance than to diminish it. They must be patiently, tactfully, and respectfully shown that something different from the only thing they have ever known is better.

  13. Interestingly, I know of parishes that combine high-energy praise music, complete with titles straight off the Christian Contemporary charts, with regular use of chant whether in Latin or in English. Two things you rarely hear in those churches? Hymns of any age and folk-popular music of the 70s, 80s, 90s.

  14. This comparison may be apples and oranges, but the situation seems similar to the continued use of the Extraordinary Form following Summorum Pontificum. In other words, there is the stated desire that SP will hold the two forms of the Rite in further juxtaposition so that they can inform one another. Gregorian Chant seems to be the “Extraordinary Music” in the same way. I think even if it will never become the norm there is a desire that it will continue to hold pride of place at least at certain centers (cathedrals, monasteries, and some intentional parishes), so that it can inform the continued output of living composers – so that places exist where people can experience it as well-sung prayer rather than a museum piece. How many living composers have been profoundly affected by personal contact with the chant tradition, even if their music bears no surface resemblance to that music? I can think of many.
    To respond to the original post, I don’t think development in the document language should occur (although of course it can at any time). What seems to be more lacking is a balanced understanding of how “pride of place” applies, practically speaking. For example, I take that phrase to heart as a cathedral music director with a trained chant schola. But I don’t take it to mean that Gregorian chant is always and everywhere the first choice for liturgical music. I think the Church has already taken care of this important balancing act by phrases like “all other things being equal” and by listing many specific examples of other suitable music. To pick up on what some others have said here, the current documents seem just strong enough to keep the chant tradition alive in a few places, amidst a sea of other choices. To weaken these statements any further, would be to jettison the tradition completely, in my opinion.

  15. As much as I appreciate and am yet able and prepared to lead musical prayer and praise in a multiplicity of genres, I find the reductio ad absurdam (not sure if that’s correct Latin) rationale of what’s “popular” according to polls or anecdotal argument very disabling to fruitful deliberation of “authenticity” as regards the Roman Rite.
    To paraphrase, has “The mandate of Tra le sollecitudini been tried and found wanting, or is still wanting as it has not yet been tried?”
    Locally, I submit to the sensibilities of my pastor who is ostensibly representing those of my bishop. But philosophically, I stand with Dr. Kwasniewski and Prof. Bruce Ford. As long as “de gustibus” factor supplants the called-for and time-tested disciplines, we will never know the fullness of the sacral tongue’s efficacy (as opposed to living or dead languages.)

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #18:
      It’s more than popularity, my friend. We’re also talking about an objective assessment of fruitfulness. When churches were all built of European stone on European ground singing a European lingua franca, that was one thing. But times and the culture have changed. Now there are considerations for acoustics, multiple genres quite suitable for sacred music, architecture, instruments, and yes, even what gets people to pray.

      And let’s be clear: the stance of too many church musicians has been chant-or-bust. That’s not going to make many friends. Neither is the insistence that one can only be a grade A-1 Catholic by blowing up a parish repertoire and exchanging it for the choir-chants-of-the-week. We tried song-of-the-week two generations ago. It didn’t work then.

      This whole discussion, the most vehement part of it, anyway, is fueled by the chant-all-or-nothing focus of a small minority of church musicians.

      And Stanislaus, there’s nothing inherently wrong with rupture. Some people call it conversion. Sometimes it is a needful response to the call of God.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #20:
        “When churches were all built of European stone on European ground singing a European lingua franca, that was one thing. ”

        And yet the liturgy itself is a European development (or at most one including the Mediterranean world). It seems a bit precious to equate Gregorian chant with European culture, but not the liturgy itself. Even aside from the surface attributes – Latin typical edition, development at continental European councils, etc. – there are larger influences such as the fact that this is a literate liturgy in a literate tradition, which may contrast strongly with the culture and perception of reality/community of an oral/aural society. When the liturgy is assembled and shipped out of Rome in a Latin blueprint, can we avoid Euro-centricity simply by changing up the musical numbers?
        Given the Euro-centricity of the Roman Rite, it seems perfectly logical to me to point out that a certain means of the singing the liturgy (chant) is intimately connected and interwoven with the liturgical tradition. Music with a primacy in its relationship with the rite that no other music in the world can claim. And it seems perfectly logical to presume that this core repertoire should in some way inform new compositions, even if they look/sound vastly different because of their other cultural influences.
        The Euro-centric argument against chant always falls flat for me, in the context of a European rite. But maybe the actual question of the post should be: “Could the Church’s Understanding of the Primacy of a centralized Roman Rite Ever Change?”

      2. @Jared Ostermann – comment #21:
        Jared, I don’t think it is fair to say that the liturgy itself is solely a European or even a Mediterranean development. Even in the early Church it was a cross-cultural development. Ancient texts from Syria, Palestine, North Africa, the Anatolian peninsula bear this out. Today, especially because of the expansion of the Catholic Church through missionary activity in the period from the 17th through the 19th Centuries, you also have very diverse communities in which the liturgy is received and perpetuated, in other words, you have development. Even within Europe, Gregorian Chant was never universal. Those who argued the hardest in its favor in modern times, such as Dom Gueranger and Pius X, were doing so in the face of its under-utilization. The urge to “revive” Gregorian Chant is something very interesting. It has been urged for more than a century. It has had many enthusiasts. It still does not prevail. I think Anthony has asked the right questions about why its revival has proven so elusive, despite the virtual unanimity of church pronouncements on its intrinsic value.

      3. @Rita Ferrone – comment #24:

        But the liturgy that we (Jared, you, and myself) are referring to is the Roman Liturgy that was shaped by European culture. The missionary activity that expanded in the mentioned centuries was the Roman Liturgy. There was/is a wonderful post on the NLM that examined a Roman Missal that was translated into Huron (I think that is the language) that the Jesuits used in their missionary work. I can’t remember the date of the post, but it is archived I’m sure. Perhaps an insight into inculturation?

        Also, I wouldn’t call into question the Church’s insistence on chant too quickly just because it has not “prevailed” in its revival. Should we call into question the Church’s teaching on sin just because confession lines are shorter? I’m not equating chant’s absence from the liturgy as being sinful, but the logic is the same.

      4. @Andrew Kenney – comment #26:
        The original comment simply said the liturgy, not the Roman Rite. The liturgy of the Church is just not that monolithic. Even if we confine the discussion to the Roman Rite, even a bit of historical study shows that the Roman Rite is a composite and not a single, constant, unitary expression. I don’t disagree that the Roman liturgy was influenced by European culture, but it also was shaped by late antiquity, by Greek and Roman imperial culture, by the mish-mash of peoples that made up Christianity in the West, the liturgical practices of Spain and Gaul, the Ottonian Empire, the Celts and more. If it were not for the Muslim conquest of North Africa, I think we would have seen more North African Christianity filter into the Roman Rite too. The liturgy of Jerusalem, seen by pilgrims to the Holy Land and described by Egeria in the early 5th century had a palpable influence on Western liturgical life too.

        The Tridentine era stressed standardization, but moreover it brought with it the curious insistence that change never happened or could happen to the liturgy. This relates to Anthony’s point about preoccupation with “the abstract, the ideal, and the essential” to the neglect of history, process, or change. Breaking out of that mindset can’t be equated with losing the liturgical tradition, however, because liturgical tradition wasn’t always what the Tridentine era’s notions claimed it was. That’s my point.

        I think Anthony has stated very lucidly that chant exists in a negotiated cultural space, and that space, for better or worse, is changing in our time.

        My question for the historians of chant is this: was there ever a time when Gregorian chant was sung by the whole Western church? In other words, what period of flourishing is being revived? If there isn’t a time when it was the music of the whole Western Church, is what is being proposed as a universal program not a revival at all but a novelty?

      5. @Rita Ferrone – comment #24:

        All of the regions you mention except for Syria are Mediterranean, and Syria is close :). And (what I’m driving at with “Mediterranean”) all were part of the Greek world and then the Roman world.

        And those influences flowed into an increasingly centralized Roman Rite.By “liturgy” I meant “Roman Rite” in this thread about documents and music of the Roman Rite. I think it is quite fair to say that the influences on the Roman Rite are primarily Mediterranean, and the development of the rite from those sources is almost exclusively European. The culmination of that centralizing development and liturgical rigidity is Trent, just before the burst of Missionary activity you mention.

        And I certainly agree that you can find many examples of variation in the implementation of the Latin blueprint historically – just as you can today. My point is simply that the Roman Rite itself (that is, the Missal itself, not its implementation) is strongly Euro-centric in its origin and development. Thus it is illogical to utilize the rite yet categorically reject chant simply because of its Euro-centricity. There may be other reasons to reject chant, but I find the Euro-centric complaint logically inconsistent.

      6. @Jared Ostermann – comment #28:
        Jared, thanks for clarifying. I agree with you about the question of consistency. We can’t reject chant because it’s euro-centric, then turn around and accept a whole raft of other expressions that are also euro-centric. I would even go further and say that a failure to recognize and value the worthwhile contributions of European culture to church life and liturgy is wrong-headed. We do have to be discerning about their continuing relevance, but it would be unfair to reject them out of hand simply because they took shape in that context.

      7. @Rita Ferrone – comment #24:

        It has been urged for more than a century. It has had many enthusiasts. It still does not prevail.

        Outside the USA, Rita, there are likely 1001 answers to your question-charge. But in my lived experience to this day and hour, “it” does not prevail in no small measure due to unbridled and systemic clerical suppression to even give it a place at the table, much less a primary place. That is fact, not opinion. I could further bore and irritate the readership here with my multi-decade’s efforts to persuade the reverend fathers to allow for one NO/chanted/Latin Mass into the rotation among four parishes. To no avail. As I say, popularly and generally the chanted Mass has yet to be tried pervasively. Reverse logic to claim inefficacy on its part is dishonest. And there are plenty of DM folk like me who do not subscribe to Todd’s insistence that there’s a jihadist insistence on all or nothing chant in parish worship life.
        BTW, Todd, my observation about “popularity” was not my complaint, it was Anthony’s rationale and criterium from his polling and inquiry.
        Lastly Rita, no one really disagrees on the musicology regarding chant usage globally. But by qualifying “Gregorian chant” in your question-charge that there never was a time it enjoyed universaility is beside and around the point. It doesn’t stretch the mind or credibility to affirm that there was a significant era when chant was pervasively employed as the musical setting of sacred text globally.

      8. @Charles Culbreth – comment #37:
        Charles, I don’t understand what you are trying to say, except that it seems you think I ought to know already what the answer to my question is. “No one disagrees on the musicology” means something to you perhaps, but I do not know what everyone agrees on in musicology because I’m not a musicologist. I don’t know the answer. That’s why I asked the question.

        As for whether the question is chant of all kinds or Gregorian chant, the post is about Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is what all the quoted documents praise. Gregorian chant is what the subject of the discussion has been thus far. My question pertains to Gregorian chant because that’s what we are talking about.

      9. @Charles Culbreth – comment #37:
        It might be that the so-called “unbridled and systematic clerical suppression” extends to all art in the US. It’s not a matter of opposition to chant as much as it is a blanket skepticism of all art. Music and even liturgy do not have pride of place, because we know that education has pride of place. In my largely rural archdiocese, for example, every parish must have at least a coordinator or faith formation, and must pay FF catechists a stipend. No such parallel exists for music directors or accompanists.

        As for the all-or-nothing meme, I read the occasional CMAA forum thread, and so can anyone else.

        Not only was plainsong pervasive in the monasteries and cathedrals of the Middle Ages, but musicians and composers were always stretching beyond the bounds of what was considered “acceptable” church music. Undoubtedly, chant has always been the branch of many blossoms, no matter how many were plucked and discarded by traditionalists.

      10. @Todd Flowerday – comment #20:
        If a change is a response to God’s call then I don’t see how it can be a rupture since the only horizon that we have for interpreting divine revelation is what has already been received. Even conversion does not destroy someone and replace him with something entirely new.

      11. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #22:
        Stanislaus, the issue in the post is whether theological data (including what was approved by Vatican II) does or doesn’t suggest a development in our understanding of chant’s role. Do you wish to address that issue?

        I’m trying to get us off the issue of who gets to disagree with what V2 said, or whether it’s unfair for one side to do this and not let another side, or whether there can be a rupture. We’ve already discussed all those issues at length.

        The point of the post is that we have a problem – there is difficulty in upholding chant’s primacy. I’m not sure that you see what the problem is, or that you’re engaging what the topic of the post is. I invite you to do so.


      12. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #23:
        I think I see what you mean Father. What I find most problematic about your discussion is that it seems to take for granted that liturgical music is essentially functional. How one answers this question will partly determine how one comes down on the general issue of whether or not Gregorian chant may lose its primacy.

      13. @Stanislaus Kosala – comment #22:
        Perhaps. But Francis of Assisi was certainly a Christian, at least a nominal one before his change of life. And also think of the commitment of woman and men to religious life or priesthood. People who enter a religious community certainly embrace a rupture from a past which may have been very holy and graced. But monastics don’t get to ease into the community with holidays and weekends off to visit families or to frolic with previous lovers.

        “Destroy” in the context of Vatican II liturgical reform is an unseemly caricature.

  16. I’m still wondering about the title of this thread: “Could the Church’s Understanding of the Primacy of Gregorian Chant Ever Change?”

    Doesn’t SC 116 already contain a change from earlier articulations of the place of Gregorian chant in the Roman Rite, namely, by adding that important qualifier, “other things being equal.”

    Paul Inwood and others have already touched on some of those “other things” which affect Gregorian chant’s pride of place in the Roman Rite. l would add that ALL the norms contained in arts. 14-40 need to be considered.

    And is SC’s use of “pride of place” the same as “primacy”? The Orthodox may be happy to cede “pride of place” to the Bishop of Rome, but balk at “primacy.”

  17. I find it strange that “functional” is being used as a pejorative adjective for ritual music (Stanislaus Kosala, ## 19 and 25). It is precisely because we had largely omitted to look at the music of the liturgy in terms of its form and function that we are in this position now.

    The Church’s documents consistently talked about music in terms of beauty, solemnity, dignity, lifting up the heart and mind in prayer, etc, without ever considering what the function of the music was within the different parts of the rite. They were, in other words, talking about nice liturgical wallpaper, embellishing the rite but not necessarily an integral part of it. This is the reason why people were able to get away, on the one hand, with Mozart Masses which, while very attractive, often do not reflect the deeper meaning of the rite (think of some of his unashamedly jolly Kyries, for example), and, on the other hand, making Low Mass with no music at all the norm in many places.

    When SC 112 came along and described ideal ritual music as that which is wedded intimately to the rite, “whether [my emphasis] it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites” (in other words, secondary considerations, not vital to the primary criterion), that was a bombshell for many. It put function squarely in the centre of the frame.

    And yet we have still not taken it seriously. The problem with Chant — which is also just as much true of Lifeteen music and many other idioms, by the way — is that proponents are still viewing it from an aesthetic perspective, rather than from the perspective of how it fits with the rite. Once we start asking questions like that, the way we use Chant, and Lifeteen music, and pop/folk music, and Taizé, and Mozart, and anything else actually, will change. It’s no longer about idiom or aesthetics, it’s no longer about dropping your preferred form of music into the liturgical slots, it’s about trying to grasp the thrust of a part of the rite and then seeing what is the most appropriate musical way of bringing that to life in the context of the particular celebrating community and the ambient culture.

    If we don’t understand ritual functions, then our music cannot function effectively in the rite. If we do, then the disconnects that we often see should gradually diminish and disappear. What Anthony is asking us to discuss is whether the place of Gregorian Chant in our ritual music canon needs to be re-examined and re-evaluated. I am extending that to saying that in fact we need to use much more discrimination and discernment in the use of all our forms of ritual music.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #33:

      Perhaps you could expand on what you mean by “function”. I would say that conferring greater solemnity/dignity on the rites is a function of music, as is helping people lift up their hearts in prayer. In general, beautifying the liturgical space and liturgical texts seems to be a key function of music.

      I take your emphasized word “whether” to be a connector to a list of examples of how music is closely connected to liturgical action. You seem to take that word as if it means “whether or not” music accomplishes any of this list of secondary goals. But I may just be misunderstanding your treatment of “function”.

      I think “function” is a noble thing, not a pejorative. My take away from this paragraph and ensuing discussion is that music should fit intimately with the rite, and “work” – that is, accomplish certain clear purposes. For example, if a piece meant for congregational singing is just too difficult for a congregation to sing, then it is not functional. Or, if a piece for the choir distorts the balance and flow of the liturgy (say, a 10-minute Gloria), then it is not functional. However, the pairing of antiphons with psalmody is very functional for processional music, as the length of the music can easily be matched with the liturgical action.

      1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #36:

        Yes, I am using “function” in a narrower sense than you. I think you are referring to the munus ministeriale of music within the rite, or characteristics of music within the rite, whereas I am thinking of the actual way that music works within the rite or a part of the rite. And that is related to the form used, as well as to the meaning of what is conveyed.

        The Universa Laus study group for many years worked at the function — form — signification [meaning] triad, followed by the function — form — functioning triad. That is the kind of function I am thinking about, rather than attributes of sacred music.

        I don’t know if this helps.

  18. I am studying in Shanghai at the moment and have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to attend Mass here in both Chinese and English on a regular basis. One thing that struck me about comparing the international Masses and the local Chinese Masses is how much more Gregorian chant is employed in the Chinese liturgy (items such as Kyrie, Gloria and Credo translated into Chinese) whereas the English Mass is essentially dominated by music of the St. Louis Jesuits. The Chinese sing the Gregorian chants with inspirational gusto and clearly relish the meditative quality of chant while in the English liturgies the congregation shows little if any engagement with the music. In emphasising the importance of embracing cultural pluralism in our liturgy we must not lose sight of the fact that the riches of our own Western tradition can be appreciated by cultures as distant as those found in the Far East. We mustn’t think that our liturgy has to be purged of its Western traditions in order to make it accessible to other cultures.

  19. Has the Catholic East, and the Orthodox Churches, had difficulty keeping an emphasis on chant as the music of their liturgy? Have they introduced other musical forms alongside, or as replacements of, chant?

  20. PS
    I will, with irony, paraphrase one of my lifelong heroes, John Lennon, to affirm my point-charge:
    “All we are saying is give chant a chance.”

  21. @Paul Inwood (#33): This is the reason why people were able to get away, on the one hand, with Mozart Masses which, while very attractive, often do not reflect the deeper meaning of the rite (think of some of his unashamedly jolly Kyries, for example)…

    I think Mozart and others were on to something there. Should we not be jolly and joyful that our Lord is a merciful Lord? I certainly think one could argue that, especially on Sundays and feasts, there is a (perhaps underplayed?) joyful aspect to the Kyrie, if one sees it as a bridge between the Confiteor and the Gloria. (This is not quite as apparent in the Ordinary Form’s time-saving options, i.e. forms B and C; another reason to prefer form A on Sundays, IMHO.)

    Or, perhaps Mozart was just ahead of his time, and pre-empted ICEL’s “Litany of Praise” in the 1998 Missal…! 🙂

  22. Dear Rita,
    Regarding “musicology,” that was “shorthand” for all of the regional/ritual chant forms over early and evolving Christendom. So, most of us do have familiarity with the fact that Ambrosian chant is not Sarum, Gallic, Mozarabic, Corsican, Coptic, Gregorian or other chant in substance. That’s all that meant.

    I also thought you’d get that I was calling into question yours and Anthony’s qualification and specificity regarding only “Gregorian Chant” as the crux of the issue. Yes, the documents specify it so when they call for “it” having primacy of place. But, isn’t “Gregorian Chant” itself a term that describes a genre rather than a specific species of chant. After all, myth or truth of its origins aside, these chants were collected and collated from many monasteries in many regions. “Gregorian Chant” might be more equal to saying “Popular Music Anthology” than a “Strict system of musical composition” such as serialism or species counterpoint.

    So, my point is broader- just calling the question of “chant” having primary place is more honest than the semantic reduction to “Gregorian.” And whether its popular, feasible, desired, despised or rejected is besides that point. It is called for to be “recognized.” It is invited to the table. And there are many, and not all enclaved in CMAA btw, particular PIPs, who want to keep company with it at worship.

    To Todd’s beating of the dead horse of CMAA intransience, that is not my lived experience. I’m the one who’s been to the colloquia. I know the hundreds of DM’s who personally have said in my presence that they’d die happy if chant was provided a real opportunity, a platform if you will, at just one of multitudes of Sunday Masses. And the systemic intolerance for that notion, for whatever cultural reasons, is a repugnant refusal to think with the mind of the Church, which is explicit. Just one Mass. Take my word or not, just because CMAA to Todd seems like an echo chamber of ideologues, doesn’t make it so. And his point likening the suppression of chant to art music in general doesn’t hold water either. You won’t find many priests who out of hand dismiss the occasional singing of a Latin hymn, motet or even ordinary movements within the general construct of the vernacular OF Mass.

    But chant? Good luck. I’ll never forget a powerful Msgr. out here who remarked to me “Why would you choose that? It doesn’t uplift ME?!?” He said it with palpable, vehement disgust.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #43:
      Maybe one other reason the so-called “suppression” of chant doesn’t register with me is that I know of few music directors who are doing good work who don’t actually utilize it.

      I think a regular or occasional Latin-all-chant Mass is and should be a dead issue in most communities, not because of any animosity I have to chant itself, but mainly because I’m a skeptic on balkanizing the parish liturgy offerings. My parish has enough pastoral challenges with four semi-separate communities. I’d rather do a plainsong Mass setting for Ordinary Time at this point–a nice complement to the handful of congregational pieces we have in our repertoire.

  23. If priests with the requisite skill and willingness were to chant the collect in Latin on a Sunday, rather than speak it in English using the RM3 translation, what would be the loss?

    And if the world is becoming more connected and multi-cultural, that seems to me a compelling reason to utilize Latin more in our worship. Surely Latin could be a powerful sign of our unity across generations, nationalities, cultures and languages. I happen to think we’re in a pastoral Latin moment. And that wider use of Latin would bring with it wider use of chant.

    Then there is this: Catholics from Pope Francis on down are adept at decrying the excessive influence of free-market commerce in our contemporary life. But surely the current state of affairs with regard to liturgical music bears the stamp of the marketplace. Contemporary liturgical music, whatever else it is, is an industry. And it is scarcely an overstatement to note that the industry drives our musical worship. Conventions whose objective is to disseminate best practices are sponsored by publishers, feature publisher showcases, and offer full listings of seminars, keynotes and demonstrations led by persons whom the publishers have made stars. For many parishes, the evolution of sung prayer for the last three or four decades has been characterized by the everlasting search for the new, the hot, the trendy, the hit song. New hymnals are trotted out, jettisoned and replaced every few years in a quest for the fountain of new.

    Fr. Ruff, I don’t question your abbey’s decision to dial down chant; surely you know what is best for your community. But is it at least possible that your young associate took a poll of 175 consumers, and came up with a passel of consumer-driven results?

    Can chant stand as a critique of contemporary, consumerist culture?

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #45:
      Jim, you smart and clear thinking genius. You and Fritz are walking epitomes for the permanent diaconate. Well said and thorough, bravo and thank you.

  24. I think it’s often cited that liturgical music is a business, but to state it is an industry is perhaps an exaggeration, especially when compared to outlets outside Roman Catholicism.

    It might be as easily argued that the period 1970-1990 saw publishers fill a vacuum of the lack of good liturgical music in English. That situation seems to me to have stabilized over the last generation. Consider the significant gap between the repertoire of GIA’s Gather series’ first two editions, then compare editions II and III. If publishers are churning out hits they’ve been in a slump worthy of the greatest collection of pop has-beens.

    Chant might have more problems disengaging from the banner of aristocracy, elitism, and being too artsy for America before it can carry the banner of freedom and self-determination.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #47:

      “Chant might have more problems disengaging from the banner of aristocracy, elitism, and being too artsy”

      Todd – it might, if we don’t take care to ensure that it avoids those problems. I’d think we’d need to be guided by the principles of the liturgical renewal, such as the principle that the people should be invited to full, conscious and active participation, to help make sure that such problems are minimized.

      Of course, many aspects of our worship, if we do not take care, can convey “overtones” that contradict or conflict with the genuine spirit of the liturgy. For example, perhaps it could be said that the use of English, the lingua franca of global commerce, carries overtones of economic and cultural hegemony. Perhaps it could be said that inserting the occasional Spanish prayer, reading or song verse into a mostly-English liturgy is an exercise in patronization or tokenism. If we think about it, we might find risks and dangers with just about every aspect of liturgy. That’s why I am grateful for liturgists who not only are animated by the spirit of liturgical renewal but have the art, the knack, of doing it well (all the more so as I know that I don’t have that art in very large measure). That same artistic sensitivity and ingenuity would need to be applied to the use of chant and Latin in our worship.

    2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #47:

      “It might be as easily argued that the period 1970-1990 saw publishers fill a vacuum of the lack of good liturgical music in English.”

      Yep. I’d be right next to you, making the same argument, except I wouldn’t stop at 1990. That’s the music I’ve been making in parishes, if not since 1970, at least since the decade after that one. And I don’t mean to demonize the publishers. The publisher folks I’ve known and worked with, I think without exception, have been wonderful people. My impression is that they are serving God and the church by doing their work. The publishers are a blessing to us.

      I’d go farther and argue that during that period of 1970 to the present, we’ve seen a flowering and ferment of creativity, mostly in service to the liturgical renewal, and the market-driven aspects of contemporary liturgical music have proven to be an efficient and possibly an effective way to drive the renewal to the parish grassroots; to ensure the artists receive the compensation due them; and to provide a way (not always effective, but perhaps better than any alternative) to protect the rights of intellectual property owners.

      I guess my comment to which you responded was intended to note that our system, for all its goodness, may also have some problematic aspects. And it makes for an interesting juxtaposition to think of all the turnover of repertoire during the time period of our lives, and the commercial activity that supports (and, I argue, helps drive) that churn, on the one hand, and the church authority’s insistence, on the other hand, that we somehow keep alive and keep relevant chant, which seems so independent of commerce and churn and the influence of popular, secular culture.

      1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #52:
        Yes. I think there are problematic aspects. I’ve also said it here and on my own site that patronage on the national and diocesan level–commissioning composers to do good work–could be a useful part of the big picture. Local composers forums. Others suggest a national hymnal. Our bishops choose not to lead so. The few who do, seem content to pick at the fringes, at songs they personally dislike, a kind of hopeful liturgical bonsai.

        Getting back to the topic, it seems that many public commentators in the Church are looking for crackdown, a hermeneutic of subtraction. Subtract those horrid guitars, those horrid boring chants, those horrid P&W songs, those horrid singers and choirs. Even my friend Charles has not avoided a post in which he leads off with my being the Caliph of Curmudgeonry when it comes to chant or CMAA. Just subtract or discredit the annoying person or business who disagrees with me.

        I don’t know why there is a lack of trust with a more open and expanded repertoire, including chant, but not exclusively that. People do get comfortable with what works, with what they know. And that’s not to be 100% lamented. By and large, they haven’t sung chant all that much–maybe in parishes without professional leadership it boils down to one Advent song.

        I don’t think chant is the future for the mainstream parish. Stronger legislation will not and cannot impose it.

        The biggest hurdle for any of us lamenting the State of Things is that there is no way to legislate quality. You can’t order parishes to do excellent music, to hire excellent leadership, or to favor or disfavor one publisher.

      2. @Jim Pauwels
        LOL, Jim! Not sure if we’re helping the inter-religious dialogue what with me being both a Caliph and curmudgeon (so true) and my brother Todd as a Sultan!
        As both Fr. Jack and I’ve said, it’s all local. And I do strap on my Godin SA classical every weekend, even at the choir Mass when needed. And there are quite a number of CMAA’ers who do the same. But when we lobby against a closed mindset and for real inclusion for all, we seem to be tar-feathered as the all are nothing idealogues who are less than gentile in their “persuasions.”
        Our youth minister directs the ministry ensemble (Sunday night, not Life-Teen.) For over a decade, under the three pastors, they sing a song called “Sanctuary” as the acolytes and EM’s communicate. The PIPs sing their gluts off. I’ve had those same three pastors ask me to get them to “subtract” that song ASAP. I nod in affirmation:: message received. But that’s not going to happen. It’s not because I don’t regard the song as wanting, it is. It’s not because i don’t want to get them to try a “Communio.” It’s not going to be subtracted by me because I don’t own it’s singing, but THEY DO.
        I get that.
        But at the same time, I don’t think that due to that ownership and popularity the rest of the music needs to expand to “Awesome God” and Hillsongs. As you’ve delicately and humorously said, I would like to help guide our folks towards “fullness…addition….beauty…..sung “communion” with music that saints have sung or centuries, and so forth.
        Further the sequestering the chant to Cinderella’s “own little corner?” Doesn’t make sense and seems quite unjust.

      3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #60:

        Todd – we agree on chant inclusivity :-). And well said regarding the hermeneutic of subtraction.

        Just speaking for myself, I’m not seeking additional legislation. It wouldn’t be “received”. And pastors and directors of music should be reasonably free to exercise their pastoral judgment. I guess I’d like to see a due consideration of the musical form that is proper (maybe it’s not popular, but it’s *proper*) to the Roman Rite be part of the liturgical judgment.

      4. @Jim Pauwels – comment #65:
        But the catch is this: what constitutes “due consideration”?

        One example: I lobbied my music directors (I do not function as one in the parish, but I supervise them) and their accompanists to consider a plainsong Mass setting with the new Roman Missal. I found the Missal chants seriously wanting, and I promoted the Ambrosian Sanctus & Agnus Dei from BFW with my edits and adaptation of the Memorial Acclamation and Amen. No go. The perception was that the “turn-the-clock-back” MR3 needed to be balanced with a contemporary setting, and we went with St Ann, by far the most contemporary Mass setting we’ve used this side of the Mass of Glory. I was pretty much told that it’s not a good time to promote chant, and I can’t deny that’s a due consideration for people who feel discouraged about the botching of the MR3 translation.

        Even in places that weren’t exercising a little pushback like that, the Church has invested a lot of energy on all levels with the new editions and translations of the latest Roman Missal. My guess is that that is effectively a higher priority than improving music. And it drains energy and effort away from what some of us might consider more important issues on the liturgy/spirituality interface.

        I do think that chant has to float or sink on its own musical merits. Association with “properity” is more of an anchor in some quarters these days than a sail. You are right: additional legislation on music won’t be received today. Additional legislation on bishops mismanaging sex predators would be.

      5. @Todd Flowerday – comment #66:

        “But the catch is this: what constitutes “due consideration”?”

        Right. Hard to say. In your example, it seems to me that your team did give it due consideration, and came to a consensus on a pastoral reason that it wasn’t timely. At some point, maybe the pastoral situation will change and it will seem pastorally feasible to do what you recommended.

        I guess, whatever constitutes due consideration, we can contrast it with dismissing it out of hand because there is no perceptible groundswell for it. Just my view.

        We also went with Mass of St. Ann, btw, and it’s been working out very well. Istm that the Lamb of God, while by no means chant, and certainly rooted in modern Western music, including some ‘pop’ harmonic touches, is yet somehow in the “spirit” of a chanted Agnus Dei. I’m making some sort of subjective, aesthetic judgment here, and have no idea how to convey my sense of this with any precision. To me, it feels liturgical.

  25. Todd, you remain, mein Bruder, the Sultan of Semantics. Jim didn’t decry the pub’s as just an industry, he clearly said they are that among other things. And “industrious” they are. If they don’t have that aspect as Jim describes at the heart of maintaining their self-sustained market share year after year, then why don’t you attend LAREC or NPM to keep abreast of all of the vast knowledge imparted in plenum addresses and breakouts? Take a look at the location where Anthony and Nathan shot their webcasts- the vast expanse of prefab, attractive “booths,” none of which housed Moses or Elijah. And they weren’t selling doves either. That is not exaggeration, it’s reality.
    You’re no stranger to exaggeration either. You take others’ accounts, including mine, and repeatedly tailor them from afar (whether Iowa or upstate NY) to suit your world view. You question with precise innuendo whether “chant” is suppressed by safely dubbing it “so-called suppression” after testimony and account by those of us also in the fields with you. Just call us all liars. Ah, but you can’t. You can only diminish the impression, like Monet with lights and shadows. You know more about CMAA than Wm. Mahrt, just ask you. It’s so tiresome and counterproductive to true discourse, which I presume Anthony, Rita and everyone at PTB still encourage.
    Skirt the issue of respect, nee hospitality towards the chanted Mass by citing your acquaintence with “successful DM’s” you know who don’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Great. But if others produce a list of successful DM’s whose programs were resuscitated by the same chant Masses, and it must be aberrant, imperial, out of sync.
    Explain that to MaryAnn Wilson who has 26 new boys, 25 new girls who’ve signed on for the school year children’s schola at St. Ann’s San Diego; or the 100+ plus kids who signed up for chant camp she put on over the summer.
    Please, someone at PTB, explain to Jim Pauwels why chanted orations by the celebrant would “hurt.” Explain how more chant…

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #49:
      “And it is scarcely an overstatement to note that the industry drives our musical worship.”

      I think it is an overstatement.

      I don’t attend LAREC or NPM because one, I don’t find conventions of any sort fruitful, and two, I have far more interest in smaller gatherings of people, like in a parish, deanery, or possibly a diocese, who want to make a real difference where the boots hit the ground.

      I’ve seen numbers swell in children’s programs, but that’s largely due to the kindness and charism of the leadership. I think you put good music of any grouping of genres together with adults and teens who really care about people, and the children will come.

      Chant isn’t suppressed any more than music directors are suppressed because new pastors come in the clear the decks. That’s not to say that chant isn’t misunderstood, or that people don’t have bad memories and experiences of it. No different there from guitar music.

      I think chant is being done in most parishes with professional leadership. But I would say it sits at about 10-20% on average.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #50:

        “I think chant is being done in most parishes with professional leadership. But I would say it sits at about 10-20% on average.”

        I’d guess it’s probably less – but I don’t know how we’d know. I’d guess virtually all of us are in our own parishes most Sundays.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #50:

        1. That quote was Jim’s. But from whence come the vast majority of hymnals, pulp hymnals and missals used in the USA? From Canada’s bishop conference? Steubenville? (oops, they don’t let those off campus.) Or are we all spending millions of work hours handcrafting musical ordos and the attendant paperwork regarding licenses, etc.? Wait a minute, all that internet licensing industry that imitates CCCL, that’s not an expanding, growth industry? One license for melody reprints, another for performing….one gets the picture. Another one doesn’t, or won’t acknowledge that.
        2. I know that your pilgrimage is devoted to continuing education and formation which doesn’t require mixing at big convenes. However, what my question illustrated was that take the industry out of the conventions, you still have the Ruffs, the Fords, the Ferrones, the Nestors, the Joncas’ and Hurds providing valuable guidance to ALL, even the disinterested who’ve apparently plateau’d with the liturgical concerns.
        3. Yeah, chant had nothing to do with an inner city parish likely subject to weekly renditions of “Alabare” and “Glory and praise to our God,” that was revived by FSSP (not necessarily or always congenial folks) and then becomes a mecca with a measurably increasing track record. So, let’s go back and give them Landry and see if they stay, even with loveable MaryAnn.
        4. Tell the great numbers of my parishioners who, upon commenting upon those portions they do hear every Sunday, ask for a fully chanted Mass, and I, as a loyal employee implore them to speak with the pastor (my third one in the current tenure of 21 years.) Yeah, I know, I’m only one guy.
        5. Your final thought is pure conjecture and meaningless. If the Agnus Dei from Iubilate Deo is sung at one Mass out of ten in a weekend, then you can claim that chant is “being done.” Professionalism has nothing to do with it. And your 10-20%?
        Seriously? You got an algorithm the rest of us don’t know…

      3. @Charles Culbreth – comment #54:
        Yes, the quote was Jim’s. But your statement “That is not exaggeration, it’s reality,” needed a bit of perspective. Most any of those resources contain far more material than any parish uses in a year. What drives choices in the average parish is the slice (30% at best) of what was used last year. Not new things. And even so-called youth Masses are often reliant on mainstream repertoire. Much more so than seeker worship of the Evangelical Protestants, which are served by much larger businesses with substantially larger market shares.

        I don’t understand your point with #2. Please elaborate, especially the difference from the CMAA model as it is presented.

        3. The last inner city parish I visited did Agnus Dei XVIII. Alabare? Maybe the charismatic prayer group.

        5. Gregorian Alleluias, Kyries, AG XVIII, Lord’s Prayer, the dialogues and doxologies, plus seasonal fare like O Come O Come or Parce Domine.

  26. Didn’t I read somewhere that music is the servant of the liturgy. I suppose that would make music makers servants as well. There is no groundswell for chant of any kind other than that generated by church musicians and their clerical patrons who love it and believe its greater use would bring about a more reverent, God-centered liturgy. I don’t fault them for that love or that conviction. But like politics all liturgy is local. So the local priests and music ministers and the local parishioners are called to gather as church to give thanks (alabare), glory and praise to God. In some places the players conspire to minimize the time for worship. A hymn here a proper or ordinary part there and its back to the parking lot. Some parishes have a rich tradition of singing the Mass and their voices fill the building with a joyful noise. If chant is what they love, more power to them. If it’s Haas, Haugen, Joncas, and Hurd, that’s also great. Music is the servant that helps people enter more deeply into worship in spirit and truth. I like Taize chants and so does the music director so they are employed from time to time. We both like melodious responsorial psalms with refrains that the people master easily, we use them all the time. The point is our people sing the praise of God. For anyone to disparage our worship because we haven’t given primacy to Gregorian Chant or that we are not using other kinds of chant or because we prefer contemporary compositions is, in my view, a form of elitism. Thanks, Anthony, for the opportunity to address this topic.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #55:

      “Didn’t I read somewhere that music is the servant of the liturgy.”

      Fr. Jack – you and I agree on that point. If I may say so, it seems, from the remainder of your comment, that your view of serving the liturgy musically comes down to, “give the people what they want”. And I’d wish to say a couple of things in reply to that point of view. One is that, on a practical level, it’s not really clear that we’re giving the people what they want, because if it is what they really, really wanted, they’d sing more than they do. More likely, we’re giving some of the people what they want (the subset that sing and participate), and we both know that inasmuch as some people gripe and complain about church music, we are not giving some (other) of the people what they want, or at least we’re giving those folks what they *don’t* want.

      From another point of view, I question whether we are giving people what they want, because I think that, in general, people like more sameness and stability of repertoire than we give them. Their ritual instincts may be sound. From time to time, I stand up in front of the congregation before mass and announce that, before mass begins, we’re going to teach a new communion song, or a new setting of the Holy Holy. You may be standing in the back of the church lining up for the procession before mass, and perhaps cannot see the expressions on people’s faces when that announcement is made. Our folks are relatively open and game to trying new things, but the looks of resignation, of putting up with more stuff, the eye-rolling – it’s all part of the reaction. There aren’t many expressions that say, “Oh boy, new music!”

      From yet another angle, I confess to a bit of snobbery, or at least my populism is tempered. I don’t think people’s tastes and preferences should rule on this matter (nor should they be ignored). People are consumers. And “serving the liturgy” means taking into account authoritative guidance and directives.

  27. I don’t know any local parishes that use chant, apart from one run by a LMS religious order. They do sing chant, but very badly, as is to be expected with a form of music mainly developed by and for full-time musicians in monasteries and cathedrals.
    Its an interesting definition of church that concentrates on officials at the expense of the majority.

  28. It seems to me that in a lot of this discussion we need to disaggregate what we mean by “chant.” As some have noted, there are many different families of “chant”—Ambrosian, Coptic, Gregorian, etc.—and not everything that has been said applies to all sorts. Even within the Roman tradition, there is a huge different between, say, Sanctus XVIII and the Gradual Timebunt gentes. While the latter might be thought of as “artsy” or “elitist” (though I myself think that it could speak to even the poorest or most uneducated person out there), the former is nothing if not “popular.” But when we are talking about Gregorian Chant we are talking about both of them. So perhaps we need to specify which chants (or kinds of chant) we think should have pride of place.

  29. Todd Flowerday: I don’t know why there is a lack of trust with a more open and expanded repertoire, including chant, but not exclusively. People do get comfortable with what works, with what they know. By and large, they haven’t sung chant all that much–maybe in parishes without professional leadership it boils down to one Advent song.

    I suppose one thing that it might mean for chant (whether we want to specify it as “Gregorian” or not) to have “pride of place” would be that it is worth a little extra effort to make it an effective servant of the people’s worship. I think Todd is right that at this point one hurdle is unfamiliarity; in many places people simply are no longer used to the sound of chant, whether this is due to its modal nature or the unmetered relationship of melody and text. But I think it’s an important enough part of our tradition that it is worth a little extra effort.

    As many have noted before, the place to begin is the dialogues. In my experience, when these are sung on a regular basis (as opposed to once or twice a year), the congregational response is louder than when the dialogues are spoken. From there, it is a short step to Sanctus XVIII (whether in Latin or English I don’t really care, though I will admit that I find the English version in the Missal a bit clunky). It’s a slightly further step of the Kyrie Orbis Factor, but once people have been singing the Sanctus it’s not really all that far. From there one might move to the Communios, sung while the priest and EMHC are receiving communion, prior to the congregational song during the communion procession. Perhaps one wouldn’t ever get to the more melismatic Graduals, but if you did want to do one on occasion, people’s ears would at least be attuned to the sound of chant.

    So I think “pride of place” means at least asking, “Even if what we are already doing works, how might we go about incorporating some chant into our liturgy?” I don’t think we generally have a similar obligation with other musical forms (though we might in specific circumstances–e.g. the obligation to incorporate some indigenous musical forms).

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #61:
      About the dialogues, agreed. On the Communion propers to accompany the ministers receiving Communion, I sure hope not. One good benefit of Redemptionis Sacramentum in many places was to get the Communion song started when it needs to be: after the priest receives–which is still a problem in the minds of some.

      I think modal music is with us more than we think. The biggest challenge to the modern, untrained ear is singing unaccompanied with a steady tempo.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #62:
        Fair point abut the Communio, though I’ve been places where the communion of the celebrant, servers, and EMHC takes so long that you’d need more than one song anyway. But you’re right that we don’t want to give the impression that Father gets his own communion song.

  30. Paul Inwood mentioned John Paul II’s 2003 chirograph on the centenary of Tra le sollecitudini

    Does anyone have any thoughts about the possible importance of JPII’s use of Musicam Sacram for the latter part of his sentence in #7? He began by citing Sacrosanctum Concilium, but he concluded by citing Musicam Sacram for his use of the phrase “in liturgical services sung in Latin.”

    7. Among the musical expressions that correspond best with the qualities demanded by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical music, Gregorian chant has a special place. The Second Vatican Council recognized that “being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy” [17] it should be given, other things being equal, pride of place in liturgical services sung in Latin [18].

    [17] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 116.

    [18] Cf. Sacred Congregation for Rites, Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy Musicam Sacram (5 March 1967), 50: AAS 59 (1967), 314.

    1. @Wren Spangler – comment #67:
      That’s quite an interesting quote!
      So, the intention was to locate this within the context of Masses sung in Latin. That would actually make a lot of sense.
      Thank you, Wren.

  31. Brief digression (which serves to uphold my cred as a contemporary musician as well.)
    I recommend to friends Jim and Todd (and all) Bob Hurd’s SANTA CLARA Mass when the Bolduc needs a rest. Truly modal, truly accessible on first use with congregation, and a worthy set of motives that can be successful in a variety of ways.

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