Musings On Gregorian Chant

Cover of "Chant"
Cover of Chant

Recently I read a post which expressed a deep longing for a return to past Catholic rituals — one being Gregorian chant. I agreed and realized I had come full circle as long before I came to God, or the Catholic faith, I loved listening to Gregorian Chants. Like many other people in the 90’s I became acquainted with it through the popular “Chant” album by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. Their deep resonating voices hauntingly singing spoke to my soul. I listened to it while I meditated and while I created art. The chants inspired and moved me even though I did not understand the language or origins. I often lit a candle while I listened and eventually I started to burn incense. One day a Protestant friend came over, saw the candles, smelled the incense, heard the chanting and went into deep shock, “What in the world are you doing? Turn that off! Blow that out!” She proceeded to ask if I had gotten into some kind of pagan cult. It took me a while to calm her down. I explained that my little ritual had just evolved over time and had nothing to do with witchcraft or paganism— I was simply inspired by the beauty and mystery. Being a blonde, I can be a little slow on the uptake so even though Chant was obviously by monks, at the time, I didn’t realize the “songs” I had been singing along with were prayers. Looking back I now wonder whether the “inspiration” I felt was actually a result of praying them however poor my understanding or sing-along Latin.

Ave Mundi Spes Maria – English
Hail, hope of the world, Mary, hail, meek one, hail, loving one, hail, full of grace
Hail O singular virgin, who wast chosen to not suffer flames through brambles
Hail, beautiful rose, hail, staff of Jesse:
Whose fruit loosened the chains of our weeping
Hail whose womb bore a son against the law of death
Hail, O one lacking comparison, still tearfully renewing joy for the world
Hail, lamp of virgins, through whom the heavenly light shone on these whom shadow holds.
Hail, O virgin from whom a thing of heaven wished to be born, and from whose milk feed.
Hail, gem of the lamps of heaven
Hail, sanctuary of the Holy Ghost
O, how wonderful, and how praiseworthy is this virginity!
In whom, made through the spirit, the Paraclete, shone fruitfulness.
O how holy, how serene, how kind, how pleasant the virgin is believed to be!
Through whom slavery is finished, a place of heaven is opened, and liberty is returned.
O, lily of chastity, pray to thy son, who is the salvation of the humble:
Lest we through our fault, in the tearful judgment suffer punishment.
But may she, by her holy prayer, purifying from the dregs of sin, place us in a home of light
Amen let every man say. — via Gregorian Chant Benedictinos – YouTube.

P.S. I found a fascinating lecture on Gregorian Chant and Music in the Middle Ages from Open Yale Courses (you can also read the transcript) go to : Lecture 15 – Gregorian Chant and Music in the Sistine Chapel  fair warning- this is from Yale so it secular (shocker!)

p.s.s. If you are blonde and took offense at the above “stupid-blonde” innuendo I apologize. I will try to joke about brunettes soon – to be fair.

p.s.s.s. If there is a better translation of the Ave Mundi Spes Maria let me know! Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Musings On Gregorian Chant

    1. I love this – thank you! I think it is amazing that you directed a Gregorian Choir!! How did you get to that point? If someone like me wants to learn to chant how do you recommend going about it? Are there books that teach it? I’m not American Idol material- lol- or choir material- just interested. Sorry to bombard you with questions. 🙂

      1. That first question requires a long story… Long story short, Fr LaBoy (then brother) roped me into it back when we first met each other in ’93. I learned it from him. I returned the favor this year when I invited him to write weekly for Biltrix.

        As for books, I used a compilation of sorts that was published in house (i.e., in the seminary where I taught). I can get you the information on the source material and some manuals that can explain how to read and sing Gregorian Chant, but I don’t have that information at hand right now. The best way to learn would be through first hand experience. You may not be American Idol material — most of my students weren’t either — but chant is very simple and with patience, anyone can learn it, who’s not completely tone-deaf. I would recommend doing some research to see if there is a choir in your area, and ask if you could join, just to learn. If that does not work, try a monastery. If they can’t help you personally, they could probably tell you were you can go to learn it first hand. In my opinion you’ll need more than a book. Chant has to be experienced, because it is a prayer. As they say, he who sings prays twice.

        I will track down some sources for book material and share the links with you hear. As for the rest, Good luck!

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