Gregorian Chant in the Service of the Mass Materials copyrighted 2009 by Armand Di Scenna

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Gregorian Chant in the Service of the Mass
Materials copyrighted 2009 by Armand Di Scenna.

No portion of this information may be reproduced without the permission of the author:
The new translations of the texts of the Mass offer us an opportunity to re-connect, reclaim, foster, and promote the use of chant at Mass --- our musical heritage as Roman Catholics.
Gregorian Chant was developed solely for the worship of God. It is designed to bring us into contact with the holy, designed to sanctify us, and to place us in the presence of God. This music is idiomatic to Roman Catholic liturgies.
This presentation is broken down into 6 areas:
A. Proper Places and Times (Placing the right music with the right occasion)
B. A Brief History of Gregorian Chant
C. Chanted Ordinaries, Propers, and Hymns
D. Liturgical Documentation
E. Practical Considerations for Introducing Chant to Your Congregation
F. Publishers / Chant Resources

A. Proper Places and Times
Think about different types and styles of music. Each different style leads us to certain frames of mind, to certain feelings and activities. Each song helps us "key into" one or a few different occasions, "key into" a particular state of mind and emotion. For example, let's examine the list below:
1. Songs of the Seasons

a. Jingle Bells

b. We Wish You a Merry Christmas

c. Auld Lang Syne

d. Harrigan

e. The Irish Washerwoman

f. Here Come Peter Cottontail

g. America the Beautiful

h. Battle Hymn of the Republic

i. Over the River & Through the Woods
2. Special Home / Office / Club Festivities

a. Happy Birthday

b. For He's A Jolly Good Fellow
3. Solemn Occasions: Funeral

a. Ave Maria

b. Panis Angelicus

c. Come to His Aid / Come to Her Aid

d. In Paradisum

e. Pie Jesu

4. Solemn Occasions: Wedding

a. Ave Maria

b. Pachelbel Canon

c. Wedding March from "Lohengrin"

d. Prince of Denmark's March

e. Wachet Auf

f. Wedding March from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

g. Hornpipe

h. "Spring" from the Four Seasons
5. Dance the Night Away

a. The Macarena

b. Celebrate

c. The Locomotion

d. "add your favorites here"

As we can see, several melodies are appropriate for certain occasions, and immediately call these festivities or occasions to mind when they are played or sung. Now let's try an experiment --- imagine singing a Christmas tune at a retirement party in August ? Or playing the Ave Maria to a crowded dance floor ? How about singing "Harrigan" or "Peter Cottontail" while gathered around the piano at a Christmas party ? You get the picture --- there's no surer way to break a mood, or be considered a wise guy !
....and so it is with music that is played or sung at Mass. We must continually ask ourselves --- will this piece bring our congregations into the presence of God ? Will this piece help us to pray ? Or is it just some fun tune that will while away the time......or worse, will this piece take us OUT of the mind-set of prayer at Mass ?
A few times in my youth, I attended Jazz Masses. I sincerely believe that there are prayerful pieces written in a jazz idiom by Duke Ellington and others that can help us to pray, but no such pieces were played at this Mass ! Instead, standard jazz tunes were performed, and in my mind and spirit, I was immediately transported to the feeling of a jazz club. The music was performed beautifully, but all I wanted to do was nod along to the music --- there was no feeling of being placed in the presence of God.
So, we must always be conscious of the types of rhythms and melodies that we present to our congregations. No melody or rhythm is "bad" in itself --- but, as indicated above, the problem is that certain melodies or rhythms can lead us outside of the spirit and prayerful mindset of the Mass.
We all know the current meaning of the term "profane." This term, however, originates from "pro fanum" --- literally, "that which is outside the walls" of a temple or church. The meaning comes from the Jews originally, and we adopted it --- that once we have entered the walls of a holy place, we leave behind the world of "outside." Once inside, we place ourselves in the presence of God, praying to Him, worshiping Him, spending time with Him. Yes, we do bring our hurts, our needs, our concerns to God, and ask for blessings on our loved ones, projects, finances, etc., but these are not the main focus. The main focus is listening to God, spending time with Him, asking for His guidance and blessings, taking part in the eucharistic celebration, and asking for the strength and blessings to do His will.
Pope St. Clement I (1st century A.D.) reinforced this idea. He wrote about the differences between the music for the street, and music for worship. Music for the street is for inciting dancing and physical love; music for worship is for the express purpose of praising God, leading us to Him, opening our hearts to Him. To put it mildly, to intermix the two is to cause confusion and to confound their purposes......... Consider again, as extreme examples --- what would happen if we played the Ave Maria for a crowded dance floor at a disco or a wedding ? At the same time, what effect would playing the Macarena have at Benediction ?
Again, we must always be aware of the consequences of our musical choices for liturgies --- will our choices lead our congregations to a spirit of prayer, to an encounter with God, or will our choices lead them away from a spirit of prayer and away from God ?
With Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, there is no question --- when done well, this music can only lead us to an experience, to an atmosphere, of spirituality and prayer.

B. A Brief History of Gregorian Chant
Gregorian Chant grew out of a variety of music present in the early Christian era --- Judaic chants, Greek music, music of the Middle East, and music that was created to express the new Christian experience and identity, as separate from Judaism. Historical events helped to accelerate the development of chant, in particular, Constantine's Edict of Milan (circa 312 A.D.), which legalized the practice of Christianity.

Since Christianity had now found favor with the emperor, a large number of Romans began converting in droves, not so much because of what they believed, but because it was the fashionable thing to do ! As a result of these conversions en masse, many faithful Christians were scandalized. A few years earlier, they had been practicing their religion secretly yet faithfully, in the face of certain death or torture if discovered. The luke-warm faith and practices of the new converts disturbed them, and thus created a counter-movement within the Church. Soon, individuals and families took the opportunity to move to remote, desert areas, in the desire to re-create the Christian communities and practices of apostolic times.
Over time, these communities transformed into the early monasteries and convents. One of the practices developed by these communities was the practice of singing the psalms as a community. Legend has it that all 150 psalms were initially sung in the course of a day ! Later reforms called for the singing of the 150 psalms over the course of a week. Chant music came into its own in the monasteries and convents. This music then intermixed with the chanted liturgies that were being sung in the new, state-sanctioned basilicas in the great cities of the Roman empire --- for the first time, Masses could be sung publicly without fear of recrimination, and this fact also influenced the development of early Christian music.
"Gregorian Chant" is named in memory of Pope Gregory I (reigned 590 - 604 A.D.) Legend has it that he learned the Gregorian melodies from the dove of the Holy Spirit. Although these melodies clearly are divinely inspired, what we do know for a fact is that Gregory I was a great organizer, and aided in categorizing the different prayers and Proper texts proper to each Mass, season, and Holy Day of the Church year. A number of his successors probably had more influence on the music of the chants, since several of them had had musical training, but Gregory's name became attached to this music in legend, so it continues to be named after him. Now, all Western liturgical chant falls under the rubric of "Gregorian Chant."
A number of varieties of chant have sprung up in different eras, and in different geographical areas. Byzantine Chant became the liturgical music of the Greek churches; Ambrosian Chant was developed under St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c. A.D.); Mozarabic Chant developed in Spain and Northern Africa; Sarum Chant grew up around the Cathedral of Salisbury in England, and was prominent right up until the advent of the Church of England; Gallican Chant was the chant of the Franks until the time of Charlemagne.
Once bitter enemies of the Roman Empire, the Franks gradually came to respect and admire Rome. By the time of Pepin I (father to Charlemagne), Gaul (roughly the area of modern France and Germany) and Rome had forged military pacts. Charlemagne (d. 814 A.D) continued and strengthened these ties with Rome, and, in an effort to unify his people, called for a standardization of chant practices throughout Gaul. To this end, he asked Rome to send chant directors and books of liturgical texts, in order to teach the Franks the Roman style of chanting. This "Old Roman" chant repertoire was fairly easy to learn, since there was a standard number of melodies, with interchangeable texts. (The Franks had more trouble pronouncing Latin in the Roman style. Even today, recordings of chant by German monks emphasize hard "g's" and "c's" in front of "e's" and "i's," as well as softer "v's," in contrast with the practice of Italian, French, and Spanish monks.)
Over time, the Franks began developing new chants, and also began adding texts to longer melismatic passages (i.e., long melodies sung on only one syllable). Increasing the repertoire with unique chants made it harder to memorize the entire repertoire. What had for centuries been an oral tradition, passed down from generation to generation, now required some sort of written symbol, to aid in learning and memorization, which the Franks developed in due time.
Some time in the 9th century, using existing phonetic and punctuation symbols, the Franks began notating the direction of melodies accompanied with text, using different symbols to indicate a rise, fall, stasis, or repetition of notes and melodies. These symbols eventually evolved into the black square-note notation that is now standard in books of Gregorian chant. The symbols also led to the development of the musical staff as well as our modern system of notating music.
Despite the practice of notation, chant went through many periods of transformation, decay, and restoration. The most recent period of restoration began in France in the 1830s. Dom Prosper Gueranger, a young monk, wished to restore the monastic practice of communal chanting that had been decimated in France in the wake of the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic wars. Gathering like-minded monks and clerics around him at the ruined Abbey of Solesmes, he began the process of restoring both the Abbey and the practice of chant. Discouraged by the seemingly endless varieties of any one single chant melody that he found in chant books then available, he and his fellow monks began to travel to remote abbies and monasteries throughout Europe, examining chant as it was notated in the very earliest extant documents (late 9th century / early 10th century). Bringing their findings back to Solesmes, they began reconstructing melodies as they had existed at the time of their transcription, and also began devising methods for chanting this ancient music. This work at Solesmes would eventually develop and set the standard for both the production of liturgical chant books as well as a high level of solemnity and beauty of chant singing. Although music historians may quibble with some of the practices and results of the the work at Solesmes, these monks have set the standard for the practice of chant through most of the 20th century and beyond.

C. Chanted Ordinaries, Propers, and Hymns
The Ordinary of the Mass is comprised of the 5 prayer texts that stay the same, Mass after Mass. The texts of the Ordinary come from scripture:
Kyrie eleison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei.
The Proper of the Mass consists of the 5 prayer texts that change with each Mass. The texts of the Proper also come from scripture, and are used to give individual character and identity to each Mass, commenting on the readings of each Mass:
Introit / Gradual (Psalm) / Alleluia verse / Offertory Antiphon / Communion Antiphon
Although we have fallen out of the habit of singing all of the Proper texts, they are still listed in many Missalettes, and their use is strongly encouraged in the 2002 GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal).
The sequence of the occurrence of Ordinaries and Propers at Mass is as follows:
Proper Ordinary

1. Introit

2. Kyrie eleison

3. Gloria

4. Gradual

5. Alleluia verse

6. Credo

7. Offertory Antiphon

8. Sanctus

9. Agnus Dei

10. Communion Antiphon

Chanted Hymns are perhaps the most beautiful of all of the repertoire. The texts of the Hymns are poetic in origin, and the identity of the composers of the hymns or hymn texts is often known (not so with the melodies of the Propers and Ordinaries !) St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Ambrose penned many of them, and others are attributed to St. Pope Gregory I and Rabanus Maurus.
Most of the chant hymns are keyed into certain seasons or liturgies --- Veni, Veni Emmanuel is appropriate in Advent, for example, and Veni Creator Spiritus can be chanted at Confirmations, Pentecost, and Ordinations. If you would like more information about appropriate chant hymns for each season of the Church year, please contact me by e-mail:

D. Liturgical Documentation
Many current liturgical documents and other Church resources promote and encourage the practice of chant and liturgical polyphony at Mass. These documents and resources are available in book form, but they also can be found on-line. On-line versions are particularly helpful when doing a keyword search.
Code of Canon Law (CCL), 1982
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL), (Sacrosanctum Concilium), 1963
General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), 2002
Musicam sacram (MS), "On Music in the Liturgy," 1967
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, (2008)

The first 4 can be found on-line at the Vatican web site:

Sing to the Lord can be ordered via the USCCB (US Conference of Catholic Bishops) web site:
The USCCB used to have Sing to the Lord available on-line, but it looks like you can only buy hard copies now.
If you would like more information about these resources, or would like to know specific areas in these resources that deal with chant and liturgical music, please contact me by e-mail:

E. Practical Considerations for Introducing Chant to Your Congregation
When you decide to begin chanting, either with your choir, cantors, or congregation, there are a few considerations that you must keep in mind. Naturally, make sure that you yourself are familiar with the particular chant you wish to introduce. Listen extensively to Gregorian chant on recordings (suggested below) to make sure that you are cognizant of pace, pronunciation, and diction. Good Gregorian chant performance requires a resonant room. If you have a lot of carpeting, this will get in the way of your performing chant well. Accompaniment with organ will be required if you have carpeting. (Perhaps the carpeting in your church is wearing out ? Might it be time to invest in long-lasting terrazzo / tile / laminate wood flooring ?) If your worship space is already fairly reverberant, you are in luck !
Pitch and pacing are essential to good chant practice. Chant that drags will kill a congregation's interest as well as the spirit of the chant. Make sure that the singing is brisk, always moving forward to the next phrase, with a bit of softening of volume at the end of each phrase.
Pitch is hard to maintain when first learning a chant. In the early stages of chanting a piece, you may need organ (or piano) accompaniment. Once your choir or congregation is more confident with a chant, however, feel free to back off of the accompaniment, and let your reverberant acoustics work their miracle !
If your congregation has not chanted for a while (or for a few decades !), there are a number of factors that you may need to consider. If their

facility in Latin is not that good, or if they are positively hostile to the very idea of Latin, you are in luck, since all new hymnals will carry a simple English-language version of the chanted Ordinary (Kyrie / Gloria / Credo / Sanctus / Agnus Dei). All publishers already carry a simple chant Mass --- called the Jubilate Deo Mass, the Chant Mass, or, in GIA's Worship III hymnal, Cantus Missae. It would be a good idea to make it a goal to use this simple setting, with the revised English text, as one the two or three new settings that you teach your congregation, beginning in in the Fall of 2011.
Older congregants will remember the melodies of the simple Agnus Dei and Kyrie eleison, and even possibly the simple Sanctus. If your congregation is already familiar with the simpler chanted melodies, you may decide to move on to the chanted Mass of the Angels / Missa de Angelis. Again, many of your older congregants will also be familiar with the melodies of this chanted Mass. Copies of the Missa de Angelis in modern notation (with Latin text) can be found through GIA Publications, Cantica Nova Publications, andin the Adoremus Hymnal (further information found below under "Publishers / Chant Resources"). Editions of the Missa de Angelis in English will doubtless be provided by these same publishers in due time, if they have not been completed already.
OCP (Oregon Catholic Press) has published a very singable and beautiful new chant Mass in English, by Christopher Walker, called the Belmont Mass. Give a listen and take a look here, to see what you think:

In addition, the newly-translated antiphonal Gloria from John Lee's "Congregational Mass" (GIA Publications) looks pretty interesting ---
Preview sheet music here:

More info and sound file here:

Whichever chanted Mass you choose, there are a number of ways to go about introducing it to your congregation. These methods will help you whether you are introducing a piece of Gregorian chant, a modern setting of a Mass, or a new hymn.
One method would be to introduce an Ordinary chant with each season of the Church year --- perhaps, introduce the Kyrie eleison at Advent, the Agnus Dei at Lent, the Gloria during Easter time, and the Sanctus during Ordinary time. Either over the summer or beginning with the next Advent, you can introduce the Credo.
Another method that will help would be to quietly play the melody of a chanted Ordinary you wish to introduce, as a prelude before Mass for a month, before practicing it with your congregation. This practice will help reinforce the melody in the congregation's ears even before they begin learning the melody.
You may also wish to invite your congregation to 4 evening sessions within the course of the month. Make sure that the choir knows the pieces that you will be practicing, and have them be present as well. Advertise ahead of time that you will have some goodies that your congregation loves --- whatever excites their taste buds --- Italian cookies; hot chocolate; fondue; nachos; wine and cheese; etc. Then, introduce them to your new Ordinary chants or Mass settings. Not all of the congregation will show up, but those that do will help to reinforce your choir or cantors when it comes time to practice these melodies before Mass, and will give added encouragement and incentive to the rest of the congregation.
Another method would be to record the two or three new Masses (including a chanted Mass) that you will be introducing to your congregation over the course of the next year. With some financial backing from your parish or from a few generous donors, record your choir singing the new Masses., and make copies of these recordings. You can then give these recordings to your congregation members (via audiocassette, CD, or MP3), and ask them to listen to the melodies in their leisure time. This process will also help to speed up the process of their learning.
Whatever methods you choose, you (or your cantors) will still eventually need to go out and teach the congregation these melodies before Masses (preferably one at a time, with from 4 - 8 weeks between each new melody).
Finally, make sure that the new Mass settings or chanted Ordinaries that you choose are either available in your Hymnals, or are printed in your own weekly or seasonal worship aids.
If your congregation already is comfortable chanting an Ordinary (in English or Latin), consider adding some chanted Propers to your repertoire (resources found below).
Chanted hymns are also a great way to introduce your choir or congregation to Gregorian chant. Each season has chanted hymns that are appropriate to that season of the Church year. Many chanted hymns can be found in current hymnals, in either Latin or English. Your congregation or choir may already be familiar with some of these texts or melodies (Creator of the Stars of Night or Veni, Veni Emmnuel for Advent; Attende Domine or Parce Domine for Lent; Ye Sons and Daughters for Easter season; Adoro te Devote / Humbly We Adore You for Corpus Christi or other major eucharistic celebrations; etc.) If you would like more information about appropriate chant hymns for each season of the Church year, please contact me by e-mail:

F. Publishers / Chant Resources
All of the three major Roman Catholic music publishers provide resources and information on chant ---
Just check on-line, or call them, and they can send you a catalog of chant resources, or else a general catalog that contains their

chant resources ---
GIA Publications --- (800) GIA -1358
WLP Publications --- (800) 566-6150
OCP Publications --- (800) LITURGY

These other music publishers also provide a wealth of information and resources on Gregorian chant. They can also send you catalogs ---
Paraclete Press (Orleans, MA) --- (800) 451-5006
Cantica Nova Publications --- (304) 725-2787

(just type "chant" into their search engine)
Ignatius Press publishes the Adoremus Hymnal --- a wonderful resource with chant, traditional hymns, and Masses in English and Latin.

For under $30, you can get the Organist Edition and a 4-CD set of all of the music ---

Check with them to see when they will be updating their hymnal with the new Mass translations --- (800) 651-1531

Both Paraclete Press and Cantica Nova Publications offer resources for singing the Propers, as well as the Graduale Simplex, a Latin hymnal with simpler Propers that can be repeated throughout a season.
World Library Publications (WLP) offers Introit Hymns for the Church Year, English introits for the Church year coupled with standard hymn tunes:

Chant Recordings
Several chant choirs have taken the lead in singing chant at a high level of beauty, artistry, and sanctity. Among these choirs are the monks of Solesmes, the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (but beware the organ-accompanied recordings !!), Anonymous IV, and the monks of the Vienna Stift Heiligenkreuz (Abbey of the Holy Cross). Solesmes recordings can be found through Paraclete Press and GIA (info found above). Recordings by all of these artists can be found via your favorite classical CD store, or else through
No parish can match the beauty or purity of these recordings, but we can all be inspired by them to bring something of their prayerfulness, excellence, and beauty to our home congregations.

If you would like more information about chant, chant resources, or about introducing chant to your congregation, please contact me by e-mail:
Materials copyrighted 2009 by Armand Di Scenna.

No portion of this information may be reproduced without the permission of the author:

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