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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Gregorian Chant Is Returning from Exile. Maybe

by Sandro Magister
Valentino Miserachs Grau, president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, is calling for its revival. Pope Joseph Ratzinger wants it, too. But the path is full of obstacles.
Introit for Midnight Mass of Christmas

ROMA, December 7, 2005 — As on other occasions in the past, this year on December 5 the Vatican Congregation for Worship dedicated one day to the study of sacred music, on the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium. The previous days have never produced any significant results.

But now there is a pope, Benedict XVI, who is highly competent in the area of sacred music, is severely critical of the degradation of music following the council, and has written on a number of occasions what he thinks and what he wants: to restore to the Catholic liturgy the great music that "from Gregorian chant passes through the music of the cathedrals and polyphony, the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque, to Bruckner and beyond."

Benedict XVI sent a message to the participants at the congress, gathered in the New Synod Hall, encouraging them "to reflect upon and evaluate the relationship between music and the liturgy, always keeping close watch over practice and experimentation."

The pope's encouragement was addressed to an assembly composed of musicians and liturgists from many nations, some of whom were in disagreement with him over the matters at hand.

At the end of the work, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Worship, and the former Secretary of that same congregation, Domenico Sorrentino, recently promoted as bishop of Assisi, avoided drawing any conclusions. Arinze criticized the musical fashions found in many churches, which he characterized as "chaotic, excessively simplistic, and unsuitable for the liturgy." But the musical opening to the day of study was entrusted to a proponent of one of the styles most susceptible to criticism, a supporter of the very sentimental, vaguely "new age" style: Maestro Marco Frisina, choir director of the cathedral of Rome [Saint John Lateran].

But the day of study did demonstrate a reversal in the trend, back in the direction preferred by pope Joseph Ratzinger.

Musicians and liturgists of the postconciliar "new direction" found themselves constrained to justify themselves before an audience mostly oriented toward reviving traditional liturgical music, and Gregorian chant in the first place.

One could gather this from the strong and confident applause that greeted the addresses delivered by Dom Philippe Dupont, abbot of Solesmes and a great cultivator of Gregorian chant, by Martin Baker, choirmaster of the cathedral of Westminster, and by Jean-Marie Bodo, from Cameroon, "where we sing Gregorian chant every Sunday at Mass, because it is the song of the Church."

But one could gather this above all from the applause that punctuated and concluded the address by Monsignor Valentino Miserachs Grau, President of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome, the liturgical-musical "conservatory" of the Holy See, which has the task of training Church musicians from all over the world.

With concise and concentrated arguments, Miserachs argued forcefully on behalf of the revival of Gregorian chant, beginning with the cathedrals and monasteries, which ought to take the lead in this rebirth.

And he called upon the Church of Rome finally to act "with authority" in the area of liturgical music, not simply with documents and exhortations, but by establishing an office with competency in this regard, as it did for example with the pontifical commission dedicated to the Church's cultural heritage.

"This is the opportune moment, and there is no time to waste," Miserachs concluded, clearly referring to the reigning pope.

See CNP's chant resources

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