Lenten Liturgical Music
As we are preparing for the season of Lent, we will be practicing the Latin Chant Mass before our liturgies for a few Sundays. While we know, and many are very comfortable with, the “Agnus Dei” and “Sanctus” ordinary parts of the Mass, we will introduce a new “Mysterium Fidei” and “Amen” response to round out all of our sung responses in this most penitent of seasons.
Chant is the one music that we inherit from the ancient Church. It is not a “style” but the music of the Mass itself. It is sung in unison, which makes it a perfect expression of unity. It illuminates and gives expression to the sacred texts, but it does not alter them. It musically expresses the heart of the Church and so exists across and outside time.
When the Church speaks of Gregorian chant, she means Latin chant. Latin is especially preferred because it is the language of the Church. It is the language in which the chant was composed, and the chant melodies are constructed around the accentuation, phrasing and articulation of the Latin text. Other forms of plainsong do not have to be in Latin, and most vernacular languages can fit into a chant-like style.
But the purpose of the liturgy is not just to teach or to be a museum piece. The liturgy could be written in the style of a newspaper article. The purpose of sacred liturgy, however, is far deeper and more complex: it is to draw us out of time and place so that we might more clearly perceive eternal mysteries. The liturgy is an encounter between Christ and the Church. The relative remoteness and changelessness of the Latin language, especially when united to the chant with its pure and simple form, helps to realize this encounter by leading us away from the ordinary and toward the transcendent. Chant is not derived from our culture, but is the music of the liturgy.
When popes have asked that the faithful know a few “key” items of our faith in Latin: the parts of the Mass, the Our Father, the Creed . . . they are asking that the Church international, have a way to unite in liturgy and worship. That when many cultures join together in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we may have one voice that is known and common to all – it is the language of the Church from centuries back to the very present. It is our heritage, our mother tongue, that which is unique to the Catholic faith. In an increasingly diverse world, a common language is a privilege and a great opportunity. Roman Catholics are encouraged to embrace the opportunity, not to “go back” to Latin, but to maintain our heritage of a common language for worship in addition to worship in the vernacular language of each people.
We are blessed to have this opportunity during Lent to reacquaint ourselves with this setting of the sung Mass and to experience in a different and significant way the texts which are ever ancient, ever new, each and every Mass.
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