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August 31, 2009

Gregorian Chant (Feast of St. Gregory on September 3)

From: www.music-for-church-choirs.com
The history of Gregorian Chant begins before the birth of Christ. Chant is based upon the songs sung in the synagogues and Middle Eastern countries. It’s fascinating to know that some of today’s chants are based upon the actual songs which Jesus sang when he was living in Jerusalem.
Gregorian Chant was adopted by the Christian Church in about the 6th Century and it quickly became an essential part of Christian worship. It was named after Pope Gregory the Great who unified all the chants into one collection. This soon became an essential part of monastic worship and monks would write new chants and take them from monastery to monastery.

Eventually there was sufficient Gregorian Chant for all the services – approximately nine a day, seven days a week and even more on great feast days. In the early days the chant wasn't copied into books. It had to be memorized and it would take monks many years to learn all the different songs. Eventually they worked out a way to write music down, and words and notes were copied into one large book which all the choir monks would gather round and sing from.

After many centuries plainchant became very complex, and people would even sing bawdy lyrics to the chants. By the way, the name "plainchant" doesn't mean the music is boring! Quite the reverse - it's from the old French "plein chant" meaning "full singing".

Many different styles of performance came into being and it wasn't until the 19th century that the monks, like Gregory the Great, began to seek a single method of performance which reflected what was known about early methods of chant singing.
There's a famous monastery in France at Solesmes, and its monks became responsible for the restoration of Gregorian Chant as you hear it today - on CDs and radio. They worked out a very artistic method of singing it and a new method of writing it down. They then produced books which contained the fruits of their scholarship. Their theories were adopted by monasteries throughout the world.


Jon said...

Father Fred,

How often is Chant used to pray the Office at St. Vincent's?

I've watched some videos of the Office being prayed at the Archabbey, and what I've seen and heard is an English plainchant for the Liturgy of the Hours, and not the Monastic Office (although I could be mistaken on that count).

I'm also curious as to how often the Extraordinary Form is celebrated at the archabbey. From what I can gather on the web, it's fairly often.

You see, I'm a member of the FSSP parish in Harrisburg, but I'm very much drawn to the Benedictine life - the oblature, specifically.

I know the prayer life at the abbey is normally in the Ordinary Form, but I'm interested in your life there for many reasons aside from liturgy. I'm hoping, in fact, to make a visit soon, and perhaps speak to the Oblate Master.

It would be comforting though were I become an Oblate of St. Vincent's, to know that some of the monks are praying at least on occasion according to the form I use.

Btw, I'm a 47 year-old husband and dad. I enjoy your blog tremendously, and am praying the Lord continues to send you many, many new vocations.


Father Fred, OSB and Br. Gabriel Myriam, OSB said...

Dear Sir,
Presently our Office is going through some changes, we do not pray the Roman Office but rather our own Office which uses many of the Gregorian tones written by Father Columba Kelly of St. Meinrad Archabbey, along with many tones written by monks (past and present) of our own Archabbey. The Extraordinary Form is celebrated by a number of our monks on a regular basis, but these are "private Masses"(meaning the faithful attend but the Mass is not advertised). In terms of our Oblate Program, I must tell you that it is very good, and I am not just stating that because I belong to this community. The director Fr. Donald, OSB runs a top notch spiritual program and I believe it is the 2nd largest in the country. He can be contacted by either writing or calling him at:

Fr. Donald Raila, OSB
Saint Vincent Archabbey
300 Fraser Purchase Road
Latrobe, PA 15650-2686
Phone 724-805-2291

Thank you for your interest and be assured of our prayers for you and your family. Also, thank you for the kind words about our blog, please get the word out about it as we see it as an apostolate to the world, promoting Jesus Christ and his Holy Catholic Church though the monastic life.

Pax et Gaudium!!!
Br. Gabriel Myriam, OSB

Pax et Gaudium

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