The Glory of Gregorian Chant

Our 9th annual Wojytla Conference just wrapped up, which went swimmingly well, this year’s theme being ‘The Splendour of Liturgy’. The three-day event began with an inaugural afternoon workshop and lecture by Dr. Aaron James, the Director of Music at the Oratory of Saint Phillip Neri in Toronto. He arrived well qualified, with doctorates in both musicology and musical performance (in organ), which our own music professor at Seat of Wisdom, Dr. Richard Heinzle, described, and I paraphrase, as remarkable.

We started after lunch on Thursday, with two sessions of fascinating, uplifting and edifying description of Gregorian chant, interspersed with participatory performance; rarely has this writer learned so much in so little a time. The ancient and traditional liturgical music itself is ‘written’ with deep meaning from the very origins of the Church, and Dr. James brought out the significance of the notes themselves, intimately connected with the sacred text.

The Church describes chant as ‘proper’ to the liturgy, and which should be given ‘pride of place’ before any other music. The transcendent texts and melodies, adapted to all the emotions, lead to the greatest and most suitable devotion at Mass and the other sacraments. We may describe it is a tragedy of the highest order that we have, in the Novus Ordo, by and large abandoned the chant, replaced with a whole panoply of quasi-secular, even banal, music ditties. This need not be, for, as Dr. James pointed out, there is a whole chant adapted to the new form of Mass, with books making it easy to jump right in, and proceed from there.

Participants were inspired with a new-found appreciation of the deep beauty and glory of the Church’s chants, and to go forth to help make Liturgy as splendorous as it is meant to be, and so lead many souls to God.