Rome: Praying With One Voice – Gregorian Chant

We’ll start our learning journey through Lenten music with Gregorian Chant — this is the earliest music of the Church. We don’t really know exactly what this music sounded like, but we know that song was a part of culture. What we have now are fossils, the remains of a musical culture. In reality, music develops through practice, by people who are trained in a discipline and develop music for specific events.

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.


Highlights

  • We don’t really know where Gregorian Chant started, but it was probably not with Pope Gregory (7:45)
  • “One of the coolest things about Gregorian Chant is that we don’t really know where it started” (Wright, 18:00)
  • People in other cultures that had other kind of music could use their [own style of] music (Jeffrey, 51:00)
  • There were many reasons for the disappearance of Gregorian Chant from the modern liturgy (51:40)
  • “The more complicated thing in history often gives way to the less complicated” (Jeffrey, 51:40)

Event Recap

In the first edition of the Rome Global Gateway’s Lenten Music Throughout the Ages, J.J Wright, Director of the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir was joined by Professor Peter Jeffery, Michael P. Grace Chair in Medieval Studies and Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology. First, they discussed the origins of Gregorian Chant and early examples of Christian sacred music. Next, Professor Jeffery spoke about popular religious songs being sung in the vernacular. The discussion ended with remarks on Pope Pius X’s stance on liturgical music and the changes since the second Vatican Council. 

According to Wright, “one of the coolest things about Gregorian Chant is that we don’t really know where it started” (18:00). Jeffery agreed, stating that although scholars are unsure of its origins, we do have examples of early Christian sacred music, inspired by Jewish tradition. Jeffery also spoke about the mythological origin of Gregorian Chant. According to the myth, Saint Gregory began Gregorian Chant, inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, Jeffery concluded that this myth is “difficult to support historically since in his writings there are rarely mentions of music” (7:45). 

Wright and Jeffrey then discussed popular religious songs in the vernacular of the 14th and 15th centuries. Jeffery spoke about the nuns of Chester, who had written a Christmas carol in the style and language of a traditional English lullaby. Their lullaby, of course, was for baby Jesus.

The discussion ended with remarks on Pope Pius X’s stance on liturgical music and the changes since the second Vatican Council. In 1903, Pope Pius X became  Pope – one of the first things he did was put out a motu proprio advocating chant be the normal music for the liturgy.To  Pope Pius X, the choir was a liturgical function and therefore only clergy members (or men, standing in for members of the clergy in parishes that did not have enough clergy to form a choir). This effectively barred women from liturgical choirs (with the exception of women in monasteries). This changed when Vatican II called for more lay participation in the litergy.

Wright then asked Jeffery why, ten years post Vatican II, Gregorian Chant had essentially disappeared and was replaced with vernacular and pop-sounding music. According to Jeffery, before Vatican II, there was a tradition within the Church to bring European music to missionary countries. Vatican II said that “ people in other cultures that had other kind of music could use their [own style of] music” in the liturgy. Additionally, “there was a thought, mainly in America, that iin order to promote participation of the people, you could not have Latin” and “to have a clergy fluent in Latin took quite a lot of effort“ when that effort could be spent on more important matters. Jeffery concluded by saying “the more complicated thing in history often gives way to the less complicated” (51:40) and that the reasons for the disappearance of Gregorian Chant in the modern liturgy had to do with many reasons. 


View the discussion recorded on Wednesday, March 10, 2020, with J.J. Wright and special guest Peter Jeffery.


Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:


Other recaps: 

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Art and HistoryReligion and PhilosophyRome Global GatewayChristian TraditionCollege of Arts & LettersSacred MusicCatholic ChurchJ.J. WrightNotre Dame Folk ChoirItalyRomeArt HistoryHistoryMusic