Chant Only in Lent?

March 22, 2007

Jeffrey Tucker | The New Liturgical Movement | 3/21/07

Every movement must go through stages, and the chant restoration movement in our time seems to have started with Lent. That’s been our general impression in talking to people around the country, and giving workshops and the like, and this is certainly reinforced here, in Fr. Fox’s comment section of his now-famous post.

There might be a very practical reason for this. The pastor may feel like he has a better chance with success in Lent, when people come to expect different things that feel really Catholic, like Latin and all that. Avoiding parish political problems is a good enough reason (many Pastors live in fear of the music question).

But there is one very bad reason: the impression that chant is penitential and nothing else. Not so!

I’m still stinging from a comment a parishioner made to me about 4 years ago (musicians are so absurdly thin skinned!): “I find chant so depressing; we should instead be joyful in Jesus.”

My mouth fell open and I didn’t have a good response — one of those moments you sort of go over and over in your mind for years. In any case, what can I say except that this is not true? Look at Christus Vincit, Te Deum, or just the entrance hymn for Palm Sunday Hosanna filio David (which echoes the entrance on Christmas morning). Or the communio from last week, Oportete: here is the song of a father whose son has come home from long absence. He is dancing!

These all express emotions that are richer and more complex and more challenging than just joy. They reveal elation, celebration, praise, triumph. In any case, they are far from “depressing” unless anything short of bubble-gum pop strikes one as depressing.

Back to my point: it would be tragic if the chant movement became stuck in Lent and never moved forward to Easter and Pentecost and beyond, indeed, to the whole Church year. In fact, apart from the political reason, I can see no particular reason why Lent should be chosen more than any other season, though of course Lenten chants are amazing. But so are thousands more from every other season.

So let’s please do all we can to move to stage two, beyond Lent. Chant isn’t just for penance. It is the song of every liturgical emotion and, indeed, the paradigm song to express everything of true importance.

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4 Responses to “Chant Only in Lent?”

  1. Hebdomadary said

    Father, the next time a parishoner makes this mistake, you need to tell them to go to the Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, or any other such large-ish dictionary, and look up the word Solemn. The parishoner will be surprised to learn that of the seven definitions of the word that appear there, the seventh and last one is “Joyful.” Solemnity = Joyful, but it’s a serious joy, an organized joy, a joy with a sense of importance and occaision, not hand-clapping, smiley-faced, jumping-up-and-down joy, a joy that is primarily physical, rather than focussed and filled with particular intent. The difference between childish joy, and child-like joy; the joy of an undisciplined child, running wild through the house, and the joy of a well behaved child who plays with their toys without breaking them.

    And you can remind her of this for me: If she goes to the Saturday Telegraph magazine from summer before last, she’ll find an article about a fellow who does Extreme Long-Distance Running. This guy does races that last for 200, 300 miles, even more. There are a small group of people who engage in such extreme sports, and this fellow actually reported that he has run so much for so long and his body is so well trained that on long straight stretches, he can actually sleep while running. That’s right, fall asleep while his body runs on for twenty minutes or so. Think of that in relation to a definition of “Active Participation” that is centered primarily on physical action, rather than mental involvement with the actions of the priest. You might want to point out to the lady that just because she is doing something, and doing it in the vernacular, for instance singing a hymn that she knows quite well, doesn’t at all mean that she either understands what she is doing, or is in fact “actually” involed in the physical action of doing so.

    In fact, even in mentally misunderstanding both the language and intention of Gregorian Chant, she may have been more “actually” involved in the prayerful actions of the mass than she has been in quite some time.

    Solemn does not equal gloomy or sad; Solemn, even when it IS penitential, equals Seriously Joyful. Is she is obdurate, and says “Well it’s not my expression of Joy,” then you might say, “Perhaps not, but it is the Church’s expression of it, and you need to learn to conform yourself to it. Or else, as your PP, I’m going to see that you’re first in line at the midsummer Auto da Fe.” Alright, she doesn’t have to be first in line, but if she does spend a little time in it, she might take the mass a little more seriously in her Solemn Joy.

  2. Anita Moore said

    I’m still stinging from a comment a parishioner made to me about 4 years ago (musicians are so absurdly thin skinned!): “I find chant so depressing; we should instead be joyful in Jesus.”

    That individual had obviously never heard one of my personal favorites: “Ave Maris Stella.”

    Chant is NOT depressing. You wanna know what’s depressing? THIS is depressing:

    The nauseating Gather Us In
    The insipid Lord of the Dance
    The quasi-Communist Alleluia! Raise the Gospel!
    The tent-revival-sounding Rain Down
    The resoundingly mediocre Mass of Creation
    Marty Haugen’s campfire investiture ditty that takes the place of chant at the most solemn moment of priests’ ordination in my diocese

    When the sun of culture is low on the horizon, even dwarves cast long shadows. THAT’S depressing.

  3. Anonymous said

    Chant only in Lent?

    Pray only before bed at night?

    Eat chocolate only for dessert?

  4. michigancatholic said

    Una Voce is offering a workshop for priests on saying the Latin Mass. Una Voce is in union with Rome.

    More information is here:
    http://www.unavoce.org/news/2007/PriestTrainingAd.pdf

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