Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rebirth of great sacred music

~from Sandro Magister's keyboard to God's ears. Please, Lord, let it filter down to the parish level.
In the span of just a few days, a series of events have unfolded at the Vatican which, taken all together, foretell new provisions – at the pope's behest – to foster the rebirth of great sacred music.

The first of these events took place on Monday, October 8. On that morning, Benedict XVI held an audience with the "chapter" of Saint Peter's basilica – meaning the bishops and priests who, together with the archpriest of the basilica, Angelo Comastri, celebrate Mass and solemn Vespers each Sunday in the most famous church in the Christian world.

The pope reminded them that "it is necessary that, beside the tomb of Peter, there be a stable community of prayer to guarantee continuity with tradition."

This tradition goes back "to the time of Saint Gregory the Great," the pope whose name was given to the liturgical chant characteristic of the Latin Church, Gregorian chant.

One example the pope gave to the chapter of St. Peter's was the celebration of the liturgy at the abbey of Heiligenkreutz, the flourishing monastery he had visited just a few weeks earlier in Austria.

In effect, since just over a year ago, Gregorian chant has been restored as the primary form of singing for Mass and solemn Vespers in Saint Peter's basilica.

The rebirth of Gregorian chant at St. Peter's coincided with the appointment of a new choir director, who was chosen by the basilica chapter in February of 2006.

The new director, Pierre Paul, a Canadian and an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, has made a clean break with the practice established during the pontificate of John Paul II – and reaffirmed by the previous director, Pablo Colino – of bringing to sing at the Masses in St. Peter's the most disparate choirs, drawn from all over the world, very uneven in quality and often inadequate.

Fr. Paul put the gradual and the antiphonal back into the hands of his singers, and taught them to sing Mass and Vespers in pure Gregorian chant. The faithful are also provided with booklets with the Gregorian notation for Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the translation of the texts in Italian, English, and Spanish. The results are liturgically exemplary celebrations, with increasing participation from a growing number of faithful from many nations.

There's still much to do to bring back to life in St. Peter's what was, in ancient times, the Cappella Giulia – the choir specifically founded for the basilica – and to revive the splendors of the Roman musical style, a style in which the sacred polyphony pioneered by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Gregorian chant, also sung in the Roman manner (virile and strong, not like the monastic models inspired by Solesmes), alternate and enrich each other.

But there has been a new beginning. And Benedict XVI wanted to tell the chapter that this is the right path.

More
Yes, it was glorious to hear Gregorian chant at St. Peter's for vespers as we had the privilege of hearing at Pentecost in May.

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