Gregorian Chant: a Thing of the Future?

Interview With President of Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2005 (ZENIT.org).- Gregorian chant has been unjustly abandoned and its place in the life of the Church should be recovered, says a Vatican aide.



Monsignor Valenti Miserachs Grau made this declaration at a recent encounter organized by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments at the Vatican.

Monsignor Miserachs has been president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music since 1995. This Spanish musician, who has composed more than 2,000 pieces, is also the canonical chapel director of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

ZENIT interviewed him about the state of Gregorian chant.

Q: On a day in the Vatican dedicated to chant you have asked that Gregorian chant be recovered and the proposal was well applauded. Does this mean that there is a consensus on its recovery?

Monsignor Miserachs: I believe that this means that there is a general opinion that coincides on the necessity of recovering Latin and Gregorian chant, which is the chant proper to the Church. Gregorian chant has been abandoned and left to concert halls and CD\'s when its proper place was and is the liturgy.

Q: In the 21st century, does it seem logical to you that Church music be not exclusively Gregorian chant?

Monsignor Miserachs: I think that new musical products, in the majority of cases, have not learned or have not been able to root themselves in the tradition of the Church, thus dragging in a general impoverishment.

It is incomprehensible, especially in the Latin countries, that Latin and Gregorian chant has been pushed aside in the last 40 years.

Latin and Gregorian chant form part of tradition -- and they have been amputated. It is like cutting the roots …

Forgetting Gregorian has created the conditions for the proliferation of new musical products that sometimes don\'t have sufficient technical quality. Those that do have it can be used along with Gregorian, why not?

Q: Why is the capacity of the faithful to learn Latin melodies not appreciated?

Monsignor Miserachs: It was thought that they were incapable, but this was wrong.

Before, people knew how to sing the basic songs in Latin. Today, it seems that efforts are being made to make them unlearn what they knew. It is obvious that we cannot propose they learn the entire repertoire, which contains 5,000 pieces.

In liturgical chant the assembly does not have to be the only protagonist. A certain order must be kept. The people should sing their part and the rest should be done by the choir, the chanter, the psalmist and obviously the celebrant.

To launch Gregorian chant in the assembly again, we could begin remembering the Pater Noster, the Kyrie, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.

If they were invited, given the music and then properly trained, the people would be completely capable of following and singing easy Gregorian melodies, even if it were the first time they heard them.

Just as the repertoire of Gregorian chant is learned, so also other songs in living languages can be learned. I obviously am referring to those that are worthy of being beside the Gregorian repertoire.

Q: Is sufficient attention given to the question of sacred music in the Church?

Monsignor Miserachs: No. For some time, we have insisted on this point. Our institute does its job, but it is only an academic institution, not a normative body and it thus has no say in these affairs. A Vatican body is needed that would directly oversee the matters of sacred music.

John Paul II stated that the musical aspect of liturgical celebrations cannot be left to improvisation or to the free will of the people. It should be confided to a concerted direction and the respect for certain norms. Authorized indications are awaited and this concerns the Church of Rome, the Holy See.