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Gregorian Chant in the Parish

What guidelines should be used?
by Father Edward McNamara | Source:
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: I am involved in a Latin schola, consisting mostly of people in their 20s and 30s, which sings Gregorian Masses, Latin hymns, as well as appropriate songs in English, our vernacular. It has been my experience that young people, used to contemporary music at Mass, quite appreciate Latin and other beautiful liturgical hymns when they hear them. / What guidelines could you give for the use of Gregorian chant in a parish Mass? -- JMG, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and others

A: Gregorian chant may be used in any parish, even when Mass is celebrated in the vernacular. Not only is it appropriate, but Church documents positively recommend that all Catholics know at least some Gregorian melodies.

To cite only the most recent documents, the Holy Fathers recent letter on liturgical music reiterates the importance of Gregorian chant and No. 41 of the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal, published in 2002, specifically states:

"All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful. Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lords Prayer, set to the simpler melodies."

Therefore any parish may sing, for example, the Kyrie, Glory, Creed, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei and even some newer parts such as the acclamation after the Mysterium fidei and the "For yours is the Kingdom" which follows the embolism of the Our Father.

Some Gregorian melodies are very simple. From personal experience I have found that if repeated for a while most parishioners can pick up more complex melodies such as the Missa de Angelis and readily join the choir. Eventually the assembly even becomes capable of alternating with the choir. The people may also learn some of the simpler eucharistic and Marian hymns.

Other Gregorian motets from the proper of the Mass, as well as many hymns, would probably be beyond the ken of the average assembly but may be sung by the choir. Of course, some space should be reserved for singing by the whole assembly. But there is no reason why the people should have to sing everything.

There are some moments, such as the preparation of the gifts or just after the distribution of Communion, when a Gregorian or polyphonic piece can create a climate of prayer and meditation.

While all should know some chants, from a pastoral and practical point of view it might be better to reserve the habitual use of chant to one of the principal Masses so that those who wish to worship using vernacular settings have the opportunity to do so.

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