Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chant only in Lent?

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, Oportet te: 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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