Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tulsa World: A return to chant

The paper, The Tulsa World has a story, A return to chant and our own Jeffrey Tucker is part of that story. Here it is:

Catholics are learning Gregorian chant as part of a move back toward traditional Mass.

COLLINSVILLE -- Several dozen people, old and young, men and women, mothers with babies in their laps, met March 1 at St. Therese Church here to learn an ancient form of worship music.

They are part of a national revival of interest in Gregorian chant, the music of the Roman Catholic Mass since the fourth century.

The class is taught by the Rev. Mark Bachmann, a monk at the Clear Creek Monastery, where the chant is woven into the very fabric of daily life and worship.

"It's the bishop's desire to bring Gregorian chant back into the liturgy of our churches," Bachmann said. "We're trying to provide a means for that to happen."

For Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, the class is a move back toward the traditional Mass celebrated before the Second Vatican Council made sweeping modernizations of Catholicism
in the 1960s.

Vatican II itself is not to blame, Slattery said.

Vatican II documents specifically state that Gregorian chant is especially suited to the Roman Catholic liturgy, and should be given a place.

But church leaders after Vatican II initiated massive changes that turned out to be a rupture of the Catholic worship tradition, Slattery said.

The altar was turned around so the priest faced the people, and English replaced Latin in U.S. churches.

Worship became a form of self-expression, contrary to the Catholic belief that the Mass is a time for believers to encounter the risen Christ by participating in his death and resurrection, he said.

"The liturgy is not ours," he said.

"It belongs to Christ.

"We participate in it, we don't create it."

Slattery said in the past 40 years, Catholic musicians have been frustrated trying to develop appropriate music for the Mass.

"Composers have been without a rudder, borrowing music from the secular world, frequently making the melody primary, instead of the words of Scripture," he said.

That may be changing.

Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of Sacred Music magazine, said, "There is a growing realization that the Mass is a liturgical package that includes music embedded as part of its structure, and that that music is Gregorian chant."

Pope Benedict XVI recently expanded permission to use the Tridentine Mass, a pre-Vatican II Latin Mass popular with traditionalists that can include Gregorian chant.

Slattery said he would like to see more use of Gregorian chant in the diocese, where a handful of churches practice it, but it must be done well.

One such church is St. Augustine Catholic Church, 1720 E. Apache St. in Tulsa.

The Rev. Peter Byrne, pastor of Parish of St. Peter in Tulsa, said choirs there sing Gregorian chant regularly in some Masses.

Slattery was the inspiration behind the Gregorian chant classes at St. Therese, which are attended by 45 to 50 people from all walks of life and a wide geographic area.

Bachmann said some of his students are music leaders in their own churches, but most are not.

"They're coming of their own free will," he said. "Most of them are here for their own spiritual benefit."

Bob Healey, who converted to Catholicism three years ago, said the two-year class is a long commitment, but a rare opportunity to learn the chant.

He said he is a musical person who was attracted to Gregorian chant by its beauty.

"If you've ever listened to the monks singing this, it's outrageously beautiful," he said.

"I'm doing this for my own personal interest."

Gregory Ford, a member of Church of the Madalene in Tulsa, comes to the class with his whole family, children sitting on laps or in chairs during the four-hour practice.

He is taking the course so he can learn the music, he said.

"I'd be thrilled to see this in my own church," he said.

Bachmann said Gregorian chant goes back to the fourth century, when the early church used it in worship.

It was a spontaneous form of music in the early Latin church, a natural way for worshippers -- most of them Latin-speaking -- to express themselves.

"It has special meaning; you don't just listen to it for yourself," he said.

The essence of the music remained the same, but it grew and evolved from the fourth to the 15th century, he said.

It derives its present name from Pope Gregory I (590-604 AD) who codified and arranged chants that had developed over the ages.

Gregorian chant was characteristic of the Rome-based Latin church, which included all of Europe, but not other parts of the church such as the African church, Bachmann said.

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