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Monday, June 16, 2008

Gregorian Chant

The following story from Sandro Magister`s website called "Gregorian Chant: How and Why It Was Strangled in its Own Cradle" perhaps illustrates a number of points.

1. The great difficulties which the present Pope will have in trying to re-establish Gregorian chant in Latin into the liturgy.

2. Some of the changes effected by Vatican II were "bottom up" rather than "top down". To blame everything which went wrong on Pope Paul VI is like trying to blame King Canute for not turning back the tide.

3. To effect reform, one should not jettison out the old but rather, build up on what has gone before.

4. The change effected at the time was by good people for good and honest reasons. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we see that the implementation of the change was perhaps misguided.

The author, Fr. Guido Innocenzo Gargano, a Benedictine monk, recounts how his monastery, the Camaldolese Benedictine monastery of San Gregorio al Celio, in Rome, (which houses the marble throne of Pope Gregory the Great, the father of the liturgical chant typical of the Western Church, the one called "Gregorian") abandoned Gregorian chant in the mid-1960´s, and suddenly embraced new, improvised musical forms.

The transformation was lightning-quick, taking place practically overnight.

Fr. Guido Innocenzo Gargano, is the current prior of the monastery of San Gregorio.

"That Night, at San Gregorio...

by Guido Innocenzo Gargano


[...] The adoption of the vernacular in the celebration of the Divine Office came to the community like an explosion.

The chanting of the Divine Office in the vernacular signified an irreparable break with one of our most sacred traditions, observed for centuries by all of Western Latin monasticism: Gregorian chant. [...]

It was all insinuated into the Camaldolese community by the intense debate in the council hall between the defenders of Latin and the proponents of the vernacular. [...] The youngest monks had not only openly campaigned for the introduction of Italian into the liturgy; they were so impatient that they didn´t even want to wait until the new permissions, which had already been approved in the council hall, were confirmed through official publication. Once it was recognized that Latin was absurd, it was time to change! [...]

The young monks began to feel themselves entitled to take the first steps in the monastery´s attic, like conspirators. It was not just a matter of translating the liturgical prayers from Latin into Italian, but also of experimenting with different musical forms. And given the intimate connection between Latin and Gregorian chant, the young monks decided, without asking anyone, that the sublime Gregorian chant must also be set aside, at least for the moment.

So, unknown to the superiors, a veritable orchestra was soon installed in the attic of the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio. The musical instruments were poorly chosen, but they were good enough for the task at hand.

After testing and retesting, among endless explosions of anger from the directors of a completely improvised choir, it was decided that, by Quinquagesima Sunday, the group would be prepared to make its debut in a semi-official liturgy complete with guitars, drums, and new songs written in Italian.

The chosen venue was the Salviati chapel, on the left side of the church. The celebrant was to be a priest studying at the Anselmianum liturgical institute, who was staying at the adjoining Hospitum Gregorianum.

It all took place with the greatest seriousness and to the satisfaction of all. But no one noticed that, during the celebration that Sunday, a man came into the chapel on a tourist visit, and came out again in a state of shock. This stranger ran straight to the vicariate and denounced the scandal.

[Angelo] Cardinal Dell´Acqua, His Holiness´ vicar for the diocese of Rome at the time, moved into action. To the unknowing [prior general] Fr. Benedetto [Calati], it came like lightning from the blue: in a single moment, he discovered both what his young monks had done and what were the consequences to be feared.

Fully riled, Fr. Benedetto convened the conventual chapter. [...] The monks received the reprimand in silence, their eyes lowered, but not at all convinced of having committed some vile misdeed. And when Fr. Benedetto compelled each of them, one by one, to take a public position on the crime committed, he was jolted in place by the determination, of each and of all, to defend the group of "scapigliati" ["bohemians"] - that´s what the rascals secretly called themselves - insinuating their fear of the
lassitude that held their superiors immobile in their chairs, preventing them from following the path already clearly signalled by the wonderful debates of the conciliar assemblies.

At this point, Fr. Benedetto abandoned everyone and holed himself up in his cell. No one moved. We were all embarrassed, silent.

That evening, not seeing him at the table, nor at Compline, they sent me as a scout to see what mediation could be made.

The response was so unexpected it didn´t seem real.

"All right," replied Fr. Benedetto, "we will do everything as you have said. Starting tomorrow, we will celebrate the Mass and the entire Office in Italian."

Then we went from words to actions. One monk suddenly discovered he was a poet, another a translator; all of us became matchless connoisseurs of songs and musical scores.

Fr. Benedetto, for his part, wanted to show everyone a great sign of his courage by permitting the altar to be removed and another constructed, facing the people. The die had been cast. [...]


[From Guido Innocenzo Gargano, The Camaldolese in 20th Century Italian Spirituality, volume II, Edizioni Dehoniane, Bologna, 2001, pages 112-115]"