Dom Guéranger's Influence on the Liturgy of the 20th Century;
Especially Regarding Gregorian Chant
Especially Regarding Gregorian Chant
In order to understand the liturgical movement of the present day, we must understand it in view of its founder, whom Pope Paul VI called “the author of the liturgical movement.”1 Prosper Guéranger was born in France in 1805 at a time when there was a decay not only in the liturgical life of the Church but also in the entire Catholic culture itself. This decay resulted, primarily, from the recent French Revolution of 1789, during which entire “religious orders were abolished and the clergy were refashioned into civil servants.”2 The government had even made religious life illegal.3 It was during this time period that Guéranger would be inspired to do great things for the Church. He wanted to restore the culture, first of all, by restoring the monastic life. This work he began by buying the abandoned Benedictine monastery at Solesmes in 1833. He described his plan thus: “the idea came to me that if I could gather several young priests, we could reestablish the Order of Saint Benedict, with the divine office and studies.” He initiated this plan with the approval of the bishop of Le Mans and started a community 4of Benedictines at the ancient monastery of Solesmes.5 In 1837, he received official recognition of his new Benedictine community from Rome and was named abbot. The abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes thus became the beginning and the head of all future Benedictine monasteries in France, since there were none remaining after their abolition following the Revolution.6
Dom Guéranger insisted upon the restoration of the monastic life as a means of sanctification and also as a means to preserve and promote culture, as did the Benedictines of old who had helped to preserve the European culture and intellectual heritage in the midst of the Dark Ages and to pass on to future generations the riches of ancient times. In the practice of the monastic life, the liturgy held a primary place as a means of “restoring to men the lost sense of tradition”7 because the liturgy was the “chief repository of tradition…wherein the Church professes her doctrine.”8 The faithful draw from the liturgy many of the interpretations that have been handed down and meditated upon through the centuries, especially in the antiphons and responses of the divine office. Patristics is called “the soul of the liturgy”9 because there are, in the liturgical texts as it were, so many commentaries upon the sacred texts which draw out the correct interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures according to the mind of the Fathers of the Church. Because the liturgy is “the echo of the teaching of Jesus and of the Apostles,”10 the faithful pray and meditate upon it so as to receive deeper knowledge of the teaching of our holy Faith. They also receive actual graces by praying the prayers, but most of all they receive sanctifying grace through the Holy Eucharist at the highest liturgical celebration, the Holy Mass. Dom Guéranger began to restore the liturgy and its study beginning at his own abbey, from whence he wished this to spread to the whole of France.
Particularly in the Benedictine tradition, Gregorian chant is added to the liturgical texts. This chant becomes a means of meditation upon that text and the chant melodies help to foster prayer.11 Pope Leo XIII described Gregorian chant in this way: “As long as the melodies are artfully executed, they have the power, at once sweet and grave, to find their way more easily into the listeners’ souls and thereby move them to piety and salutary thoughts.”12 Dom Guéranger wanted the faithful to be penetrated by this “spirit of the liturgy” so that “they would feel the need of joining in the sacred chants.”13 Unfortunately, at this time in the 19th Century, concert music was very often used in the liturgy of the Church and “the ancient chant melodies were modernized” in order to please profane ears,14 causing the sacredness of the Mass and also of the chants to be diminished. There was need of a restoration of the sacred in the ceremonies of the Church.
This began at Solesmes in 1853, when the Bishop of Le Mans asked Dom Guéranger to help in restoring the true chant in his diocese. Although he could not undertake this work himself, he directed his monks to return to the medieval manuscripts which were the first written sources of the chants.15 He assigned one of his monks, Dom Paul Jausions, to study and research the sources of Gregorian chant in order to aid in the restoration of the chants. He undertook this research with his assistant, Dom Joseph Pothier, at different libraries, searching for the manuscripts that contained the ancient notation. They discovered that in the manuscripts prior to the 16th Century the chant had been preserved “very often note for note and group for group.”16 From that time on, the chants had suffered from “all sorts of alterations and mutilations.”17 These were the result of their being performed badly or as Dom Pothier called it a “hammered execution”18 which resulted in “a heavy and tedious succession of square notes, incapable of suggesting the least bit of feeling or of saying anything whatsoever to the soul,” as Dom Guéranger described it.19 The research undertaken for restoring the chants to their “primitive purity”20 resulted in the publication of Dom Pothier’s first edition of the restored chants in the Liber Gradualis in 1883.21
The melodies of Gregorian chant are supposed to enhance the accents of the sacred Latin text and create “a musical phrase” that would be a natural extension of the written phrase.22 The melodies are based upon the actual accent patterns of the syllables of the language and naturally build upon them. The texts themselves are already prayers, but this chant is superadded to them and becomes a means to enter more deeply into that prayer. This could be what the Catechism of the Catholic Church means when it says that singing is praying twice.23 It is because the singing should be a natural extension of the spoken word that it would be praying twice, that is, by enhancing what itself is already a prayer. Hence, Dom Pothier described the chants as a music that “is at once a word and a song, a rich and powerful music that is also simple and natural, a music that does not seek to be music, does not listen to itself, but is released as the spontaneous cry of religious thought and feeling.”24 This differs essentially from the concert music that was performed in churches at that time, which was primarily meant to be listened to. However, Gregorian chant is intended to come forth naturally from the words and to express by its melodies a prayer, producing mystical effects in the soul. The purpose of sacred music is to glorify God and to sanctify the faithful.25
At the First Vatican Council in 1870, there was “no mention at all of the reform of religious chant.”26 Hence, Dom Guéranger was twice asked to intervene by bishops in order to get Rome involved in the liturgical movement for the restoration of Gregorian chant. He knew that the time was not yet right for the next stage of the movement, so no action was taken,27 and since his work on earth was near its completion, it would be left to his monks, of whom he was the Patriarch, to complete his work. He did not realize the importance of this work until it had been far advanced: “I was unaware of all the musical riches contained in our liturgy.”28 On the occasion of Dom Guéranger’s death in 1875, Pope Pius IX praised him and, on account of his effort at restoring the liturgy, granted “that henceforth a Benedictine should always be included among the members of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.”29 Pope Gregory XVI had previously entrusted the work of “reviving the almost extinct traditions of the liturgy” to the French Congregation of Benedictines in 1837 upon their erection and this work was now far advanced. Another generation would pass after the death of their first abbot before any great works would be produced by them.30 The work of Dom Guéranger would begin to bear its fruit when the monks of Solesmes would take on an even greater role in the restoration of the chants during the pontificate of Pope Pius X.
As the work of Solesmes was progressing, there was a young priest, named Giuseppe Sarto, in Italy who had been ordained in 1858 and who would eventually become Pope Pius X. He began working with the young people of his parishes to introduce them to Gregorian chants, and he also trained them to sing plain chant and to form scholae cantorum.31 He did this independently of Dom Guéranger, who at this time had already firmly established the foundation for the liturgical movement. The purpose of this promotion of the chants among his flock was so that they would enter more deeply into the Church’s liturgy so as to increase their devotion and, in the end, grow in holiness. He would often say: “We must not sing or pray during the Mass, but we must sing and pray the Mass.”32 It is one thing just to sing and pray while the Mass is going on, but it is another thing to enter into the ceremonies themselves and be transformed by them. This is what he intended his people to do, so that they would “once again more fully participate in the sacred liturgy,”33 not only with an outward participation but more importantly with an interior participation. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of this when he said: “It should be made clear that the word ‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration.”34 The melodies of the chant aid this participation and help to “move the faithful to devotion and dispose them more easily to receive the gifts of grace” which are received whenever the sacred mysteries are celebrated.35 The “fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world.”36
When Giuseppe Sarto became Pope Pius X in 1903, he knew from his long experience that what he applied in parish life needed also to be promulgated throughout the whole Church. After his Motu Proprioon sacred music in 1903, he established a Commission under the direction of Dom Pothier, who had worked so intensely to restore the chants, and he entrusted this work of revising the chants to the monks of Solesmes.37 The liturgical movement founded by Dom Guéranger now became an official movement of the Church under the direction of his own monks. Pope Pius X had given their work his official sanction in the Motu Proprio of April 24, 1904, saying: “The Gregorian melodies were to be restored in their integrity and identity, after the authority of the earliest manuscripts, taking account of the legitimate tradition of past ages, as well as of the actual use of the Liturgy today.”38 It was because the Abbot of Solesmes had pledged “the effort and work of Solesmes” to the Holy See for whatever purpose the Holy Father intended with regard to the restoration of Gregorian chant39 that Pope Pius X entrusted to the monks of Solesmes the work of “editing those parts containing the chant”40 that would be printed in the new versions of the chant books. However, the Pope limited the publication of the new books to the typical and essential books, namely, Liber Gradualis, Liber Antiphonarius, Rituale Romanum, Pontificale Romanum, and others.41
The work of the Commission began in 1904, but it was plagued with much disagreement among its members about the principles to be used for the restoration of the Gregorian melodies. The controversy was concerned with the different kinds of rhythmic interpretation of the chants. Dom Pothier’s theory of a speech-based approach was contested by Dom Mocquereau, who had a more melody-based theory.42 A decision of the Secretary of State of the Vatican in 1905 settled the issue by determining that the Liber Gradualis of Dom Pothier should be used as a model to follow for the new edition of the chants.43Thus, the Vatican edition of the chants was published and its use began to spread throughout the Church. The first book, the Kyriale, containing the ordinary chants, was published in 1905. Others were published by the Commission up until 1913, including the Graduale Romanum, containing all the proper chants. Other volumes were published at Solesmes after the Commission had completed its work.44Especially worthy of note is the Liber Usualis, which was edited by the monks of Solesmes, and it was similar to the missal used by the faithful at Mass. It contained all the chants for the Masses throughout the liturgical year in a single volume, as well as other chants that included those for Sunday Vespers and certain feast days. This book was used until following the Second Vatican Council as the common book of the monasteries and scholae cantorum because it provided most of the chants they needed in an easy to carry volume.
By the time of the Second Vatican Council, the work of preparing the chant books had not yet been completed. This was mainly due to the fact that Pope Pius X had limited the publication of the restored chants to the essential books. Consequently, many parts of the restored Gregorian chants were never published, particularly most of the music for Matins.45 During the Second Vatican Council, there was expressed a desire to complete the work that remained undone with special reference made to the preparation of simpler chants to be used in the parishes: “It is desirable also that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in small churches.”46 This is exactly what Pope Pius X desired because of his experience as a parish priest. This had also been emphasized by Pope Pius XII, when he said, “local Ordinaries and the other pastors should take great care that the faithful from their earliest years should learn at least the easier and more frequently used Gregorian melodies, and should know how to employ them in the sacred liturgical rites.”47 The Council wished that this work on the books of Gregorian chant be completed so that they could be employed not only in monasteries and cathedrals, but also in the local parishes in simpler form:48 “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”49 Gregorian chant is the proper music of the Roman liturgy because it belongs to the rite and is specifically intended for it. It must have the principal or primary place, which means that it is to be the first choice for liturgical music in the Roman rite.50 This is because Gregorian chant and the Roman liturgy are so linked together that “one cannot exist in the fullest sense without the other.”51 Just as a language that a person has learned from their youth is natural to them, so Gregorian chant is natural to the Roman liturgy because it has grown up through the centuries along with the rite itself.
Due to the reform of the liturgy in 1970, there was required a change in the arrangement of the chant books so that they would fit with the new liturgy and liturgical year.52 At Solesmes, the monks were assigned the work of editing and printing of Gregorian chant and a new version of the Graduale Romanum was published in 1974 in order to follow the new arrangement of the liturgy, although it mostly reprinted the chants from the earlier edition.53 The monks of Solesmes also undertook to produce chant books for the new version of the divine office, most of which have now been published. The fruits of Dom Guéranger’s labors continued at Solesmes, even though throughout the world there began to be a loss of the practice of employing Gregorian chant in the liturgy.
Although the Council stated that the “Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy” and that it should have the principal place in liturgical services,54 there followed a “widespread abandonment of Latin and Gregorian chant.”55 This laying aside of the Roman rite’s own music caused Pope Paul VI in 1974 to issue a booklet containing the easy and familiar chants with a request that at least these would be taught to the faithful. He sent this booklet to all the bishops and heads of religious orders in the world56 in the hope that the study and practice of Gregorian chant would be promoted.57He had hoped for a new springtime by means of the liturgical renewal which would be “the fruit of that seed which Dom Guéranger worked to scatter.”58 This loss of interest in Latin and Gregorian chant was due to the changes in the liturgy with its complete translation and use in the vernacular languages. The chants were available in Latin only, so that when the liturgy was employed in the vernacular the chant books were relegated to the library shelves and other music was adopted which was in the language of the people and could be more easily used by those not trained in chant. Besides this, the melodies of the chant were fitted for the Latin language and any translation of the sacred texts also required a corresponding adjustment to the chant so as to accommodate the difference in accent and syllabic structure. This disuse of Gregorian chant is occurring still today, even though it has been strongly affirmed in the post-conciliar documents and “the desire is repeatedly stated that chant is to be preserved in the reformed liturgy.”59
The implementation of the simpler forms of chant in the parishes remains mostly undone. This is due to the fact that, since the chants have fallen into disuse, other forms of music have taken precedence in parish life, and there is even ignorance of the Church’s musical patrimony. The study of Latin also has fallen by the wayside to some extent, and when its study will have been taken up again and increased in the Church, then, there will be a corresponding increase of interest in the treasury of sacred chants that are contained in Latin. Pope Benedict XVI has even recently renewed the desire of his predecessors and of the Second Vatican Council, saying: “I desire…that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.”60 In order to facilitate the esteem and implementation of the proper music of the Roman liturgy he has also asked that future priests learn “to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant.”61 This brings to mind also what Pope Pius X was able to accomplish in parish life in his own day, “that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.”62 This implementation of the simpler chants begins in the individual parishes, but it falls to the diocesan bishops to take the initiative in their own cathedrals, because they are the “guardians of the entire liturgical life in the church committed to them,”63 and they should show by their example how the liturgy ought to be celebrated in their diocese. The Second Vatican Council called upon the bishops to do this when it said, “Scholae cantorum must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches.”64
There needs to be renewed in the Church the liturgical movement founded by Dom Guéranger, because it has not yet been completed. Once again the sacred chants should be heard at Sunday Mass in parishes throughout the world, so as to move them spiritually and allow them to draw deeper into the interior life. This liturgical movement that followed the secularization of the French Revolution and was a means to reestablish the Christian sentiment in society is as much needed now as it was then. Pope Pius XI spoke of this when he said that the “liturgical chant played no small part in converting many barbarians to Christianity and civilization,” and that it was due to these chants “that St. Augustine made up his mind to become a Christian.”65 In our own day, when the secularization of society is not just on a national level but has spread to whole continents, there needs to be a deep spiritual renewal. This can be brought about by the renewal of the liturgical life in parishes as well as by the home being the domestic Church where the fruits of the liturgy are implanted in the souls of future generations. Living the liturgical year helps us in understanding the truths of the Faith in such a way that our faith is “enlightened more and more each year” while a theological sense is formed within us and the brightness of the mysteries “becomes so vivid that the mind and heart are enthralled” and “we begin to grasp the joy that the eternal sight of these beautiful and divine realities will give us.”66
1 Sister Mary David Totah, The Spirit of Solesmes (Petersham, MA: Burns & Oates, 1997), 18.
2 Katherine Bergerson, Decadent Enchantments (Berkley: University of California Press, 1998), 1.
3 Louis Soltner, Solesmes and Dom Gueranger, trans. Joseph O’Connor (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 1995), 25.
5 Bergerson, 12-13.
6 Ibid., 14.
7 Dom Olivier Rousseau, OSB, The Progress of the Liturgy, trans. the Benedictines of Westminster Priory (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1951), 36.
8 Ibid., 21.
9 Ibid., 27.
10 Dom Columba Marmion, OSB, Christ the Life of the Soul (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1925), 124.
11 Cf. Anthony Ruff, OSB, Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2007), 495, 484.
12 Pope Leo XIII, Letter to Dom Delate, Abbot of Solesmes – Nos Quidem (1901).
13 Ruff, 203.
14 Rousseau, 114.
15 Soltner, 105.
16 Rousseau, 117.
17 Bergerson, 17.
18 Bergerson, 18. “exécution martelée.”
19 Soltner, 108.
20 Bergerson, 145.
21 Soltner, 17.
22 Ibid., 105.
23 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, 1156.
24 Soltner., 104.
25 Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), 112. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter – Spiritus et Sponsa (2003), 4.
26 Dom Pierre Combe, The Restoration of Gregorian Chant, trans. Theodore Marier & William Skinner (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2003), 79.
28 Ibid., 21.
29 Rousseau, 34. This congregation is now known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
30 Rousseau, 42.
31 Rousseau, 150-51.
33 Vincent Yzermans, editor, All Things In Christ (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1954), 202. Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio – Inter Plurimas Pastoralis (1903).
34 Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation – Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), 52.
35 Rousseau, 153.
36 Sacramentum Caritatis, 64.
37 Rousseau, 152-54. Bergerson, 143-145.
38 The Liber Usualis (Belgium: Desclée & Co, 1938), ix-x.
39 Combe, 251.
40 Ibid., 264.
41 Ibid., 263.
42 Edward Schaefer, Catholic Music Through the Ages (Chicago: Hillendrand Books, 2008), 110.
43 Combe, 414.
44 Ibid., xi.
45 Peter Jeffery, “The New Chantbooks from Solesmes,” Notes, Second Series, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Music Library Association, June 1991) http://www.jstor.org/stable/941612 (23/06/2010), 1041.
46 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 117.
47 Pius XII, Encyclical - Musicae Sacrae (1955), 46.
48 Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 117.
49 Ibid., 54.
50 Cf. ibid., 116.
51 Schaefer, 161.
52 Jeffery, 1044.
53 Ibid., 1048.
54 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116. “Ecclesia cantum gregorianum agnoscit ut liturgiae romanae proprium: qui ideo in actionibus liturgicis, ceteris paribus, principem locum obtineat.”
55 Jeffery, 1039.
56 Ibid., 1043.
57 Sacred Congregation of Rites, Musicam Sacram (1967), 52.
58 Totah, 183.
59 Ruff, 481.
60 Sacramentum Caritatis, 42.
61 Sacramentum Caritatis, 62.
63 Second Vatican Council, Christus Dominus (1965), 15.
64 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 114. “Scholae cantorum assidue provehantur, praesertim apud ecclesias cathedrales.”
65 Pope Pius XI, Apostolic Constitution – Divini Cultus (1928).
66 Soltner, 92. Dom Guéranger – General Preface to The Liturgical Year
(printed with permission from 2the Roman Theological Forum