Holy Week Recitation Tones from Monte Cassino

The art of cantillation—the chanting of liturgical texts—, which is the root of all liturgical chant, has been largely lost in the West. Even a cursory comparison of modern Latin practice with the chanting traditions still cultivated by Eastern Christians, Jews, and Muslims would suffice to make manifest how impoverished the Latin Church is in this respect.

But this contrast is a recent phenomenon, and a closer study of the Western musical heritage reveals that cantillation was once cultivated among Latin Christians with great devotion and skill. Unfortunately, the compilers of the Solesmes books chose to preserve only a modicum of the ancient recitation melodies once heard in our churches, a fact that continues to obscure the riches of the Western musical tradition.

Here we would like to present some of the recitation tones once sung during the Holy Triduum in the monasteries of the Cassinese Congregation, as collected in a booklet entitled Cantus monastici formula, published in 1889.


The Lamentations of Jeremiah, which form the readings of the first nocturn of Matins during the Triduum, have always been sung to a special tone of lamentation distinct from the usual prophecy tone. The Cassinese version is similar to the tune provided by the Solesmes edition:

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The Solesmes book assign the usual prophecy tone for the lesson from St Augustine read in the second nocturn, but the Cassinese tradition has preserved a proper melody:

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The Passion tones provided in the Cantus monastici formula are generally simpler than those in Vatican Edition, but the most poignant passages are graced with special melismatic melodies:

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Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus: An Article by Fr. Franck Quoëx

Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus

Franck Quoëx (†)

Translated by Zachary Thomas*

[Published in Antiphon, 22.2 (2018)]

Abstract: The Ordo Romanus Primus offers historians of the Mass in the West a complete picture of a normative liturgy, namely that of the Roman Pontiff. Sacred chant, inherent in the solemn public character of the Eucharistic assembly, is an essential element of this liturgy. It accompanies certain significant rites, expresses the prayers of the ministers and the faithful, and offers a meditation on the Word of God. The direct link between rite and chant permits an account of developments, adaptations, and simplifications that, since the Franco-Roman period, have been grafted onto the original structure.


The royal decision to import the liturgy of the city of Rome into Frankish lands, beginning in the second half of the eighth century, required sending the proper books that contained the prayers for the celebration. In the case of the Eucharistic celebration, these books, or sacramentaries, contained certain fixed (Canon Missae) and mobile prayers (orations for Sundays and feasts of the year) for the use of the celebrant alone. However, these euchological books taken by themselves could not teach the Frankish clergy the rites of the Roman celebration. They had to be complimented by other books, among them collections of detailed descriptions of the stational office of the Urbs, collections known under the name Ordines Romani.[1] Even after their arrival at their destination, it had to be put into practice by inexperienced clergy.[2]

For the historian of the Roman Mass, familiarity with the Eucharistic ordines proves to be of primary importance. On one hand, the Ordo describes the course of the liturgical action, for which it articulates, in the form of detailed “rubrics,” the ritual prescriptions necessary to carry out the sacred action well. In this sense, for the historian of rite the Ordo is more informative than the sacramentary.[3] Again, the Ordo Romanus Primus (OR I),[4] first in the general classification and in the list of Eucharistic ordines in particular, constitutes the first detailed description of the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, which is the most solemn form of the Eucharistic celebration. We know that the form described is the origin of other more or less simplified forms of this celebration: the celebration of the bishop, the solemn celebration of a simple priest, the private Mass—all modes of celebration that cannot be explained except by beginning with the “normative” celebration of the Roman Pontiff.[5]

The interest of OR I also lies in the fact that it represents an epoch when the Roman liturgy had not yet undergone a hybridization through contact with Franco-German uses. The author of the first redaction of OR I wrote from Rome at the end of the seventh century or the start of the eighth century, but one may argue that the liturgy he describes, apart from several modifications and developments, is in substance the stational liturgy of St. Gregory the Great. Though the redactor writes in poor Latin— “vulgar” Latin close to the Romance languages then in formation—he is distinguished by “a profound personal knowledge of the Roman liturgy. His description of the papal Mass comes from a witness intimately familiar with all the details of his subject.”[6] It also offers numerous indications about the hierarchical degrees and institutions of the Roman church, among which we will discuss what relates to the liturgical function of the scola[7] cantorum, focusing on the direct original link between ritus and cantus in the ancient liturgy. In this way we will be better able to define the role of sacred chant in the celebration of Christian worship.

OR I opens with these words: “Incipit ordo ecclesiastici ministerii romanae ecclesiae vel qualiter missa celebratur.” The ordo thus introduced is a long text, divided into 126 paragraphs in Michael Andrieu’s edition. To facilitate our reading, we will divide the text according to the various parts and sections of the Mass, and make it our task to point out and analyze in each of them whatever concerns the liturgical-musical structure of the rite described.


1.1 The Preparation (nos. 1–45)

From the Patriarchium Lateranense, the place of his residence, the Roman Pontiff proceeds on horseback to the church designated for the stational liturgy. In the cortège that escorts him, the sub-deacon charged with the lectio of the epistle carries the apostolum (the epistolary), while the archdeacon has charge of the evangelary (no. 20). The pope is received at the doors by the clergy of the stational church as well as by the acolytes of the region of the Urbs where the church is situated. The rest of the clergy who take part in the celebration are already in the church: the suburbicarian bishops and titular priests of the various churches (those who along with the deacons would later be called cardinals); other clergy, among them the acolytes defensores; probably numerous monks belonging to the various monasteries of the basilicas; and, of course, the members of the scola cantorum. The latter, following the modification ordered by Gregory the Great in 595— which had forbidden men to be ordained to holy orders solely on the grounds of their good voice[8] —was then composed of sub-deacons, minor clerics and children (infantes).[9] The sub-deacons formed the body of the four ranks of the scola: primicerius scolae (or archicantor), secundicerius, tertius and quartus scolae, with the last also having the title archiparafonista because he was put over the children parafonistae.

After entering the church, the pontiff does not go immediately to the altar but into the secretarium, a sort of chapel-sacristy, escorted by the deacons. The deacon charged to read the gospel receives the evangelary, removes it from its sealed case, finds and marks the pericope of the day, then consigns the book to an acolyte who, accompanied by a sub-deacon sequens (i.e., dedicated in a special manner to the service of the pope),[10] carries it to the altar on which the sub-deacon places it with certain signs of honor (nos. 30–31).

In the secretarium, the liturgical vesting of the pontiff takes place. At the end of this, a regional sub-deacon, holding the maniple of the pontiff placed on his left arm, exits the secretarium and cries: “Scola.” The archiparafonista, or quartus scolae, responds: “adsum.” The sub-deacon inquires from him the name of the cantor who is to perform the psalmody (“Quis psallit?”). This is probably the name of the one who will perform the versets of the gradual, alleluia, or tract. after he receives the response, the sub-deacon returns to the pope, dresses him in the maniple and announces to him the names of the regional sub-deacon who will read the epistle, and of the cantor who will chant: “Servi domini mei talis subdiaconus regionarius legit apostolum et talis de scola cantat” (no. 38). The following paragraph contains a severe prohibition against modifying the choice of persons already designated: if this happens, the archiparafonista is excommunicated (no. 39).

When reading the text one will note the difference in the verbs employed: psallere for the scola, legere for the sub-deacon and deacon. Psallere means to chant, or more precisely to chant the text of the Psalms, which forms the basis of liturgical chant. In the time of OR I, there exists a highly developed psalmodic, or antiphonic, or responsorial chant entrusted to the cantors. This ornate chant is strictly distinct from the reading, which is lightly ornamented and reserved to the sub-deacon and the deacon for the declamation of the sacred Text. The artistic execution of the chant is the privilege of the scola cantorum from which, as we have already pointed out, the deacons were excluded.

The archiparafonista has entered the secretarium; he places himself facing the pontiff, waiting until he makes the sign to commence the chant. The order received, the archiparaphonist leaves by the doors of the secretarium and tells the seven acolytes who are waiting with the candlesticks, as well as the sub-deacon sequens who holds a golden thurible: “accendite” (nos. 40–41). He then goes to the choir and says while bowing to the director of the scola (“ad priorem scolae, vel secundum sive tertium”): “domne, jubete” (no. 42). The cantors then take their places before the altar, opposite the apse, in front of the confessio. The liturgical space of the church of Saint Clement at Rome, as it has come down to us, permits us to know with accuracy the disposition of the scola cantorum. The cantors are arranged in two columns facing each other (“per ordinem acies duae tantum”), deployed in the interior of the choir from the doors of the chancel up to the confessio. The archiparaphonist stands near the chancel with the children, while the other cantors occupy the space closer to the altar, the higher-ranking members standing at the ends of each column (no. 43). The first cantor intones the antiphon ad introitum.

As the first notes of the melody fill the basilica, the deacons alert the pontiff. The pope rises from the small throne on which he had been sitting, gives his right hand to the archdeacon and his left to the second deacon, and exits the secretarium.

1.2. The Entrance Rites (nos. 46–54)

The pope moves toward the altar in procession. In front of him walk the sub-deacon sequens holding the thurible and the seven regional acolytes, each one with a candlestick. The procession arrives at the entrance to the choir where the choir is standing. The pontiff advances between the two columns of cantors to the level of the first cantors (“in caput scolae”). He bows toward the altar, rises, prays a moment in silence, crosses himself on the forehead, and gives the kiss of peace to his assistants. Then he gives the sign to the choir master to say “gloria [Patri];” the choir master bows and complies while the pope mounts into the apse. Meanwhile, the archiparaphonist has rolled out the oratorium, a sort of “prayer mat,” before the steps of the altar. In so doing, the archiparaphonist executes a ceremonial action, linked to a precise moment of liturgical chant. Arrived before the altar, the pope prostrates himself on the oratorium during the chant gloria [Patri] until the repetition of the introit verset (no. 50).

When reading the description of these entrance rites, the liturgical historian may very clearly distinguish the still silent origins of something that would appear later, during the Carolingian period: the prayers at the foot of the altar.

The pontiff rises, mounts to the altar, kisses the book of gospels and the altar, then goes to his throne (“ad sedem”) in the back of the apse. He stands there facing east (“versus orientem”), which in the case of an eastward facing church would have meant standing in the same position as the people (no. 51).

Next is sung the “Kyrieleison” (sic). When he deems fit, the pope makes the sign to the choir master to conclude what is already designated by the Gelasian term laetania.[11] Then the pontiff intones the “Gloria in excelsis deo.” Two manuscript witnesses (G and A) attest that the pope turns toward the assembly to intone the Gloria, then resumes his position turned toward the east until the end of the hymn. In any case, he remains standing. He turns again toward the people to say (which means to sing without ornamentation, recto tono): “Pax vobis,” then “Oremus.” Once again turned toward the east, he pronounces the oratio, in which he gathers the prayers of the whole assembly (hence the term collecta, received later to designate this prayer), and thus concludes the entrance rites.[12] After all have responded “Amen,” the pontiff sits at his throne (no. 53), then makes the sign to the bishops and priests to seat themselves.

1.3 The Instruction (nos. 55–65)

The designated sub-deacon, after pulling his chasuble up to his shoulders—so as to grant his arms more liberty of movement— climbs the ambo and reads the epistle (no. 55).[13] Likewise the designated cantor mounts the ambo—more precisely the steps of the ambo—where he performs the responsum gradale. In order to do this he holds in his hands the cantatorium, a book for the use of a soloist, of oblong shape, often decorated with a rich binding, and containing the interlectionary chants and sometimes the offertory versets.[14] The gradual chant is the occasion for the cantors to elaborate certain highly ornate melodies with grand artistic qualities that everyone listens to in silence.[15] He intones another chant with ample melismatic vocals, exulting, in the word of St. Augustine,[16] in the alleluia chant. During certain times this is replaced by the tract, unless it is only possible to sing the gradual (no. 57).[17] The number of readings at Rome having been limited to the epistle and gospel during the Gregorian period,[18] the interlectionary chants succeed one another without transition. at the end of the last interlectionary chant, the ceremonies attending the proclamation of the gospel are performed: the benediction of the deacon by the pontiff; the deacon’s coming to the altar to take the evangelary; finally, the procession of the ministers toward the gospel ambo (two regional sub-deacons, one of whom carries the thurible; two acolytes with candlesticks, and lastly the deacon with the evangelary). Having mounted the ambo, the deacon reads the gospel in a lightly ornamented tone. OR I does not mention the existence of an introductory dialogue.[19] After the chanting of the gospel, the pontiff says (to the deacon): “Pax tibi.” There follows the rite of kissing the gospel by the pope and the clergy in hierarchical order.

OR I does not attest a Credo chant. In fact, we know that it was not received in the liturgy of the city of Rome before the eleventh century at the request of Emperor Henry II.[20]


2.1. The Offertory (nos. 66–85)

In no. 63 we read that the pontiff, after saying “Pax tibi” to the deacon, addresses himself to the assembly with “dominus vobiscum.” Following the assembly’s response, the celebrant adds: “Oremus,” a solemn invitation to prayer, already uttered once before the prayer at the conclusion of the entrance rites. Yet we must be careful to note that this Oremus is not followed by any precise prayer. It is scarcely credible, at least to us, that we are dealing with a vestige of the oratio fidelium suppressed since the fifth century in favor of the Deprecatio Gelasii. Rather, as Johannes Brinktrine has remarked,[21] it is necessary to connect this greeting of the assembly and the invitation to prayer to the oration super oblata that will conclude the rite of offering. What is more, the invitation to prayer seems to be connected to the action that all the assistants are about to perform: the offering of bread and wine, the material of the Eucharistic sacrifice, by the whole Church—an offering whose entire meaning will be expressed by the oration super oblata.[22]

Setting aside the oration super oblata, the rite of offering is not the object of any private prayer or apology by the celebrant and the ministers. These remain silent while they receive the offerings of the assembly at the entrance of the choir, in a manner strictly established and proscribed. Meanwhile, the scola cantorum performs a chant, a sort of introit to the Eucharistic liturgy. The text of OR I does not indicate the precise moment when this chant is to commence. It only says that at the end of the offering, once the oblations have been placed on the altar, the pope again makes the sign to the scola to cease chanting (no. 85). Specialists still dispute the origin, development, and musical status of the offertory chant, and the discussion is linked to the very complex history of the rites of the Roman offertory. Nevertheless, it seems we must see in the Roman offertorium chant a response rather than an antiphon.[23]

In addition to performing the required chant, the scola cantorum participates in its own way in the rite of offering. We read in no. 80 that a sub-deacon sequens descends from the apse to the scola to receive the offering of water (“accipit fontem”) from the hands of the archiparaphonist. This is placed on the altar for the archdeacon so that he can mix it into the wine of the chalice while making the sign of the cross with the cruet. The offering of water on the part of the scola cantorum seems to be a consequence of the direct link between the act of offering the material for the sacrifice and the action of communion. He who offers bread and wine will receive Eucharistic communion. Now, during the distribution of communion, the scola is occupied with chanting; its members being incapable of communicating during the celebration, they therefore do not offer the material for consecration. Nevertheless, as by their chant they participate in the liturgical celebration, they manifest this participation by offering the water for the chalice. If we follow the teaching of St. Cyprian,[24] the offering of the water in fact manifests, in its own way, a true participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice—a mystical and spiritual participation of redeemed humanity in the sacrifice of Christ.

Once the oblations are placed on the altar, the pontiff stands alone and makes the sign to the scola to finish the chant (no. 85). A new difficulty presents itself for the historian of the offertory rite, because the text of OR I makes no mention of the prayer super oblata, passing immediately to “Per omnia secula” (sic) and to the dialogue: “dominus vobiscum,” “Sursum corda,” “Gratias agamus” (no. 87). The fact is all the more surprising since the oratio super oblata is found in every Mass formulary from the proto-sacramentary of Verona to the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries. For certain authors (among them Josef A. Jungmann, Mario Righetti, and more recently Philippe Bernard), it seems evident that the prayer super oblata would have been said; the redactor of OR I presumed this and merely neglected to indicate it. On the contrary, Antoine Chavasse thinks it would not have been said during the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff, and that it was reserved for less solemn Masses.[25]

2.2. The Canon Missae (nos. 86–90)

While the bishops, priests, deacons, and acolytes remain in the apse behind the pontiff, the seven regional sub-deacons stand on the other side of the altar, on the side of the confessio, facing the pontiff, arranged in a horizontal line. When the pope says “Per omnia secula” (sic), “dominus vobiscum,” etc., they respond to him. The pope chants the preface. At the Sanctus, they give a profound bow with the pontiff and all the assistants: “Et subdiaconi regionarii, finito offertorio, vadunt retro altare, aspicientes ad pontificem . . . stantes erecti usquedum incipiant dicere hymnum angelicum, id est Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (no. 87).

Reading the text attentively, it seems that it devolves upon the sub-deacons to perform the Sanctus chant—even though it would seem difficult that they could do so with ease while bowing profoundly. Although this chant was not reserved exclusively to them, by the position they occupied and the chant they performed, they represented the choirs of angels who stand before the throne of the lamb. This position of the sub-deacons and the significance tied to it would be mentioned, emphasized, and developed very frequently in the course of the following centuries by means of allegorical rites. In this sense, knowledge of OR I is necessary in order to understand the role of the sub-deacon, from the offertory to the communion, during the so-called solemn Tridentine Mass. The Sanctus chant completed, the pontiff rises and begins to pray the canon: “. . . surgit pontifex solus et intrat in canonem” (no. 88). All the others, the bishops, priests, deacons, and sub-deacons remain bowed during the Eucharistic anaphora. As a matter of textual interpretation, we would like to remark with Michel Andrieu that “for the redactor of the long recension [of OR I], the canon begins at the Te igitur. On the contrary, according to the ancient conception, which was also that of the original redactor of the Ordo I, it included the preface and the Sursum corda dialogue.”[26]

OR I tells us nothing about the manner in which the pontiff pronounced the canon nor the liturgical actions that he performed. Following the mode of the preface, did he say the prayer while modulating the text with vocal inflexions, using a musical rhyme more or less similar to the ferial tone of the preface?[27] Did he read it in a loud voice recto tono, in a recitative manner? Or did he already say it in a low voice? In the context of the Roman basilica and its usually ample dimensions, it is difficult to imagine a simple reading of the canon in a loud voice and without chant, which would only have been intelligible only to those assistants standing nearest to him—unless of course it was understood that only the clergy should hear it.[28] The development toward the silent canon, attested in later ordines,[29] would then be nothing more than an inevitable consequence. In addition, there is no trace of a change in vocal tone for the doxology “Per ipsum.”[30]

From another point of view, it is evident from our text that only the pope pronounces the words of the Eucharistic anaphora. of course, the Eucharistic celebration described in OR I is public and collective; all the degrees of the hierarchy and the whole of the “people of God” participate in and unite themselves to it: in this sense it is possible to speak of a “concelebration,” if one means by it a celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice on the part of all the members of the mystical body, and especially certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy—bishops and priests of the second order. All participate in the same action led by the celebrating pontiff; all in some manner offer through his hands. but we do not witness here what today is called a “sacramental” concelebration, in the sense that the participation and action of the concelebrants consists in pronouncing the sacramental words along with the principal celebrant—not that this type of concelebration was not in existence at the time of OR I, but that it was limited to certain solemnities and circumstances.[31]

2.3. The Communion Rites (nos. 91–123)

The canon completed, OR I amply describes the complex rites associated with the communion.

These rites are introduced by the Pater noster, the chanting of which, according to the practice attested by St. Gregory the Great, is reserved to the celebrant alone.[32] After the embolism Libera nos and the replacing of the paten on the altar, the pontiff says: “Pax domini sit semper vobiscum,” placing in the chalice a portion of the oblations from the preceding papal Mass (the first commingling).[33] The pontiff proceeds to the fraction of the Eucharistic bread of his own offering (the first fraction), leaves the part he has detached on the altar and places the rest of his oblation on the paten. He then leaves the altar for the throne (nos. 97–98). During this time, after the pope has said “Pax domini,” the archdeacon gives the peace to the first of the bishops, then to the other members of the clergy and finally to the people (no. 96).

After the rite of peace, there comes the general fraction of the Eucharistic bread.[34] The oblations are first transported from the altar to the pope, bishops, and priests (nos. 101–104). Then, at the precise moment when the fraction is to begin, the archdeacon makes a sign to the scola cantorum to begin the Agnus Dei (no. 105). This chant, commonly considered of Eastern origin, was introduced into the Roman liturgy by Pope Sergius I (687–701), who was of Syrian origin. With the Agnus Dei, a prayer takes place in the Roman liturgy that is addressed directly to Christ, the holy Victim to whom the whole assembly gives supplication at the moment of the fraction. Repeated uninterruptedly during the whole time of the fraction, this invocation is always concluded by “miserere nobis.” however, the concomitance of the kiss of peace would suggest to later generations an interpolation containing an allusion to the peace—“dona nobis pacem”—which prevailed everywhere except at St. John Lateran where the former usage was maintained until the twentieth century.

When the fraction of the oblations has been completed, the pope communicates at the throne (no. 106). In so doing, the pope detaches a part of the consecrated bread he is about to take. He places this part in the chalice held by the archdeacon (the second Commingling), saying: “Fiat commixtio et consecratio corporis et sanguinis domini nostri Iesu Christi accipientibus nobis in vitam aeternam. Amen.” He adds to the archdeacon: “Pax tecum.” The archdeacon responds: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The pope then takes the Precious blood in the chalice held by the archdeacon (no. 107). Then he descends to administer the communion to those from whose offerings he had received with his own hands at the offertory. He is followed by the archdeacon holding a great cup of wine in which a small amount of Precious blood had been mixed for the “confirmation” of the communicants (no. 113).[35] During this time, the bishops and priests administer communion to the rest of the assembly.

When the pope began to distribute communion in the senatorium, the scola cantorum intoned the communion antiphon, which they would draw out by means of versets from the Psalms, until the end of the general communion (no. 117). When the pope has finished distributing communion, he seats himself at his throne and washes his hands (no. 118). Once the communion of the people is finished, he orders the choir master to chant “Gloria Patri” (no. 122). The communion antiphon finished, the pope rises and comes to the altar to pronounce the oration ad complendum—the Postcommunion (no. 123).


At the pope’s signal, the deacon designated by the archdeacon says: “Ite missa est.” The response is: “Deo gratias” (no. 124).

Immediately the procession forms to return to the secretarium in the following order: the seven acolytes, the regional sub-deacon swinging the thurible, then the pope with his assistants (no. 125). At his passing all bow and ask his blessing (“Iube, domne, benedicere”). In the choir there are first the bishops, then the priests, monks, the scola, the standard-bearers,[36] other clergy and officers of the patriarchium. Outside the choir, there are the cross bearers of the various regions, then the mansionarii iuniores. The pontiff says to each group: “benedicat nos dominus.” All respond: “Amen.” The pope crosses the choir and reenters the secretarium (no. 126). OR I does not mention any chant to accompany the pontifical recessus, the liturgical significance of which was lesser in relation to the introitus, a veritable entry into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Josef A. Jungmann wrote:

If we mull over this description in its entirety we will get the strongest impression of a magnificent completeness. A great community exercise, heir of a thousand years’ culture, had produced its final form in the church, lending to the divine service the splendor of its noble tradition.[37]

But even further, for anyone who wants to understand the sources, the history, and the theology of the Roman Mass, the Ordo Romanus Primus is invested with the highest level of importance.

Indeed, OR I presents the fundamental structure of the Ordo Missae onto which, beginning in the Carolingian period, other developments and adaptations would be grafted. These would concern principally three moments of the celebration: the entrance, the offertory, and the concluding rites. They were a matter of making certain pre-existent rites “speak” that until then had remained “silent” as the schola cantorum performed a chant: the prayers at the foot of the altar during the chant of the introit and the “apologies” during that of the offertory. Because of the progressive adoption of unleavened bread in the West, certain rites were simplified, such as the offering and the fraction. however, it is not only the heart of the Ordo, running from the preface to the “Pax domini,” which remained unaltered, but the structure itself of the solemn Mass, accented by the succession of chants, which would not be modified—until the missal promulgated by Pius V in 1570.

From another perspective, the examination of OR I permits us to highlight the foundational role of chant in the Eucharistic celebration. The chant does not function only as an ornamental quality, reduced to the merely figurative quality of a work of art, but possesses a true and proper liturgical function. One part of the celebration is actually reserved to the scola cantorum. The cantors proclaim a liturgical text drawn generally from Sacred Scripture. This proclamation sometimes envelops a complete rite, such as the entrance, offertory, and communion, as the integral expression of its meaning. Between the readings, the liturgical chant becomes a meditation on the Word of God. With the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, and probably the Sanctus, the sacred chant is also the mode of expression and participation of the entire assembly. In addition, the liturgical dimension of chant is emphasized by ceremonial provisions: the intervention of the officials of the scola during the rites of preparation, their arrangement in the choir, the offering of water at the offertory, etc.

In the history of the documented and ascertainable origins of the Roman liturgy, sacred chant is a constitutive element of the celebration. It does not rate second place. It may develop, become more complex, and follow the evolution of musical art, but it remains the support of the liturgical text, as long as this text cannot be “read” in the context of simplified Masses. In other words, the Ordo Romanus Primus proves that the normative Mass is not the low or said Mass where all the parts of the rite are concentrated in the hands of a lone celebrant,[38] but rather the solemn celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, performed by the pontiff (the pope and to a lesser degree the bishop in his own diocese), with the assistance of all the orders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the active collaboration of the scola cantorum, and in the presence and with the participation of the Christian people.

In OR I, the ecclesiological dimension of the liturgical assembly is manifested in its plenitude: it is in effect the entire community, hierarchically ordered under the direction of the Roman Pontiff, that takes part in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The actions of offering, the solemn fraction, the general communion, and even the rite of the pope’s communion ad sedem, underline this concept of Eucharistic assembly (ecclesia). The Roman Pontiff appears in his quality as supreme pastor and, thus, of “liturgist” par excellence, while the sacred ministers and the scola cantorum forge the link between the throne-altar and the assembly of the faithful.

Rev. Franck Quoëx (1967–2007), S.T.D. was a priest of the Archdiocese of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, and a highly esteemed liturgical scholar.

* Editor’s note: This article was originally published as “Ritualité et chant sacré dans l’Ordo Romanus Primus (VII–VIIIème siècle),” in Aevum 76 (2002) 253–265. In the English translation, the editorial conventions of Antiphon are largely followed.

[1] See Antoine Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome du Vème au VIIIème siècle: Une liturgie conditionnée par l’organisation de la vie in urbe et extra muros, Studia anselmiana 112 (Rome: Centro Studi San Anselmo, 1993). The author holds that parallel to the systematization of the euchological formulary in the sacramentaries, the organization of the stational liturgy at Rome probably required, sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries, the codification of liturgical practices so as to give them an official status.

[2] It was certainly in order to alleviate certain misunderstandings and uncertainties that around 760 Remedius, bishop of Rouen and blood brother of Pepin the Short, made a voyage to Rome with the purpose of obtaining permission from Pope Paul I to send back with him a man called Simeon, secundus of the schola cantorum, so that he could teach the Frankish clergy the Roman ceremonial and musical practices. See Cyrille Vogel, “les échanges liturgiques entre Rome et les pays francs jusqu’à l’époque de Charlemagne,” in Le chiese nei regni dell’Europa occidentale e i loro rapporti con Roma sino all’800, Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 7 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1960) 185–295, at 242–243.

[3] See the seminal remarks of Michel Andrieu, Les Ordines Romani du haut moyen âge, 5 vol., Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 11, 23, 24, 28, 29 (Louvain: Peeters, 1931–1961) vol. II, XII XIV. See also Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, trans. Madeleine Beaumont (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993) 185: “Their historical interest no longer needs any demonstration so important was their impact on the Latin liturgy in the West, especially at the time they made their way into the Frankish Empire. I shall simply limit myself to recalling the unique testimony of the nine small ivory plaques attached to the back cover of the Sacramentary of Drogo (Paris, B.N., lat. 9428, middle of the ninth century), showing nine scenes of a Eucharistic celebration in the cathedral of Metz, presided by the bishop. The different rites, presented with a meticulous attention to detail (number and placement of officiants, gestures, liturgical objects, and so on) reflect the historical fact that Metz adopted the Ordines Romani during the Carolingian period under the episcopate of Chrodegang (742–766); this is evident prove of the Romanization of the Gallican liturgy in one of its bastions, the cathedral of Metz” (translation modified).

[4] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 67–108.

[5] See Niels K. Rasmussen, “Célébration épiscopale et célébration presbytérale: un essai de typologie,” in Segni e riti nella chiesa altomedievale occidentale, 11–17 aprile 1985, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 33 (Spoleto: Presso la Sede del Centro, 1987) vol. II, 581–603.

[6] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 53.

[7] This article reproduces the orthography of the OR I manuscripts.

[8] See the discourse of St. Gregory the Great during the synod held at St. Peter’s in July 595: “In sancta hac Romana ecclesia, cui divina dispensatio praeesse me voluit, dudum consuetudo est valde reprehensibilis exorta, ut quidam ad sacri altaris ministerium e cantores eligantur et in diaconatus ordine constituti modulationi vocis serviant, quos ad praedicationis officium elemosinarumque studium vacare congruebat. Unde fit plerumque, ut ad sacrum ministerium, dum blanda vox quaeritur, quaeri congrua vita neglegatur et cantor minister Deum moribus stimulet, cum populum vocibus delectat. Qua de re praesenti decreto constituo, ut in sede hac sacri altaris ministri cantare non debeant solumque evangelicae lectionis officium inter missarum sollemnia exsolvant. Psalmos vero ac reliquas lectiones censeo per subdiaconos vel, si necessitas exigit, per minores ordines exhiberi.” Ep. V, 57a (MGH, Epistolae, I, 363).

[9] Philippe Bernard, Du chant romain au chant grégorien (IV e –XIII e siècle) (Paris: Cerf, 1996) 412: “First conceived as the company of the senior soloists of the titular churches, a corporation for the masters of Roman chant, the Schola cantorum became progressively a stage in the Roman clerical cursus, receiving children who had been destined for the Church. after a solid formation—the seven liberal arts, probably with a particular insistence on the skills of reading and proclamation of sacred texts—the most gifted among them could enter the body of cubicularii at the Lateran, where they completed their formation, which set them on a course for the highest offices of the Church of Rome. . . . Thus it is not until the beginning of the eighth century or the end of the seventh that we see the Schola transformed into a sort of ‘professional craft,’ the classic image that comes down to us in the Ordines Romani.”

[10] On the various categories of sub-deacons and their functions in the papal liturgy over the centuries, see Armando Cuva, “Pagine di storia del ministero suddiaconale alla messa papale,” in Fons vivus—Miscellanea liturgica in memoria di don E.M. Vismara, ed. Armando Cuva (Zürich: PAS, 1971) 287–314.

[11] OR I, no. 52: “Prior vero scolae custodit ad pontificem, ut ei annuat quando vult mutare numerum laetaniae et inclinat se pontifici.” We know that when OR I was redacted during the sixth century, the practice of chanting the Deprecatio Gelasii had fallen into desuetude. Since they various invocations to which the people would have responded by Kyrie eleison no longer existed, the cantors took the place of the people in chanting these words. Thence came the development of the Kyrie from an almost syllabic melody into an ornamented chant.

[12] One manuscript (R), the work of a Frankish copyist, provides at this point after the oration, on Easter day and feast days, for the chanting of the Laudes Maiores, beginning with the words “Exaudi Christe.” These were liturgical acclamations in honor of the pope, emperor, or bishop, etc., along with an expression of the prayers of the assembly: that God and the saints would protect them, that they would be given victory, peace, happiness, etc. These Gallican Laudes entered the papal liturgy and maintained their place in the papal coronation Mass until the twentieth century.

[13] “Naturally the reading was done in Latin, but if the Pope had so arranged it, the Greek text was added by a second sub-deacon in honor of the Byzantine population which had emerged as a numerous and distinct population at Rome after the fifth century. OR I does not make mention of this practice, but there is no doubt that it was an ancient Roman tradition to allow in the Mass of certain major solemnities, such as the Vigil and feast of Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost, for the singing of the epistle and the gospel in both languages, Latin and Greek.” Mario Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, Vol. III: La messa, 3rd ed. (Milano: Editrice Àncora, 1966) 166–167.

[14] See Michel Huglo, Les livres de chant liturgique (Turnhout: Brepols, 1988). Today we still possess several cantatoria. The most ancient, produced in northern Italy around 800, is conserved inside the treasury of the basilica of San Giovanni in Monza (Cod. CIX).

[15] “Around the middle of the fourth century, after the peace of the Church and the consequence development of its public liturgical worship, the art of responsorial psalmody witnessed an extraordinary growth. On the basis of the ancient traditional melodies, and profiting from purest and noblest of Greco-Roman art, the Christian soloists composed modulations and vocalizations so luxurious and complicated that they even provoked certain people, such as St. Augustine, to scruples about the irresistible attraction of their art.” Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 650. See also Bernard, Du chant romain, 413: “The ancient responsorial psalmody between the readings was characterized by the alternation among one or more soloists who sang the versets of the psalm and the faithful who, between each of these versets, took up a short refrain. Later, this response was secured by the schola itself. but it would be too reductive to speak of a ‘clericalization’ of the Mass by presenting this evolution as a ‘confiscation’ of the chant on the part of the clergy, and the faithful thus henceforth reduced to the ‘passivity’ of simple listeners. In reality it was an indispensable progress in the development of musical art. If out of archeologism and excessive love of the past the old ossified forms had been fixed in place—i.e., the psalm without refrain and the responsorial psalm—this would have impeded any evolution and progress of liturgical chant, and any chance of reaching higher forms of elaboration and complexity. It would have been a brake on creativity and intellectual and musical discovery. As for the ‘passivity’ of the faithful, this is nothing more than a stale anachronism.”

[16] St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Ps. 99, 4 (CCSL 39, 1394): “Gaudens homo in exsultatione sua ex verbis quibusdam quae non possunt dici et intellegi, erumpit in vocem quamdam exultationis sine verbis; ita ut appareat eum ipsa voce gaudere quidem, sed quasi repletum nimio gaudio, non posse verbis explicare quod gaudet.”

[17] OR I, no. 57: “. . . cantor cum cantatorio ascendit et dicit responsum. Si fuerit tempus ut dicat Alleluia, bene; sin autem, tractum; sin minus, tantummodo responsum.”

[18] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 230–234.

[19] The introductory dialogue at the gospel is found for the first time in OR V, a Romano-Germanic ordo from the second half of the ninth century.

[20] Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, III, 294–298.

[21] Johannes Brinktrine, Die heilige Messe, 4th ed. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1949) 131.

[22] For Antoine Chavasse, the Oremus in the context of the stational Mass is not meant to prepare for the collect super oblata, but to announce the Eucharistic prayer.

[23] On the question of the Roman offertoria, see Bernard, Du chant romain, 437– 438: “The most ancient offertoria may have been in place before the creation of the stational liturgy. They date from the end of the fifth century, just like the schola. . . . on the liturgical level, the Roman-style offertory is the introit of the Mass of the Faithful. It became a processional chant thanks to the addition of versets, but originally, when it was limited to the offertorium alone, it was the shortest of the chants of the Mass, along with the alleluia. It did not accompany the offertory procession, performed by the clergy, which was only created later, but simply marked the moment when the oblations were placed on the altar. As for literary form, the offertory became a sort of second gradual by the addition of one or more versets by the schola; the offertorium acquired the nature of a refrain very close to that of the gradual. Thus it appears to have evolved in an ambiguous relationship with the latter, which was the fruit of a revision of ancient responsorial psalms by the schola, and so a form familiar to the soloists of the schola. The offertory underwent another transformation when the versets were suppressed beginning in the tenth century finding itself more in line with the antiphons of the Mass, the introit and communion.”

[24] St. Cyprian of Carthage, Ep. 63 ad Caecilium (CSEL 3/2:711): “nam quia omnes portabat Christus qui et peccata nostra portabat, videmus in aqua populum intellegi, in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi. Quando autem in calice vino aqua miscetur, Christo populus adunatur et credentium plebs ei in quem credidit copulatur et iungitur.”

[25] Chavasse, La liturgie de la ville de Rome, 37: “The offertory unfolds in two ordered and complimentary movements: bringing (offerre, once; oblationes, three times; oblatas, five times) and reception (susceptio, no. 77; suscipere, seven times). Each movement is executed by the assembly as such, following a basic structure: the bringers, named in the order in which they come (men and women, pontiff, bishops, priests, deacons, etc.); the recipients, the ministers who receive the oblations (from the pontiff to the acolytes). Each of these two groups, acting together, has its own proper structure. On one hand: men and women in their hierarchies . . . on the other: the ministers, cooperating according to their position. . . . In itself, the rite of the Ordo I is an immense collective ‘gesture’ that corresponds to the structure of the celebrating assembly and by which the latter is expressed in its march toward the Eucharistic action. . . . a ritual arrangement so full and complete has no need of any ‘word.’ The chant of the scola suffices for its festive character. For this carefully disposed rite that takes place in the station where the Roman Pontiff is presiding, a concluding prayer (super oblata) is not present and actually not required. It is the great prex, announced by the initial Oremus and opening with the preface, which presents to God the assembly’s oblation.”

[26] Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 95–96, fn. 88. This brief recension, which represents the most ancient form of OR I, is accessible in the manuscript Sangallensis 614.

[27] OR XXVIII, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted around 800 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 391–411) where we read a propos of the chanting of the Exsultet: “. . . decantando quasi canonem” (no. 62).

[28] OR XV, a Franco-Roman ordo redacted before 887 (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. III, 95–125): “. . . a circumstantibus altare tantum audiatur” (no. 39).

[29] See, for example, OR V, a Germano-Roman ordo redacted at the end of the ninth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 171–238): “. . . surgit solus pontifex et tacito intrat in canonem” (no. 58).

[30] The chant Per ipsum introduced in 1965 and designed to emphasize the doxology and the elevation that accompanies it, is not actually drawn from any manuscript source. We know that it was composed by Dom Eugène Cardine, who relied on an ancient melody.

[31] This is attested by an authentically Roman fragment contemporaneous with OR I, included in OR III, a Franco-Roman ordo from the second half of the eighth century (Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 131–133): “In diebus autem festis, id est pascha, pentecosten, sancti petri, natalis domini, per has quatuor sollemnitates habent colligendas presbyteri cardinales, unusquisque tenens corporalem in manu sua et venit archidiaconus et porregit unicuique eorum oblatas tres. Et, accedente pontifice ad altare, dextra levaque circumdant altare et simul cum illo canonem dicunt, tenentes oblatas in manibus, non super altare, ut vox pontificis valentius audiatur, et simul consacrant corpus et sanguinem domini, sed tantum pontifex facit super altare crucem dextra levaque” (no.1).

[32] See the letter of Gregory to John of Syracuse about the place of the Pater after the canon in the Roman liturgy: “Sed et dominica oratio apud Graecos ab omni populo dicitur, apud nos vero a solo sacerdote.” Ep. IX, 12 (CCSL 140a:587).

[33] The reason for this first commingling is found in the ancient use of fermentum, but here with the difference that the fermentum links two successive Masses celebrated by the pope, and not the Mass celebrated by the priest of a titulus with the stational Mass of the Roman Pontiff. See the commentary of Andrieu, Ordines Romani, vol. II, 58–64.

[34] Note how the rite of fraction is surrounded by a great solemnity. The fraction of the pope’s oblations is made at the throne; all the bishops and priests perform it (and this for a very practical reason). The allegorical commentators did not leave glosses on the fraction and communion at the papal throne. Recalling that the expression fractio panis served in the early centuries to designate the Eucharistic sacrifice, we may ask ourselves whether the solemn fraction (and thus, the communion) ad sedem is not meant to manifest, in the Eucharistic celebration of the supreme pastor, the unity of the entire Church achieved by participation in this sacrament.

[35] OR I, no. 113: “. . . descendit pontifex a sede . . . ut communicet eos qui in senatorio sunt, post quem archidiaconus confirmat.” It seems that at this time the mixture of a little consecrated wine with non-consecrated wine was held to procure consecration by contact. Even though this opinion was not admitted completely, a certain sanctification of the wine was believed to be effected either by the infusion of the Precious blood, or by the commingling of a consecrated particle; see Michel Andrieu, Immixtio et consecratio: La consécration par contact dans les documents liturgiques du moyen âge (Paris: a. Picard, 1924).

[36] OR I, no. 126: “. . . deinde milites draconarii, id est qui signa portant.”

[37] Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia), trans. Francis A. Brunner (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2012) vol. I, 73.

[38] On the subject of the progressive concentration of various functions in the hands of the celebrant, see the remarks of Cyrille Vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources, ed. and trans. William G. Storey and Niels K. Rasmussen (Washington, D.C: The Pastoral Press, 1986) 156.

Guéranger on the Neo-Gallican Reforms and the Sacred Arts: A Chapter from the Institutions Liturgiques

Today we present a chapter from Prosper Guéranger’s Institutions Liturgiques, wherein he attacks the artistic decadence of the Gallican Church, contrasting it with the sobriety and universality of the Roman rite.


In his recent book Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, John O’Malley pointed out Prosper Guéranger’s (1805 – 1875) key role in the great ecclesiastical controversy of the 19th century.

In the chaos of post-Napoleonic France, while figures such as De Maistre and Lamennais argued strenuously that the Church had to submit to a strong Roman authority in order to confront the centralized power of the rising secular nation states, Guéranger saw that “liturgical unity was essential to the success of the Church’s renewal.”

Unity under the one Roman Rite, which to his mind had always preserved itself serenely from error in all its parts, would guarantee the salutary spiritual submission to Roman authority that the liturgical diversity of the Gallican Church had always prevented.

Therefore, as Peter Raedts argues:

“What Guéranger contributed to Ultramonantism was not his passion for the pope, nor his reactionary political ideas, but his unique insight into the possibilities of the liturgy as a way of visualizing the unity of the Church and the authority of the pope everywhere in the Catholic world.”[1]

The Institutions Liturgiques (pub. 1841 – 1851) were a major step in this direction. Written after his move to Solesmes, “the Institutions launched Guéranger’s campaign to install [the Roman Rite] in the churches of France and then in the other churches throughout the Catholic world”[2] The work treats the history of the Mass in the West, with special focus on France in the modern period.

Raedts argues that “the thrust of the book is more political than historical; Guéranger did not so much want to describe the past as to change the present.”[3] He aimed to show that, in liturgy as in doctrine, Rome had always been a bulwark against heretical influence. Aware of this polemical purpose, the modern reader has to read cautiously, as Gregory DiPippo argues:

“Guéranger was a 19th-century romantic, with all that that entails. It has been noted more than once that he sometimes let his zeal get the better of his judgment; what he writes here should not be taken as the final word on the condition of the music in the Neo-Gallican period, of which he knew only the rump end. He was born in 1805, when most of the chapter system was already completely destroyed, so would not have heard most of what he is describing in actual liturgical use. It should also be remembered that the ‘pure’ Gregorian chant of Rome was also in pretty awful shape in his time, with everybody using the reduced music of the old Medicean edition.”

For a reader who keeps this caveat in mind, the Institutions remains a useful work of erudition and scholarship. It is of timely importance for understanding the development of the “ultramontane Church,” and a landmark of the Romantic phase of the Liturgical Movement.

Would that some generous soul would undertake the immense labor of translating the whole work!

(excerpt from Ch. XX of Vol. II of the Institutions Liturgiques, 1st edition, Mans, 1861, pp. 428-449)

“The General Character of the Liturgical Innovation in Relation to Poetry, Chant, and Aesthetics in General”


Let us rather say that these men, who remade the liturgy according to their own ideas, although perhaps unaware of the evil they foisted upon us, have contributed as they could to the total extinction of Catholic poetry in France on account of their utter ignorance of good taste. They expunged from the liturgy the ancient chants of Christendom, and put in their place the pretentious patchwork of their scriptural antiphons and responsories. We will not reflect now upon the effects of their liturgical innovations on literature, since we shall discuss the language and style of the liturgy in another part of this work. Let us then go over the effects of the liturgical revolution on chant.

[The Revolution in Chant]

This is one of the deepest injuries we must report. One could consider the question solely on an aesthetic level, or on the much more serious one of Catholic sentiment. We shall first denounce the barbarous anti-liturgists of the 18th century, who bereaved our fatherland of one of the most admirable glories of Christendom. We have seen elsewhere how the last remnants of ancient music were set down by the Roman pontiffs, and especially St. Gregory, in the two repertoires called the Roman Antiphonal and the Roman Responsorial. This collection, made up of many thousands of musical compositions, most of them of solid and melodious character, had accompanied all the Christian centuries in the expression of their joys and their sorrows. From this source Palestrina and the other great Catholic artists took their inspirations. For posterity, it was a sublime spectacle to see that the genius for preservation innate to the Catholic Church was the means by which the famous music of the Greeks and the harmonies of the days of yore reached—in a purified, corrected, and Christianized form—barbarous Western ears, which it proceeded to soften and civilize.

In the new [Neo-Gallican] breviaries and missals, almost all these ancient compositions were replaced by completely new ones. It necessarily led to the material suppression of all the ancient melodies and hence to the loss of many thousands of old pieces, a great number of which were remarkable for their nobility and originality. Lo! An act of vandalism if there ever was one, and one for which the 18th century, with its frenzy for destruction, has yet to be rebuked. And what excuse could they possibly give to justify such monstrous destruction? On the one hand, liturgical manufacturers such as Frédéric-Maurice Foinard[4] said that nothing would be easier than transporting the motifs of the ancient responsories and antiphons onto new texts,[5] and we have seen how they got together to prepare the material for the composers. On the other hand, there were forgers of plainchant who actually thought that if they composed new chants without materially departing from the character of the eight Gregorian modes, all would be well. As if it were no great loss to abandon an immense number of compositions from the 5th and 6th centuries, veritable vestiges of ancient tunes! As if inspiration were assured by adhering perfectly to the rules of Gregorian tonality! For, let us remember, if they were going to interfere they should have been able to do a better job than the Romans.

It was certainly a pitiful sight to see our cathedrals forget, one by one, the venerable canticles whose beauty had so ravished Charlemagne’s ear that he, acting in concert with the Roman pontiffs, made it one of the most powerful tools for civilizing his vast Empire; and then to hear them resound with the great noise of a torrent of new compositions bereft of melody, bereft of originality, as prosaic for the most part as the words they enshrouded. Admittedly, they did set a certain number of the new texts to old Gregorian melodies, and oftentimes even with happy results. Some of the new compositions, too, were quite inspired. However, the bulk of them were frightfully crude, and the best proof thereof is that it was impossible to learn these new chants by heart, whereas the people’s memory was a living repository of the vast majority of the Roman chants.[6] When performing these boring new melodies, they could not have enough serpents, double basses, and counterpoint, under the noise of which the chant almost entirely disappeared. The Gregorian tunes, on the other hand, being so lively, vibrant, and often syllabic, were declaimed with sentiment, even when singing in unison, so that they produced great effects upon the souls of the faithful, impressing upon them the thoughts their texts expressed.

The suppression of the Gregorian books was not only a loss for art, but a calamity for popular faith. A single consideration will allow us to understand this point and at the same time expose the culpability of those who dared to do such a thing. The divine offices are of no use to the people unless they are interesting to them. If the people sing along with the priests, one can justly say that they are assisting at the divine service with pleasure. But if the people are used to sing during the offices, and all of a sudden are forced to keep silence and allow the voice of the priest alone to be heard, one can also justly say that religion has thereby lost a large part of its attraction for the people. Yet this is precisely what has happened in the greater part of France! And so the people have, little by little, deserted the churches, which became mute for them on the day they could no longer join their voices to that of the priests. This is so true that if in those churches that resound with modern chants the people ever attempt to join their voices with those of the clergy, it is when they perform (usually in a disfigured way) some of the ancient Roman compositions, such as the Victimae Paschali, Lauda Sion, Dies irae, certain responsories or antiphons of the Blessed Sacrament, etc. When, however, it comes to the new responsories, introits, offertories, etc., the people listen without paying attention, or rather they put up with them passively, without attaching any idea or sentiment whatever to them. But go to one of those last parishes in Brittany whose choirs still sing Roman chant, and you shall hear the entire people sing from the beginning of the offices to their end.[7] They know by heart the easy melodies of the Gradual and the Antiphonal. That is how they expressed their great joys on Sunday, and during the week, one can often hear them repeating them as they work. Surely, it would be an extremely serious thing to tear this music away from them, for that would vastly diminish the interest they take in the Church’s offices.

If, after these saddening reflections, we were to move on to the history of the Revolution as it affected the singing in our churches in the 18th century, we would say lamentable things. Think of the frightful task imposed upon the composers of plainchant from the moment when the brains of those learned men hatched their new breviaries and missals, and when the printers, burdened like never before with books of this genre, finally brought them to light. Before they could launch these masterpieces, they had to take the necessary measures so that the entire corpus of new pieces could be chanted in the choirs of cathedral, collegiate, and parish churches. Thousands of pieces had to be improvised. Now recall the great Gregorian Antiphonal. A repository of ancient music, a body of melodies popular, grave, and religious, a work that harkens back at least to St. Celestine, gathered and corrected by St. Gregory, then by Leo II; then enriched again every century; presenting a marvelous variety of chants, from the severe motifs of Greece to the tender and moving strains of the Middle Ages. What did the 18th century have to offer in replacement? First, we cannot repeat enough that this meant an immense loss of so many remarkable musical pieces, popular and often of historic value, but let us go further. How many hundreds of musicians would be employed for this great task? Where, in the age of Louis XV, would one find men able to replace St. Gregory? Would 50 years be enough time to complete such a work? Alas! Any hypothesizing is pointless. Within two or three years everything was ready, composed, printed, published, and chanted with the noise of serpents, double basses, and loud voices.[8] Do you want to know how many dioceses found the men needed to cover the antiphons in question with great big musical notes, how they went about inviolati inveniri in pace[9] They made an appeal to men of good will. As we have seen, those in charge of the whole operation were bereft of any instinct for art and poetry, and so they were hardly difficult or demanding when it came to the melodies. A learned 18th-century writer on plainchant, Léonard Poisson, Curé of Marsangis, had this to say in his Traité historique et pratique du Plain-chant appelé Grégorien:

Of all the churches that adopted new breviaries, some, it is true, made greater haste to compose the chants than others. All of them, however, wanted to see the completion of this task at any cost, and sought all sorts of ways to satisfy their eagerness to use the new breviaries. Hence the rabble of people who put themselves forward to compose the chants. Everyone pretended and thought himself capable to composing them. Even some mere schoolmasters did not shy away from signing up. Because their profession involves using chant and ordinarily they know how to chant better than others, they too threw themselves into the work. Isn’t it astounding that musical pieces by such people were adopted by men who doubtlessly were not as ignorant as they? For, although they knew how to sing well, these schoolmasters were nonetheless ignorant of Latin, which is the language of the church. And so, anyone can see how many blunders such a handicap necessary entailed.

Thus for the composition of the new chants, they chose those they thought most capable, and placed the entire execution of this great work on their shoulders. Such an enormous enterprise required a proportionate amount of time, and they were rushed. In response to the urging of those who had chosen them, they were hasty in their work. Their pieces were sung almost immediately after the compositions left their hands. Everything was received without careful examination, or with a very superficial examination, and this only after printing, without having tried them out. Only after they had been authorized for public use were their defects perceived, but too late, and after there was no longer any time to fix them.

Then they saw with regret, either that they were were mistaken in their choice of composers, or they had pressed them to work too quickly. It is not possible to ignore the innumerable and often gross shortcomings of these compositions, which of course ought to have been pleasing at least for their novelty, but which did not even have this minimal advantage.

Who indeed could bear faults as clumsy and revolting as those which for the most part fill these works? I mean the errors in metric quantity, especially in the music of the hymns; the phrases mixed up by the tenor and flow of the music, which should have been marked out as they are by the natural sense of the text; other phrases maladroitly split up; others maladroitly left hanging; chants utterly opposed to the spirit of the words: grave, when the words called for a light melody; a rising melody, when it should have been falling; and so many other irregularities, almost all caused by a lack of attention to the text.

Who would not be disgusted to hear these same old chants so frequently—so many responsories, graduals, and alleluias—, which are truly beautiful in themselves, but were imitated too often, almost always disfigured, and generally at the expense of the sense expressed by the text and at the expense of the flow and energy of the primitive chants?

What more can be said about the exaggerated and neglected expressions; forced tones; lack of good judgement in the choice of modes, without regard for the text; and the childish affectation of arranging them by number seriatim,[10] i.e. by putting the first antiphon and first responsory of an Office in the first mode, the second antiphon and second responsory in the second mode, and so on, as if any mode were appropriate for any words and any sentiment?[11]

This is the judgement of the liturgical innovations with respect to chant by a man who was adroit in composition, nourished by the best traditions, and otherwise full of enthusiasm for the texts of the new breviaries. He is therefore an irrefutable witness. We will only add one more word about the new chants, viz. that although it was inexcusable that the fabrication of new chants in certain dioceses was left up to the mercy of the multitude, it was no less deplorable to impose the colossal mission of filling up three enormous volumes in-folio with musical notes upon a single man. Yet this is exactly what happened with the new Parisian breviary. The Herculean task was imposed upon Fr. Jean Lebeuf, a canon and sub-cantor of the Cathedral of Auxerre. He was a learned and industrious man, profound in his theoretical discussions of ecclesiastical chant and well-versed in the antiquities of this genre. That was something, but even if his spark of genius had been greater still, it could not but be snuffed out soon enough under the thousands of pieces he had to put to music, despite their multitude and the strange circumstances of their manufacture. For all that, he approached this task in good faith and, since he appreciated the ancient chants, he strove to introduce its motifs into many of the new pieces. “I never had the intention,” he said, “of providing anything new. I decided to centonize, as St. Gregory had done. I have already said that to centonize means to draw from everywhere and make a selection out of all one has gathered. All those who worked before me in similar tasks either made a compilation or at least tried pastiche. I intended to do sometimes the former and sometimes the latter.

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Fr. Jean Lebeuf

“By and large the Antiphonal of Paris follows the lines of the previous antiphonal, which which I occupied myself in 1703, 1704, and thereafter. But since Paris is inhabited by clerics from the entire kingdom, many noticed that that there sometimes was too much levity or aridity in Archbishop de Harlay’s antiphonal. And so I have used the melodies of 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-century French symphoniastes[12] more widely or more frequently, especially for the responsories.[13]

These intentions were praiseworthy and one ought to do justice to them, but the results failed to live up to the intentions. Besides a small number of compositions, part of which had been written by Fr. Claude Chastelain for the previous version of the Parisian books, one must admit that the Parisian Gradual and Antiphonal are entirely devoid of interest to the people; that its music is not of the sort easily learned by heart; and that it is difficult even to perceive an overall melody in the new responsories, introits, offertories, etc. The imitations, even if done note by note (which is at any rate impossible), are usually unable to reproduce the effect of the original compositions, because these latter have no rhythm and hence owe their character entirely to the sentiments expressed in the words, to the words themselves, to the sound of their vowels. Moreover, the syllables are not measured, so it is almost impossible to find two pieces that perfectly match in syllabic number. One must, therefore, eliminate or add notes, and so sacrifice the entire expression of the piece.[14]

We have spoken elsewhere of the Introit for All Saints, Accessistis, which Chastelain based on the Roman Gaudeamus with such felicitous results. Lebeuf rarely matched this standard in his imitations, and with respect to the compositions of his own invention, they are almost always impoverished, cold, and bereft of melody. The numerous chants he had to compose for hymns are also sad and monotonous, showing that he had none of the creativity Chastelain displayed in the music he composed for the Stupete gentes. Lastly, Lebeuf was unable to liberate Parisian chant from those horrible quarter notes called périélèses, which ultimately disfigure the rare beautiful melodies among his compositions. It is impossible to recall without indignation that the Alleluia verse Veni, sancte Spiritus, a tender and sweet melody miraculously retained in Archbishop Ventimille’s Missal,[15] is torn up seven times by these quarter notes. One is tempted to surmise that Lebeuf feared that this piece, if allowed to retain its original melody, would make too manifest a contrast with the pile of new and insignificant morceaux that surround it.

Lebeuf’s fecundity gave him a reputation. In 1749, when he was over 60 years old, he accepted the offer to compose the chant for the new liturgy of the diocese of Mans. In a period of three years, he succeeded in giving musical notes to the three enormous volumes that make up this liturgy. And so this composer furnished the liturgical innovation with a contingent of three volumes in-folio of plainchant! It was nevertheless evident that Lebeuf’s last work was of even lower quality than the first. Weariness had finally caught up with him. But one doesn’t hear that he ever felt any remorse for the active part he played in the vandalism of his century.

[Modern Chant Styles]

Enough talk of the new chant-books that replaced the Gregorian melodies. We will only add a word on the subject of the all-too-famous plain-chant figuré, which we have proposed elsewhere to our readers’ animadversion, and which was again in vogue in this time of universal destruction of the ancient chant traditions. An immense number of compositions of this sort blossomed, first in the hundreds of new proses [i.e. sequences], mostly bland when not mere ditties in the style of the Régence.[16] This era also produced the insipid collection known under the title of La Feillée, which is still regarded as the archetype of musical beauty in many of our provincial seminaries. We will limit ourselves to insert here the judgment of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on this ignoble and bastardly form of music whose unfortunate charm has so unhappily contributed to distract French singers from the sad loss of the Gregorian repertoire:

“The modes of plainchant, as they have been transmitted to us in the ancient ecclesiastic chant, preserve therein a beauty of character and a variety of affections very sensible to an impartial connoisseur, and which have preserved some judgement of the ear for the melodious systems established on principles different from ours: but we may well say that there is nothing more ridiculous and more flat than these plainchants suited to our modern music, embellished with the ornaments of our melody, and modulated on the chords of our modes; as if our harmonic system could at any time be united to that of the ancient modes, which is established on principles exactly opposite. We ought to thank the bishops, prevosts, and choristers who have opposed this barbarous mixture, and use our utmost endeavours for the progress and perfection of an art which is very far from the point at which it has been placed, that these valuable remains of antiquity may be faithfully transmitted to those who have sufficient talents and authority to enrich the modern system by the addition of them.”[17]

[The Other Liturgical Arts: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Vestments]

We have said elsewhere that all arts are tributaries of the liturgy, and again and again lend themselves to its sublime pomps. We have just seen what 18th-century innovation made of ecclesiastical chant; the other arts followed the liturgy in its degradation. We have already pointed to decadence in the latter half of the 17th century. It became more profound and more humiliating when the churches of France in their greater number abjured the ancient traditions of the liturgy to create new forms to the taste of the age. Religious painting, which in the 17th century descended from Eustache Le Sueur to Nicolas Poussin and Pierre Mignard, took shelter in the workshops of François Boucher and his school. Thus the same brushes that decorated the boudoir of Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry in the time of the little epigrams of the Abbé de Bernis[18] degraded the severe majesty and suave mysticism of Catholic artistic subjects with affected grimaces and effeminate poses.

François Boucher, Putti with Birds, c. 1730–1733

Sculpture, no less impoverished and just as materialized, had nothing to offer in representing Our Lady than the vacuous posing of Edmé Bouchardon’s Virgin, or the fat and burly bearing Charles-Antoine Bridan gave the Queen of Angels even in her Assumption into heaven.

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Edmé Bouchardon’s Virgin of Sorrows

Charles-Antoine Bridan, Assumption, Chartres Cathedral

But how could such works (and out of modesty we have only cited the least boorish production of this age), how could such works be accepted for as church adornments by the grave characters who delighted in the new breviaries, whence all the carnal license of the Roman Breviary had been severely expunged? Here we must admire the judgements of God. It is written that whosoever is puffed up in spirit falls by the flesh; this is a universal law. Yet, since the partisans of innovation were unaware of the full extent of their fault on account of their utter impotence in matters of poetry, God allowed the sense of the beautiful to be extinguished in them. By leaving them to the mercy of the degraded artists of the age of Louis XV, he did not allow their consciences to sense the degree of profanation they allowed them to carry out. They gave themselves up so confidently to these artists of the flesh that the Parisian Breviary of 1736  itself shows on its frontispiece some repulsive courtesans bedecked in the attributes of Religion. They even found a way to introduce some variety into each of the four volumes, so as to show the richness of the brutish brush of the age. The 1738 Parisian Missal also offers on its frontispiece a virago plopped down upon clouds and likewise tasked with representing Religion. The collection of these sundry engravings will someday be the precious monument of the horrible familiarity with which artists of that time treated religious subjects, and proof of the clergy’s indifference to anything related to art, even in connection with divine worship. But we must still mention the last effort at scandal: the frontispiece of the 1782 Missal of Chartres, in which the Immaculate Virgin, the glory of this town and its ineffable cathedral, is outraged with an immodesty that forbids all description.

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Parisian Breviary, 1786

This indifference to form, a few of the effects of which we have just pointed out, also led to the suppression of the innumerable rich engravings around solemn feasts which had thitherto adorned the new missals and breviaries. This custom had persisted until the 18th century as a souvenir of the rich miniatures that gave life to the ancient missals and antiphonals. The new Parisian Missal of 1738 still had images for feasts, but done anew by artists of the time. In the second half of the 18th century, the missals of the rest of France contented themselves with an engraved frontispiece at best, and most limited themselves to a Crucifix, which they dared not remove from the first page of the Canon. Happy were those that did not place, as did the Parisian Missal of 1738, Jesus Christ’s arms above his head to prevent him from embracing all men. That sort of crucifix was a symbol dear to the Jansenists, and we know how much influence this party had over divine worship in France at this time.

One can well imagine the fate suffered by architecture, the most divine of the liturgical arts, in this unhappy age. It waned even more than it had at the end of the 17th century. Domes like that of the chapel of Hôtel des Invalides[19] were no longer built. (Italian-style churches, with their luxurious paintings and marbles, although out of place in our cold and foggy climate, are always, whatever one might say, Christian churches.) The Church of Saint-Sulpice,[20] so bare and stripped of soul and mystery, was soon found too mystical. Louis XV lay the cornerstone of two new churches. One, Sainte-Geneviève, was to have a dome, but on the condition of having a portico in front of its doors inspired by Agrippa’s Pantheon, so that passers-by would think it was a pagan temple. The other, which was to be open presently, looked as if it were prepared for Minerva; Louis XV intended to dedicate it to St. Mary Magdalene.[21] Admittedly, the original plan was entirely different to the one that was adopted in our day. What need is there to talk of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, built a bit later,[22] modeled perfectly on an ancient temple, and so many other churches that have neither pagan or Christian appearance! To such a degree were sacred traditions forgotten that no one raised his voice in protest and no complaints were made. To that degree had religion, as understood by the French, departed from form! Such was the depth of the break from the Ages of Faith!

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This was also the source of the degradation of priestly vestments, especially of the surplice, whose sleeves, which around the middle of the 17th century had already been split and let to fall behind, were in the 18th century stretched out and entirely separated from the body of the surplice itself. They took the name of ailes [wings], waiting for the 19th century to amuse itself by pleating them in the ridiculous and uncomfortable fashion of our days.

When it comes to the choir biretta, it was, at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIII, the same in France as it was in the other churches of the Catholic world. By the end of the 17th century, the projection of its upper part had been eliminated, and the biretta itself lengthened it by a third. In the 18th century, this upper part was made pointed and the body of the biretta was lengthened further still, thus leading to the ridiculous and annoying headpiece of our day, which looks like a candle snuffer and thus compromises the gravity of priestly functions, and gratuitously furnishes freethinkers with an occasion to declaim against the bad taste of the Catholic Church.

The rationalist spirit of which Dom Claude de Vert, the voice of his century, was the apostle, contributed to the clergy’s neglect of religious aesthetics. To the eyes of a spiritualist religion, only one thing can elevate form, and that is mysticism. But since this rationalism deprived the ceremonies of their proper objective—viz. to sanctify visible nature by making it serve the expression of the invisible world—it is easy to understand how the clergy, already deprived of the poetic elements of the ancient liturgy, could reach such an indifference to art with respect to worship. This is the opposite of what happened in the Middle Ages, when Catholicism spiritualized material nature, divinizing science through its contact with theology, and sanctifying the government of society by the upshot of Christ’s Kingdom.

[Contemporary Evaluations of the Neo-Gallican Rites]

We could continue to protract these reflections, but we will come back to them in due time. Now we will bring together some contemporary judgements about the new French liturgies, and show that illustrious prelates—Jean-Joseph Languet, archbishop of Sens; Charles de Saint-Albin, archbishop of Cambrai; François-Xavier de Belsunce, bishop of Marseille; Jean-Félix-Henri de Fumel, bishop of Lodève; etc.—were not the only ones in the 18th century to defend liturgical tradition and judge the work of the reformers with severity.

The first judgement we shall produce is—would you believe it?—Foinard himself; he is all the less suspect. In his Projet d’un nouveau Bréviaire, while explaining the new liturgies tried out before 1720, condemns them with these observations, which are just as applicable to the breviaries put out thereafter:

“It does not seem that unction is the basis of the new breviaries. They have, it is true, labored much for the mind, but it does not seem that they have labored as much for the heart.”[23] Later on, he adds these remarkable words: “Could it not be said that most of the antiphons in the new breviaries were only made to be seen by curious eyes outside of the Office?”[24]

Let us now harken to Fr. Urbain Robinet, author of the breviaries of Rouen, Mans, Carcassone, and Cahors. Here is a valuable admission: “Those who composed the Roman Breviary had a better taste for prayer and the words appropriate to it than we do today.”[25]

The testimony that follows that of Robinet in chronological order is that of Pierre Collet in his Traité de l’Office divin, first published in 1763. Speaking about certain clerics who obtained permission from their bishops to say breviaries other than those followed in their dioceses, under the pretext that the newer breviaries were better made, he shows the shallowness of this sort of whim: “Scripture, the psalms, and most homilies are the same in all the breviaries. If, to nourish one’s devotion, one needs legenda or some other similar composition from a foreign breviary, one can make use of it for spiritual reading. But how many antiphons seem the most beautiful thing in the world when they stand alone, and so pitiful when one one sees them at their source!”[26]

Later on, he adds these words so full of sense and candor: “A young priest might loudly declare that he recites the Breviary of Paris with greater piety than that of his own diocese, but he would say very quietly that his diocesan breviary is much longer than that of Paris and, even if one did not change any verses or responsories, he would return to his own if one made it shorter than the one whence he finds so much material for devotion. After all, as we have already said, true piety does not disdain proper order. A commonplace thought can nourish it: the less it strikes the mind, the more it touches the heart. The antiphons of the Office of St. Martin come, I think, from Sulpicius Severus. Is there a single one that cannot serve as material for meditation for an entire year? How much force of sentiment there is in these words: Oculis ac manibus in cœlum semper intentus, invictum ab oratione spiritum non relaxabat…. Domine, si adhuc. populo tuo sum necessarius, non recuso laborem… O virum ineffabilem, nec labore victum, nec morte vincendum; qui nec mori timuit, nec vivere recusavit, etc.”[27]

The Ami de la Religion, in its twenty-sixth volume, which we have already cited several times, and the Biographie universelle, mention a dean of the chapter of the cathedral of Montauban named Bertrand de la Tour, a man very attached to the Holy See and zealous for the good of the Church,[28] who after the publication of the Breviary of Montauban by the bishop Anne-François de Breteuil, in 1772, attacked the liturgical innovation and published a collection of twenty-one articles on the new breviaries, a total of 397 pages in-4°. The author discusses the Breviaries of Paris, Montauban, and Cahors in particular.[29] Our attempts to acquire this collection have so far been unfruitful. Thus, we will limit ourselves here to citing the judgment of the Ami de la Religion, which tells us that “the Abbé de la Tour is not generally favorable to the new breviaries, and regrets that they have distanced themselves from the simplicity of the Roman Breviary.[30]

We do not have any further witnesses among 18th-century French authors against the novelties whose history we are recounting; but these few lines will prove at least that the revolution was not accomplished without protest on the part of many zealous persons who united their voices to those of illustrious prelates whose names we have mentioned. The admissions of Foinard and Robinet are also not without meritOne the other hand, if we wish to inquire about the judgments that have been rendered in foreign countries concerning the serious changes that the 18th century saw introduced in divine worship among the French, it is difficult to find any testimonies expressing such a judgement. The reason is clear: first, because foreigners are not obliged keep up with all the fantasies that cross our minds. Secondly, because when they heard about liturgical uses particular to France they imagined, but since they did not have the new books in their hands, they supposed that these uses not only existed before the Bull of St. Pius V, but indeed went back to the earliest antiquity. We ourselves have found well-educated people who believe this in our own day, even in Rome. Nevertheless, we have found the opinions of three learned foreigners, two Italians and one Spaniard.

The first is the immortal Prospero Lambertini, who later became pope under the name of Benedict XIV. In his great word on The Canonization of Saints,[31] he judges the new breviaries in relation to the authority of the bishops who promulgated them. He severely reprimands Pierre-Jean-François Percin de Montgaillard, bishop of Saint-Pons; Jean Grancolas;[32] and Jean Pontas[33] for having unreservedly sustained that it is within the bishops’ purview to change and reform the breviary, without distinguishing between those dioceses where the Roman Breviary had been followed and those that did not follow the Bull of St. Pius V. Because this question is mainly related to liturgical law, we will keep the explanation and discussion of this passage by Benedict XIV to the part of our work where we will treat this matter in particular.

Giuseppe Catalani, in his learned commentary on the Roman Pontifical, published in 1736, expresses himself with a severity we are unable to translate on the subject of the bishops who incurred the infelicity of lending their trust to heretics for the composition of the breviaries of their churches:

Jam praesertim pro auctoritate breviarii Romani plura possent afferri testimonia quibus abunde ostendi posset, quanta fuerit nuper quorumdam episcoporum insignis audacia atque insolentia, dum illud, inconsulto Romano pontifice, non modo immutarunt, sed et fœdarunt, hœreticisque ansam dederunt constabiliendi suas pravas sententias.[34]

(“In favor of the authority of the Roman Breviary in particular, many witnesses could be brought forward to show the signal audacity and insolence of certain bishops who have recently, without consulting the Roman Pontiff, not only changed this Breviary but employed and entered into pacts with the heretics to establish their false opinions.”)

Finally, the illustrious Spanish Jesuit, Faustino Arévalo, in the interesting dissertation de Hymnis ecclesiasticis he placed at the beginning of his Hymnodia Hispanica, after having reported Benedict XIV’s doctrine on the rights of bishops with respect to the liturgy, adds:

“I have perused a few of these new French breviaries, and I have found many things therein that seem to me worthy of approbation and praise. Yet not on that account am I weary of the Roman Breviary. Rather, I began to hold it in higher esteem after having read several other breviaries. Somehow, what is most excellent in the latter was either taken from the Roman Breviary or formed according to its model.”[35]

Arévalo’s language is a bit less gentle with regard to the new breviaries in the critique of Jean-Baptiste de Santeul’s hymns we have placed at the end of this volume: “In the course of this century, there have appeared in France so many new breviaries, and one finds in the Mercure de France, in Dinouart’s Journal, and in Zaccaria’s Bibliotheca ritualis such a number of works and dissertations on particular offices, on the form of the canonical hours, and on the litany and recent hymns to Our Lady, that one might be tempted to fear that in France, just like women ceaselessly make up new fashions for their clothes, so do priests invent new breviaries each year which please them only because of their novelty.”[36]


But it is time to conclude this chapter with the following considerations:

  1. Such was the upheaval of ideas in the 18th century that one sees prelates oppose heretics and, at the same time, by some inexplicable zeal, undermine tradition in the sacred prayers of the Missal. They profess that the Church has her own proper voice, and then silence this voice by giving the floor to anyone with learning but no authority.


  1. Such was the naïve effrontery of the new liturgists that they, in agreement with each other, proposed nothing less than to bring the Church of their times back to the true spirit of prayer, to purge the liturgies of all that was unrefined, inexact, immoderate, dull, difficult to give good sense to—everything that the Church, in the pious movements of her inspiration, had infelicitously composed or adopted.


  1. Such was, in the fairest of judgements, the barbarity into which Frenchmen fell in matters of divine worship, that, since liturgical harmony was destroyed, music, painting, sculpture, and architecture, which are the tributary arts of the liturgy, followed in a decadence that has only increased with the passing of time.


  1. Such was the abnormal situation into which the innovators placed the liturgy in France that they themselves testified against their work, and joined the defenders of antiquity in regretting the loss of the Gregorian books.


[1] Peter Raedts, “Prosper Guéranger O.S.B (1805–1875) and the Struggle for Liturgical Unity,” 336.

[2] O’Malley, 74.

[3] Raedts, 337.

[4] French theologian, one-time Curé of Calais

[5] Projet d’un nouveau Bréviaire, p. 189

[6] De Moléon’s Voyages Liturgiques makes special mention of which chapters still sang from memory, as if singing from books was still a fairly recent phenomenon.

[7] It is true that in the 1950s, people in Brittany still sang Sunday Vespers by heart, and in many places the Requiem Mass was known, as Domenico Bartolucci recalls:

“When I was a boy I remember that the people used to sing in church. They sang at Vespers (all from memory: the antiphons, psalms and hymns); they sang at devotional functions (Way of the Cross, Marian devotions, etc.); they sang in processions (the Magnificat, Te Deum, Lauda Sion, and other hymns); they sang even at Solemn Mass sometimes. (When I was a boy, each Sunday at my little church there was a Solemn Mass, and on normal Sundays the people sang by themselves.)” I used to sing too, either behind the altar with my father, who was the parish cantor, or with the people in the pews whenever there weren’t cantors behind the altar. The people sang: they sang in a loud voice, a song that centuries and centuries had handed down to them, a lusty song, severe and strong, that the children had learned from their elders, not at school desks or examination rooms but by constant habit, in the continuous practice of the Church. How can I recall without a still-living emotion the participation of all of people at the Liturgy of the Dead, and especially in the Obsequies? Everyone, I mean everyone, belted out the Libera me Domine and then the In Paradisum and then the De Profundis…! Everyone! And the music, that gorgeous music, attained an unmatchable power; the last, deep, hearty farewell to the dead as he left the church where countless times he had sung full-throatedly the praises of God! The people sang!”

[8] This situation is a remarkable parallel to the state of affairs in the Roman church in the 20th century, where the complete revision of the Mass and Office propers required the composition of thousands of new pieces; a work still not even near completion fifty years later, either in Latin or in the vernacular languages. The Neo-Gallicans had this at least to boast, that they tried to replace the former melodies with true chant, rather than taking the folk music ready at hand.

[9] “Finding [men] blameless in peace,” 2 Peter 3:14. Perhaps he is elliptically and sarcastically suggesting that these composers would have had to have been people found “before [the Lord] unspotted and blameless in peace.”

[10] To be fair, this was done in the composition of new Offices since the Middle Ages; e.g., it is the case for the antiphons for Trinity Sunday and for Corpus Christi.

[11] Traité théorique et pratique du plain-chant appelé Grégorien, pp. 4-5

[12] Composers of plainchant.

[13] Traité historique et pratique sur le Chant ecclésiastique, p. 50

[14] He is not entirely correct, since we know that chant was original rhythmic. The prevailing idea in the Solesmes school in Dom Guéranger’s time was that all the notes in a chant piece had the same basic value and that any variation would be based on the text (e.g. syllables at the ends of phrases would make those notes a bit longer). Therefore, when the reformers changed the prose text, they had to change the music too, adding or deleting notes, and the results were usually infelicitous.

[15] It was the only musical proper this Missal retained (besides the sequences) whose text was not taken from Scripture.

[16] The regency between 1715 and and 1723, when King Louis XV was a minor and the Kingdom was ruled by the Philippe d’Orléans.

[17] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Complete Dictionary of Music, translated by William Waring, pp. 65-66 (1779)

[18] François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis, a friend of Madame de Pompadour in the court of Louis XV, and whose famous witticisms were admired by Voltaire. He later became Archbishop of Albi and a Cardinal.

[19] Begun in 1676.

[20] Begun in 1646.

[21] The Revolution interrupted its construction, and it was finished by Napoleon in 1806 as the Temple to the Glory of the Great Army. In 1842, King Louis-Philippe had it consecrated as a church.

[22] 1774-1784

[23] Foinard. Projet d’un nouveau Bréviaire, page 64.

[24] Page 93.

[25] Robinet. Lettre d’un Ecclésiastique à son Curé sur le plan d’un nouveau Bréviaire, page 2.

[26] Collet. Traité de l’Office divin [1822], page 92.

[27] Ibidem, page 106.

[28] L’Ami de la Religion, tome XXVI. Sur la réimpression du Bréviaire de Paris, page 294.

[29] Recall that the Breviary of Cahors was Robinet’s, and also followed in Carcassonne and Mans.

[30] L’Ami de la Religion. Ibidem. —Les mémoires canoniques et liturgiques de l’abbé de la Tour ont été publiés en 1855 dans le septième volume de ses œuvres, réimprimées par l’abbé Migne. (Note de l’édit.)

[31] De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione, lib. IV, part. II, cap. XIII.

[32] A theologian of the Sorbonne.

[33] A moral theologian.

[34] Catalani. Commentarius in Pontificale Romanum, tome I, p. 189. We offer this translation with all due respect to Dom Guéranger.

[35] Nonnulla ego istiusmodi breviaria pervolutavi, ac multa reperi in eis, quas approbatione, et laude digna mihi visa sunt; non idcirco tamen breviarii Romani me tœdet, imo pluris hoc habere cœpi, ex quo diversa alia perlegi, ac nescio quo pacto partes illae, quae in ceteris potissimum eminent, aut ex breviario Romano desumptae sunt, aut ad hujus similitudinem effictae. (Arevalo, Hymnodia Hispan., page 211. Dissert. de Hymnis eccles., § XXXII.)

[36] Tot nova Breviaria hoc seculo in Gallia prodierunt, tot opuscula, et dissertationes de officiis singularibus, de precibus horariis universe, de litaniis, hymnisque recentibus Deiparae in Mercurio Gallico, in Diario Dinouartii, in Bibliotheca rituali Zachariae indicantur, ut possit aliquis subvereri ne in Galliis, ut feminœ novas vestium formas, ita sacerdotes nova breviaria quotannis inventant, in quibus vel sola novitas placeat.



On Christmas Matins, cnt.’d (GA 3. 8 – 10)

Ch. 8
On the Melisma Fabrica Mundi, and why it is sung on a rather than on another other vowel

The melismatic jubilus signifies these things, because the world’s frame is created ineffably[1] by the Word of God. That is why the words Fabrica mundi are sung with a jubilus. It is sung on the letter “a” because it is the first sound produced by man at his birth; and because at the creation of the world the morning stars (astra) praised the Lord and all the sons of God, i.e. the angels, sang together in a great chorus. Through “a”, we imitate their first jubilus. Further, because we sing about how the Word proceeded ineffably from the Virgin as a bridegroom from his chamber (tamquam sponsus de thalamo), the letter “a” in tamquam is also sung melismatically. Because the Word is ineffably co-equal in the Father and the Holy Spirit, we sing the “a” jubilus in Gloria Patri. Since the Word is called the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, so the melisma is sung on alpha (a) and omega (o).[2]

CAP. VIII. – De neuma fabricae mundi. Et cur potius in a, quam in alia vocali cantetur.

Neumarum autem iubilatio est harum rerum significatio, quia ineffabiliter fabrica mundi per verbum Dei creatur. Ideo in fabrica mundi neuma iubilatur. Idcirco vero per a cantatur, quia prima vox nascentis hominis a praedicatur; et in prima creatione mundi, astra matutina Dominum laudaverunt, et omnes filii Dei, scilicet angeli, magna voce iubilaverunt: quorum primum iubilum nos per a imitamur. Et quia ineffabiliter de Virgine tanquam sponsus de thalamo processisse cantatur, ideo neuma in a tanquam modulatur: Quia vero ineffabiliter in Patre et Spiritu sancto coaequalis praedicatur, ideo neuma in Gloria Patri iubilatur. Et quia ipse a et ω scilicet principium et finis commemoratur, ideo neuma in a et ω modulatur.

Ch. 9
On the Second and Third Nocturn

In the second nocturn we remember the shepherds’ devotion. We read how they hurried to Bethlehem and found Christ in the manger. We express this especially in the Responsories Quem vidistis[3] and O magnum mysterium.[4] In the third comfort and joy came into the world. Therefore in the third nocturn the Church sings the Alleluia in the antiphons more often. In the Gospels the story of the shepherds is proclaimed, through whom Christ’s birth is manifested. Women are accustomed to visit the one giving birth and bring her gifts. This is imitated in the Responsories where we greet both Christ and Holy Mary and offer, as it were, our own small gifts, something fitting for the Son, and something appropriate for the mother as well.

CAP. IX. – De secundo et tertio Nocturno.

In secundo Nocturno pastorum devotionem recolimus, quos ad Bethlehem festinasse, et Christum in praesepio invenisse legimus. Hoc maxime per responsorium, Quem vidistis, et O magnum mysterium, exprimimus. In tertio tempore gaudium et laetitia mundo advenit. Ideo in tertio Nocturno Ecclesia frequentius alleluia in antiphonis canit. Per Evangelia pastorum narratio declaratur, per quos nativitas Christi manifestatur. Solent mulieres parturientem visitare, et ei xenia deferre; has in responsoriis imitatur, dum nunc Christum, nunc sanctam Mariam salutamus, quasi congrua Filio, convenientia quoque matri munuscula offerimus.

Jaws of Hell 2

Ch. 10
In the Melisma Et veritate, and Why it is Sung on the Vowel e

God Fishing Christ (Hortus Deliciarum)
Christ as divine bait being extending himself into the world through the (genealogical) “line”, from the Hortus Deliciarum

And so we sing the words veritate with a jubilus because we praise the Word ineffably made flesh.[5] For the first sound of a woman being born is said to be e, and the Word being born is made flesh (caro), which is a grammatically feminine word. Then the Te Deum laudamus represents for us the hour in which Christ was born, whom we praise (laudamus) with the angels. Hence the Mass comes immediately thereafter, in which we sing the Gloria in excelsis with the angels and offer the babe newly born for us as a sacrifice. After Mass we read the Book of the Generation[6] in which, as it were, a string is tied to a fishhook and Leviathan is brought out of the human race. At this point some people sing the Te Deum laudamus, celebrate having been brought out from the jaws of Leviathan.[7]

Jaws of Hell (Winchester Psalter)

CAP. X. – De neuma et veritate, et cur in e.

Neumam in veritate ideo iubilamus, quia Verbum ineffabiliter carnem factum collaudamus. Prima enim vox nascentis feminae dicitur e esse, et Verbum natum est caro, quae profertur genere feminino. Deinde Te Deum laudamus repraesentat nobis horam qua natus est Christus, quem cum angelis laudamus. Ideo mox missam subiungimus, in qua Gloria in excelsis cum angelis canimus, et natum pro nobis sacrificium offerimus. Post missam Evangelium Liber generationis legitur, in quo velut linea ad hamum contexitur, quo Leviathan de humano genere extrahitur. Hic quidam Te Deum laudamus canunt, quia se de faucibus Leviathan extractos plaudunt.

[1] Here the jubilus is seen as an imitation of the “ineffable” song of the angels, inspired by the “ineffable” mystery of the subject of the Responsory.

[2] He is talking about the Responsory Descendit de cælis, which (depending on the MS) included two or three long melismas on a single syllable. In the version known to Honorius, as Durandus, it had three 3 melismas, on the (a) of fabrica, the (a) of Tamquam, and the (o) of Gloria Patri. This Responsory was not preserved in the Tridentine breviary, perhaps because it never made it into the Roman curial books. Responsories varied in the Middle Ages. Honorius’ Matins is not identical to Tridentine Roman Matins.

[3] Quem vidistis, pastores? dicite, annuntiate nobis, in terris quis apparuit? Natum vidimus, et choros Angelorum collaudantes Dominum.

[4] O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in præsepio. Beata Virgo, cuius víscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.

[5] The 9th Responsory at Matins in Honorius’s use; the 8th in the Tridentine books: “Verbum caro factum est, et habitabit in nobis: Cuius gloriam vidimus, quasi Unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiæ et veritate”, the last vowel is sung with a melismastic jubilus.

[6] The Gospel of Matthew, which begins “Liber generationis Iesu Christi…”

[7] The idea seems to be that Christ lowers himself from heaven into the world (the mouth of Satan) on a linea (which means both fishing line and family line) that is used to “catch” the devil. See more here and here.

Cardinal Sarah’s September message to the Association Pro Liturgia

From the Silence of the Soul United with Christ, to the Silence of God in His Glory

The following message was delivered on behalf of His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah this September at the General Assembly of the Association Pro Liturgia, a group founded in 1988 to promote the correct application of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. It was first published in French by L’Homme Nouveau; this English version by the authors of Canticum Salomonis is translated and published with his Eminence’s permission. Also published at New Liturgical Movement.


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Dear friends of the Association Pro Liturgia,

I am happy to deliver this message of encouragement and gratitude to you on the occasion of your General Assembly. With assurance of my prayers for the intentions that are dear to your hearts, I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to your president, M. Denis Crouan, and to each of you for your determination to defend and promote the liturgy of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite in the Latin language, even despite obstacles that stand in your way in this undertaking. This defense must not be mounted with weapons of war, or with hatred and anger in your hearts, but to the contrary, “Let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” May God bless your meritorious efforts and ever make them more fruitful!

I would like us to reflect together on one of the essential elements of Gregorian chant, namely sacred silence. At first it might seem paradoxical, but we shall see that if Gregorian chant, which you defend and promote with so much zeal, has great importance, it is due to its indispensable capacity to draw us into the silence of contemplation, of listening to and adoring the living God. From the silence of the soul that is united to Jesus, to the silence of God in his glory: this is the title of this brief message that my friendship and support extends to you today. In fact, we shall see that Gregorian chant and its splendid visible raiment, the illuminated manuscript of the liturgical book, is born out of silence and leads back to silence.

Gregorian chant rests on two inseparable foundations: Sacred Scripture, which is the basis for its texts, and cantillation. It is well known that from the shadow of their cloisters and their silent meditation on the Word of God, Benedictine monks in the course of the centuries developed, for the needs of the prayer of the Divine Office chanted in common, a cantillatory phrasing for each verse of the Bible that had to be proclaimed, beginning with the Psalms. What they did was to cloth the most holy Word of God, so delicate and subtle to the ear and eye, those double doors of the soul, with the very humble dress of a modal melody at once simple, elegant, and refined, and that respects the rhythm of the prosody. The ear, and also the eye, I said. For in fact, the monk chants and contemplates what he sings: from the first medieval manuscripts to the incunabula of the early Renaissance before the advent of printing (the Gutenburg Bible appeared in 1455), Psalters and Antiphoners, then Lectionaries and Gospel Books were progressively covered with ornaments and illuminations. The ornate letters used for the titles of works and principal divisions took on a great variety of forms: Gothic ornaments, crests, initials in gold…They depict characters of that age as diverse as the laborer, the artisan, the minstrel, the lady of the manor spinning wool at her wheel, but also plants, fruits, and animals: birds of many colors soaring toward heaven, fish sporting in the nourishing tide of the river…The hall where the monk-copyists worked was called the “scriptorium.” Like Gregorian chant in the slow and patient course of its genesis, the work of the copyists was a fruit of their silent meditation, for they were required to work in silence and in intimate contact with God. This is why, lest they should be disturbed, only the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, and the librarian had the right to enter their room. The librarian was charged with giving them what they had to transcribe and furnishing them with all the objects they might need.

“The men and women who pray in silence, in the night, and in solitude are the supporting pillars of Christ’s Church.” (The Power of Silence)

And thus, to pray is to sing, to make the vocal cords of the heart speak: a monastic prayer that always begins in the privacy of the cell and continues unabated into the abbey sanctuary. Only the quality of each monk’s silence and personal prayer can make the community’s prayer deep and sublime. It is thus a prayer that has become eminently communitarian and unanimous, pronounced in a loud voice, with full lungs, during eight hours each day: an exhausting labor, but one that regenerates and sanctifies…This praise is the Gregorian chant that mounts up to the altar, to the stone of the Holy Sacrifice. The Catholic liturgy thus unfolds in a very slow dance, like that of King David before the Ark, throughout the whole interior space of the Abbatial Church, between the columns and down the length of the nave. It leads the chant to stroll as if in procession, making  a majestic round about the altar…In front of the altar of the Holy Sacrifice, after the offices of Vigils or Compline, before returning to his cell where absolute silence reigns, the monk remains alone, on his knees near his stall, his hand sometimes placed on the misericord, as he contemplates the Cross. In fact, the Gregorian chant we find in the illuminated manuscripts is actually the heavenly liturgy, identical to the one that is represented, prefigured, accomplished, and actualized here below in the monastic liturgy, a genuine anticipation of the real presence, visible, tangible, and substantial, of the invisible Reality par excellence, of the Lamb standing as it were slain. A silence where God lets himself be seen in the flashing rays of his Glory through the beautiful rituals of the liturgy of the Church on the road toward her consummation. In fact, in a number of abbeys, such as Sénanque, Bonneval, or Quimperlé, the crucified Jesus appears sovereign even in his crucifixion. He is represented not as? dead but with his eyes open, not naked but clothed in a royal vestment, like Christ the Pantocrator in Byzantine art. The Crucified and Risen One embraces the whole universe in a grand gesture.

If I have taken the liberty of recalling briefly the origin of Gregorian chant and its visual medium, the illuminated manuscript, it is to allow us to observe the criteria par excellence of liturgical chant: it gushes out from the silent contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus on this earth, the Incarnation and the Redemption, and leads us into the silence of adoration of the living God, the Most Holy Trinity: the Father sitting on his Throne of Glory made of jasper—a shining and transparent color—and sardius—a purple color—, surrounded by the rainbow of God’s fidelity; the sacrificed lamb haloed with the uncreated Light, He who alone is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise; and the Holy Spirit, spring and river of living water rushing from the Throne and the Heart of the Lamb unto eternal life. This criterion, which as we have seen prevailed during the slow, progressive elaboration of Gregorian chant, is the ultimate key that admits us into a profound understanding of the exceptional and incomparable place given to it by Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, in the often-lauded paragraph number 116: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” This eminent, even primary place is not only due to its historical precedence, but above all to the Church’s recognition of the unequaled intrinsic value of this chant, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the model for the development of other forms of music and liturgical chant. Later, the same number 116 speaks precisely on this subject: “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action”.

Let us take one example: rhythm. It is clear that the syncopated rhythm—which consists of starting a note on the weak beat of a measure or on the weak part of a beat and continuing it on the strong beat of the following measure or on the strong part of the following beat—so typical of contemporary music, especially of commercial music, ever since the appearance of jazz, is little suited to meditation that leads from silence to adoration of the living God. Someone who does not perceive this is likely already tainted by this blindness and deafness that are a result of our immersion in a profane and secularized world, without God and without faith, saturated with noise, agitation, and barely-contained fury. Therefore, musical rhythm tends to disclose an undeniable reality: the presence or absence of contemplation. In other words, it is symptomatic of the manner in which liturgical singing flows or does not flow from silence and prayer. In fact, there exists a “body language of silence” and the rhythm of liturgical song? is this body language: silence as a condition of the Word. The Word of God, that is, and not the loose verbiage produced by one who walks after the flesh, and thus silence is a condition for authentic liturgical singing: “In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth…”: It is out of the interior of silence that God speaks, that he creates the heaven and the earth by the power of his Word. Further, the Word only takes on its own importance and power when it issues from silence…but the opposite is equally true in this case: in order for silence to have its fertility and effective power, the word must be spoken out loud. St. Ignatius of Antioch adds: “it is better to be silent and to be than to speak and not to be.” Hence the “sacred” silence prescribed by the Church during the holy liturgy. “At the proper times all should observe a reverent silence,” as Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms (no. 30).

Liturgical chant is there to make us pray, and in our day its primary objective, even before leading us to meditation and adoration, is to soothe the inner maelstrom of our passions, of the violence and divisions between the flesh and the spirit. Rhythm is therefore a very important, even essential element of our pacification, of this inner piece that we recover or acquire by hard labor, in tears and toil. Syncopated rhythm breaks the silence of the human soul; rising from a strident and discordant melody, it comes against us like an aggressor, to tear apart our soul with axe blows and leave its pieces scattered all about, panting, in tatters. This is the suffering that so many faithful express when they come out from certain Masses, using words like “scandal,” “boredom,” “suffering,” “desacralization,” “disrespect,” etc. Yes, it is a genuine assault, a violent intrusion, a break in to the house of the soul, the place where God entreats with his creature as a friends speaks with a friend. Our contemporaries are right to be concerned about human rights; they should also reflect on this violation of an essential right: the soul’s right to privacy and its unique and ineffable relation with its Creator and Redemptor. Now, I affirm that certain forms of music and chant heard in our churches run counter to this elementary right of the human person to encounter his God, because it disturbs the interior silence of the soul, which breaks like a dike under the force of a mudslide. For this reason I do not hesitate to protest with insistence and humility; I beg you, if a form of singing breaks this interior silence, the soul’s silence, that you give it up now, and restore silence to its proper place! In this domain the responsibility of bishops, priests, and their collaborators, in particular in parishes and chaplaincies, is immense and crucial, both from the point of view of choice and selection of liturgical songs based on the criterion that we have presented, and with regard to the formation of seminarians, novices, and of course the faithful as well. Many of these people feel more and more the necessity of a strong liturgical formation, in particular choir directors, choristers, musicians, and members of liturgical groups that are often responsible for the choice of liturgical music under the direction of their parish priest. To tolerate just any sort of music or chant, to continue to debase the liturgy, is to demolish our faith, as I have often recalled: “Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

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Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven, by Paul Gauguin (1888), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

To illustrate my point in a positive way, let us take two examples of beautiful liturgical chants besides Gregorian chant in your country, France, and on the African continent. In France, I am thinking of the songs in the Breton language that I have heard at Christmas in some parishes in which the rector, outside the church and dressed in his soutane, teaches the dance of his Celtic ancestors to the young children. There was no hesitation in his genuine zeal to transmit this immemorial patrimony to young people, who are too often disinherited and deracinated, and thus become strangers to their own culture. This priest from the countryside of Vannes shows them that the rhythm of the Breton dance in triple-time, which has nothing impure about it, unlike the well-known Viennese waltz, but rather resembles the breathing of a farmer tilling a field, or the swaying of cattle as they saunter toward the fields after milking, or the gentle rocking of the young spouse bearing her newborn and singing him a lullaby she learned on her own mother’s knee. The rhythm is in triple time without syncopation, which corresponds to human nature in both its most ordinary and its most noble activities: the toil of plowing and pasture-work or the weaning and education of a child. For the third beat, which closes the ternary rhythm, come from the natural “trinity” deeply inscribed in the soul of every person like a seal. It accords with the foot grounded on the earth, in the soil of our world, and thus the reality of a glob of clay endowed with an immortal soul, of a person created in the image of the Trinitarian God. This is the same rhythm that, on Christmas night, punctuates the songs intoned by the whole people with unparalleled fervor, to the silence of the adoration of the newborn Jesus, the Incarnate Word, in the splendid creche of a Breton church, where the eyes of all the children, big and small, converge: “Kanomb Noel; Ganet eo Jesus hur salver”: “Sing Noël, Jesus our Savior is born.” Such is the authenticity of a rhythm that respects human nature, respects the soul in its silent, loving relation with God its Creator and Redeemer.

There is another example on the African continent in the liturgy of the monks of the Senegalese Abbey of Keur Moussa, founded by Solesmes in 1962, or, in my native land of Guinea, the Benedictines of the Monastery of Saint-Joseph of Séguéya, itself a daughter-house of Keur Moussa in 2003, whose chant is accompanied by a marvelous plucked string instrument, the kora, which is the African lute, and also the balafon, also called a balani, which is a sort of xylophone that usually has between sixteen and twenty-seven notes produced by keys of wood that are struck with sticks. For centuries the kora has been the sacred appanage of the griots, those musician heralds, storytellers, poets, historians, and chroniclers, repositories of the cultural memory of Africa and its oral tradition. When the African peasant works he sings following a natural ternary rhythm, with this third beat that recalls the foot firmly planted in the soil and dust of our earth.

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Father Luc Bayle, a monk of Keur Moussa and successor of Brother Michel Meygniot in the direction of the workshop, where he was responsible for the making of koras until 2007, says that “the kora is not in the foreground of liturgy. It is like a tide that carries the voice, facilitates the chant, and deepens its relation to God.” And it is true that the kora’s ternary rhythm, which induces a light swaying motion, gives the psalms life, permits them to express joy or sorrow, creates the desire to sing, to praise…sounds of a crystalline purity, with a translucent lightness, which leads us to the silence of adoration. Ah, wonder of creation! Oh, the splendid variety in the unity in God of the cultures that the Gospel has penetrated and transfigured, in a chant of a million voices for the Glory of the Eternal! Yes, from the shores of Brittany to African Guinea, there is only one step, and only Christ can help us learn it, so that we may enter into this unbreakable and luminous communion that is the Catholic Church, a dwelling place for diverse peoples. It has nothing in common with the artificial assembly, that formless magma cleaving to the world and dominated by money and power, a result of the leveling so typical of the profane and secularized world.

In conclusion, let us recall the meeting between Jesus and Zachaeus. Our Lord never ceases to speak, in the depths of our soul, this word he addressed to that small man perched on the sycamore: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk. 19:5). This “coming down” that Jesus mentions, is it not the expression of his desire to join us in the intimacy of our soul, to scrap away all the dross of our sins, namely our refusal to love God and our neighbor? In silence, we can welcome God and have the ineffable experience of Heaven on earth. Yes, we carry heaven in our souls. And our singing, united to that of the angels and saints, gushes forth from a sacred silence that leads us into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.