Ed. On Saturday, November 22, 2003, Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI sponsored a Focus Day On Gregorian Chant taught by Fr. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B. of Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. The Focus Day was in celebration of the 100th anniversary of St. Pius X’s moto proprio on Church Music, TRA LE SOLLECITUDINI (“Among the Concerns”), on the Feast of St. Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music.
Kathleen Moss was able to attend this symposium and at her request, Father graciously offered the following article, first published in The Hebrew Catholic, #79.
The Sacred Bridge
Rev. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B.
The former hardware store had been turned into our local neighborhood library, replacing the ‘book-bus’ that used to drive up each Tuesday from downtown Chicago. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. It was a real treasure cove for my budding curiosity that knew no bounds. It was the 1950’s in the “Windy City’s” Hegewisch district of steel mills and ethnic neighborhoods, mostly Polish and Irish.
Our local parish school was conducted by Benedictine Sisters who centered our education on liturgical prayer and the study of the Scriptures. Each day we shared with them in the celebration of the ‘Little Hours’ of the Divine Office: Terce, Sext and None. They taught us to sing the Gregorian Chants that were such an important part of our worship experiences. At a young age I became deeply interested in the Psalms, and in the Gregorian Chants that ‘heightened’ their meaning for us, providing the beautiful melodic patterns that allowed us to chant together in one great act of communal prayer.
I can still remember the day when I was browsing at our little local library between homework sessions and discovered on its shelves two volumes by Professor Eric Werner entitled The Sacred Bridge. Everything else that concerned sixth grade got pushed aside for the rest of the day as I poured over its contents.
It did not surprise me to learn from Professor Werner’s investigations that many of the Gregorian patterns for chanting the Psalms and other sacred texts familiar to me from first grade on had their origins in the sacred music of the Hebrew people. The haunting Tonus Peregrinus with its changing reciting tone and rich, minor-sounding cadence, as well as the cantilation patterns of the Pater noster and the Prefaces, the lessons from the Prophets, the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah, the tones for the New Testament readings and for proclaiming the Gospels—these, and many more, were shared by us all, Jews and Catholics alike. One common heritage of sacred formulas—both texts and chants. In all likelihood, our Lord Jesus knew and made use of many of the same patterns of sacred chanting in his prayer at Nazareth, both with his family and in the local synagogue, not to mention his experience of worship at the temple in Jerusalem.
I say I was not surprised. Being a lover of music even at the tender age of 12, I knew in my heart that words just are not enough when it comes to this matter of prayer. What God wants from us is desire—that unceasing desire to be with Him, to remain in His presence, to please Him, to do His Will. There is a time, as life experience teaches us again and again, when the words fall away, or at least, retreat to the background, and the soul begins to sing. One folk hymn would put it this way:
“Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?”
It made sense to me that these wonderful sacred melodies should have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, even as the sacred words were so inspired. The chant helps us to lodge the holy words we sing deep in our hearts where, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we may “treasure them up” in order the better to “keep them.” Many holy souls over century upon century carefully guarded both melody and text, and handed them on to subsequent generations. It was an act of love and has become today “a gift that keeps giving” to all of us who are “spiritually Semites” (Pope Pius XI, Mit Brenender Zorge).
Eric Werner’s study will lead the reader to appreciate the present arrangement of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, especially the Lectionary for Mass and Divine Office, the order of the Psalms and OT Canticles as they are prayed each day, the style of prayers and intercessions and, of course, the musical patterns we treasure as our Gregorian Chant. The two volumes (paperback) that I use are now out of print, but appeared with the title The Sacred Bridge: Liturgical Parallels in Synagogue and Early Church, New York Schocken Books, New York, 1970, these being a reprint of the original one volume 1959 printing by Columbia University Press. Check your used book store or local library.
A CD has appeared with the same title: The Sacred Bridge. It contains beautiful musical examples of chant in Hebrew and Latin, including the Tonus Peregrinus I referred to above, and is available from Amazon.com (used). Consider also pertinent articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia and the New Catholic Encyclopedia as well as the New Grove Dictionary of Music. The following also contain much helpful information:
Idelsohn, A. Z. Jewish Music In Its Historical Development. New York: Schocken Books, 1967, (originally printed in 1929).
Rosenbaum, Samuel. A Guide to Haftarah Chanting. Ktav Publishing House, 1973.
Rothmueller, Aron Marko. The Music of the Jews: An Historical Appreciation. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1967.
And for Gregorian Chant:
Cardine, Eugene. Beginning Studies in Gregorian Chant. Chicago: G.I.A. Publications, 1988.
Hourlier, Jacques. Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant. Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 1995.
Murrett, John C. The Message of the Mass Melodies. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1960.
For recordings of Gregorian Chant and for the classical polyphony of the Catholic tradition that grows out of the plainchant melodies, go on line to Paraclete Press in Orleans, MA.
Rev. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B.
Wake Forest University • Box 7719
Winston Salem, NC 27109
Ed. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B. is associate professor of early Christianity and spiritual formation at the Divinity School of Wake Forest University. He also teaches courses in liturgical studies and sacred music, as well as patristic and liturgical Latin. He is currently editing plainchant settings in English for the Mass and Divine Office of the Roman Rite as these are celebrated in many communities today (2003). He is a Benedictine Monk and priest.