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Learning the Chants: Singing with a Unified Voice  
John Mark Klaus  

The revised translation of The Roman Missal will give us a chance again to sing and hear more sung chants in our liturgies. This sung prayer will connect us with the centuries-old prayer of the Church. As Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 72, states,

Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church's own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy.

Chants are natural speech rhythms in which many words can be sung on the same pitch. In some instances, the words can be more easily chanted than said and can be sung more slowly and reverently.

This third edition of The Roman Missal encourages both the assembly and priest celebrant to chant more parts of the Mass, especially the dialogue prayers. The priest is also encouraged to sing the gathering rite, the collects, the Gospel on special occasions, and the Eucharistic Prayers with the chant notes included in The Roman Missal.

Sing to the Lord describes the principles of progressive solemnity. This means that during the Masses on holy days, greater feast days, and solemnities such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, more music can be sung, making the Mass more elaborate musically than other Sunday Masses.

The Roman Missal suggests that the congregation should be able to chant some parts of the Mass. This brings unity to the sung prayer of the universal Church. The new chants have been revised into English from some of the Gregorian chants. Many of the melodies will sound familiar, since some parishes are already familiar with singing the Gregorian chants in Latin.

Chants are natural melodies, most having only four or five musical notes. The chants are sung in unison and are usually done without accompaniment. The distance between the notes is small steps of a second, third, or fifth, which make it easy to sing and to learn.

What are some ways to teach the chants to our assemblies? The following ideas may help you to prepare the parish musically for The Roman Missal.

  • The organist could start using the chant melodies as prelude and meditation music during the Mass. Doing this will make the melodies more familiar to the assembly.
  • The choir could use the chant tones as vocal warm-up exercises, familiarizing themselves with the tones and melodies so they can confidently, without hesitation, solidly support the congregation in the new chants until they learn them.
  • After the cantors have received training in their role in introducing the chants of The Roman Missal to the assembly, they could begin to teach the assembly the chant parts of the Mass (Responses, Holy, Holy, Holy, Memorial Acclamations, and Gloria), in October and November.

Although other musical settings besides the chanted Mass parts are also available, every church should learn the chant settings so they could be used not only in the parish but also for diocesan celebrations where familiar music is important for active participation.

The priest, in particular, should learn to use the new chants in The Roman Missal. In some ways, chanting can be easier than saying the text since, chants can be said more slowly and reverently. The priest should practice the chants so that he is able to sing his parts confidently and without hesitation. This will help the assembly in singing their parts well. If the priest and assembly begin to sing their parts from the beginning, it will become part of how the liturgy is done in the parish and will help for a smoother transition.

Chants have been a part of our Catholic faith for centuries. We now have another opportunity to grow deeper in our faith and knowledge of our Catholic heritage. The Roman Missal will give us a chance to become better catechized in understanding the mystery of the Mass and pray as the Church says, with fuller, active, and conscious participation, chanting the praises of God together in song.

John Mark Klaus, TOR
is a Franciscan Father of the Third Order Regular. He is the parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, Florida, and is the director of Worship for the Diocese of Venice.
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