mardi, août 18, 2009

Cantate Domino canticum novum

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Deus in loco sancto suo – God in His holy place! Today’s Mass begins with this joyful acclamation that is well interpreted by the fifth Gregorian mode of the Introit. For memory, there are eight modes in Gregorian chant and each one usually expresses a feeling, a sentiment or an attitude of soul.
The first mode is often called ‘gravis’ as it is a mode of gravity that brings an impression of solidity and of stability. The second mode is ‘tristis’. It expresses sorrow and melancholy. We have a very good example with the Graduale and the Offertory of the Requiem Mass. The third mode is ‘mysticus’ as it expresses mysticism and contemplation. The fourth mode is ‘harmonicus’ and evokes interior prayer when the soul reaches a certain harmony and concord with God. The fifth mode, as we said, expresses joy and is the ‘Laetus’ mode.
The sixth mode is ‘devotus.’ This is the mode of the simple and ingenuous prayer of the children and God marked by simplicity and joy. Today’s antiphon of communion is a good example: Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine.
The seventh mode is ‘angelicus’. It is a mode of brightness and of keenness, in the image of the angels. The famous Introit of Christmas, Puer natus est, is a perfect example with its melodic flights toward the high notes sol – re. And the eight and last mode is ‘perfectus’. It is called perfectus – perfect, certainly because it is the eighth, number of perfection and number of Christ. Eight signifies achievement and fullness, which are well expressed by the eighth mode. It is a very solemn mode that expresses respect, certainty and majesty.
The eight modes offer us a palette of chant that allows us to sing a new canticle to God as the Scriptures invite us often: cantate Domino canticum novum –sing to the Lord a new song! When we sing to God, especially with Gregorian chant, we pray and we communicate with Him. And we pray as human persons with feelings and emotions, with our body, with our mouth – semper laus ejus in ore meo, Psalm 33 says: His prays shall ever be in my mouth –and with our soul.
The idea that there is a connection between the states of soul and the musical expression is not new. Plato had already well explained this fact. The Greek philosophers used to speak about “Ethos” to describe the moral aspect of music. The aestheticism comes from there. In Greek it means to feel.
Gregorian chant is very human as it is sung by men and it expresses our human feelings. It is also very divine, as it is certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit – the Pneuma or Breath of God. The word ‘neume’,that is the word for the Gregorian notes, comes from there. The Gregorian chant is a breath that comes from God and returns to God. In Gregorian chant, we find this descendant and ascendant movements, - the ladder of Jacob - that is precisely expressed by the Introit Puer Natus est. God descend on earth and men are raised to heaven. The crossroad is Our Lord, the Pontiff, the Bridge between earth and heaven. In Christ, earth and heaven meet, which is also expressed by the number eight with its two circles that are linked: the above circle that is heaven and the below circle that is earth.
Because it is human and divine, the Gregorian chant is our chant, the proper chant of the Catholic Church as the second Vatican Council reminded us. It cannot be and should not be a piece of museum, but the noblest and highest expression of our faith and of our prayers to God. It cannot be simply heard but it must be sung by the faithful during Mass, or even at home during family prayers. Singing is the expression of our love and as such we should not only sing it but rather live it. For many decades, the Church has expressed her desired that Gregorian chant must be restored where it has been lost or abandoned. And this should not be the only concern of the priests or of the monks but of every member of the Church. It is the patrimony that we have received and that we have to deliver to the next generation. Let everybody open his soul and his heart to God and sing a new canticle to the Lord for His glory and the edification of His Church.

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