The spirituality of Gregorian Chant
Part One, definitions
While I am not an expert on the subject of Gregorian Chant, I do know something about it and think that at least a general understanding of the chant would be beneficial for all Catholics. Gregorian chant belongs to and is for, everyone, even those who “cannot sing”.
Before we can talk about the chant, though, we must define it. Musicologists have their own definitions of course (‘Frankish/Roman monophonic liturgical music prior to the tenth century’….etc.) but they are viewing the chant as a musical artifact to be studied like any other fossil. They have a role to play, but we must look at things differently.
Gregorian chant is ancient, its origins/composers are lost in time, it belongs to no one and so it is everyone’s. No single culture can claim it as their own. Like the liturgy itself it has absorbed and surpassed cultures and emerged as purely Christian and universal. For us the chant is alive. It is just as much part of the liturgy now as ever. So, on to some definitions.
For our purposes, Gregorian chant is the native music of the Roman liturgy (other Catholic liturgies, the Ambrosian for example, have their own chant); it is not music that accompanies the liturgy, it is the liturgy, sung. It is in the Latin language. It takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great who was very important in the development of the Roman Liturgy (similarly St. Ambrose is important to the Ambrosian Liturgy, to follow my previous example). It is prayer burst into music.
I would like to include some other reasons why we should care about Gregorian chant.
It is the foundation of all western music; musical notation was invented because of it; modern music theory, scales, ABC, Do Re Me--all of it developed as a result of chant. Even types of music that at first glance seem very removed from chant can be traced back to it.
For Christians chant is sacred. Almost all of its texts are from scripture. For Catholics in particular the church has declared, most recently in the Second Vatican Council that chant “has pride of place”.
I hope this sets an adequate foundation for an explanation of the spirituality of the Chant.