Month: April 2003

Jewish Psalms and Gregorian Chant

Here’s an interesting historical note on the Jewish roots of Gregorian Chant:

Paragraph 114 adds: “The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.” Then in paragraph 116 we find another shocker: “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.” That’s what the Council actually said. If you are in a parish which prides itself on living the spirit of Vatican II, then you should be singing Gregorian chant at your parish. And if you’re not singing the Gregorian Chant, you’re not following the specific mandate of the Second Vatican Council.Now, just a little footnote on the Gregorian Chant. In reflecting on these things about Church music, I began to think about the Psalms a few years back. And a very obvious idea suddenly struck me. Why it didn’t come earlier I don’t know, but the fact is that the Psalms are songs. Every one of the 150 Psalms is meant to be sung; and was sung by the Jews. When this thought came to me, I immediately called a friend, a rabbi in San Francisco who runs the Hebrew School, and I asked, “Do you sing the Psalms at your synagogue?” “Well, no, we recite them,” he said. “Do you know what they sounded like when they were sung in the Old Testament times and the time of Jesus and the Apostles?” I asked. He said, “No, but why don’t you call this company in Upstate New York. They publish Hebrew music, and they may know.”

So, I called the company and they said, “We don’t know; call 1-800-JUDAISM.” So I did. And I got an information center for Jewish traditions, and they didn’t know either. But they said, “You call this music teacher in Manhattan. He will know.” So, I called this wonderful rabbi in Manhattan and we had a long conversation. At the end, I said, “I want to bring some focus to this, can you give me any idea what it sounded like when Jesus and his Apostles sang the Psalms?” He said, “Of course, Father. It sounded like Gregorian Chant. You got it from us.”

I was amazed. I called Professor William Mahrt, a Professor of Music at Stanford University and a friend. I said, “Bill, is this true?” He said, “Yes. The Psalm tones have their roots in ancient Jewish hymnody and psalmody.” So, you know something? If you sing the Psalms at Mass with the Gregorian tones, you are as close as you can get to praying with Jesus and Mary. They sang the Psalms in tones that have come down to us today in Gregorian Chant.

“The Mass of Vatican II”, by Fr. Joseph Fessio.
Catholic Dossier 5 no. 5 (September/October 2000): 12-20.

Here’s an interesting historical note on the Jewish roots of Gregorian Chant:

Paragraph 114 adds: “The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.” Then in paragraph 116 we find another shocker: “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.” That’s what the Council actually said. If you are in a parish which prides itself on living the spirit of Vatican II, then you should be singing Gregorian chant at your parish. And if you’re not singing the Gregorian Chant, you’re not following the specific mandate of the Second Vatican Council.

Now, just a little footnote on the Gregorian Chant. In reflecting on these things about Church music, I began to think about the Psalms a few years back. And a very obvious idea suddenly struck me. Why it didn’t come earlier I don’t know, but the fact is that the Psalms are songs. Every one of the 150 Psalms is meant to be sung; and was sung by the Jews. When this thought came to me, I immediately called a friend, a rabbi in San Francisco who runs the Hebrew School, and I asked, “Do you sing the Psalms at your synagogue?” “Well, no, we recite them,” he said. “Do you know what they sounded like when they were sung in the Old Testament times and the time of Jesus and the Apostles?” I asked. He said, “No, but why don’t you call this company in Upstate New York. They publish Hebrew music, and they may know.”

So, I called the company and they said, “We don’t know; call 1-800-JUDAISM.” So I did. And I got an information center for Jewish traditions, and they didn’t know either. But they said, “You call this music teacher in Manhattan. He will know.” So, I called this wonderful rabbi in Manhattan and we had a long conversation. At the end, I said, “I want to bring some focus to this, can you give me any idea what it sounded like when Jesus and his Apostles sang the Psalms?” He said, “Of course, Father. It sounded like Gregorian Chant. You got it from us.”

I was amazed. I called Professor William Mart, a Professor of Music at Stanford University and a friend. I said, “Bill, is this true?” He said, “Yes. The Psalm tones have their roots in ancient Jewish hymnody and psalmody.” So, you know something? If you sing the Psalms at Mass with the Gregorian tones, you are as close as you can get to praying with Jesus and Mary. They sang the Psalms in tones that have come down to us today in Gregorian Chant.

“The Mass of Vatican II”, by Fr. Joseph Fessio.
Catholic Dossier 5 no. 5 (September/October 2000): 12-20.

A good post by Oswald Sobrino earlier this month, on the necessity of recognizing “authentic peace” in the current debate:

The Catechism quotes St. Augustine as writing that peace is the “tranquility of order.” The Catechism, relying on Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, desribes the requirements of that order that is peace: “Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity” (paragraph 2304). Gaudium et Spes (“GS”) is even more explicit when it states that peace does not “arise out of despotic dominion . . . .” (GS, 78). No simplistic slogans or pacifism will do here. Peace must have a real content consonant with human dignity and the common good, or else it is not peace but merely the absence of war.

Augustine writes of peace as “the tranquility of order” in The City of God. There is a telling passage in that work that should be considered by those who are quick to call others “warmongers”:

He, then, who prefers what is right to what is wrong, and what is well-ordered to what is perverted, sees that the peace of unjust men is not worthy to be called peace in comparison with the peace of the just.

Augustine, The City of God, Book 19, Chapter 12.

In debates, words need definitions and content before they can become meaningful slogans for activists. If we discuss the content of our words, then maybe we can fulfill the call proclaimed by Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together . . . .” (Isaiah 1:18, RSV).

I’ve recommended this previously but will do so again: those who appreciate Sobrino’s observation may be interested in reading George Weigel’s Tranquilitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War & Peace [Oxford UP, 1987], an extended analysis of how the “American Catholics elite” — clergy & academics — abandoned the traditional Catholic understanding of peace as “tranquility of order” over the course of the past century, and how this Catholic heritage might be reclaimed. (Out of print but, in my opinion, well worth the effort to find a used copy).

Good article by Russel Shaw:

Unreality is disastrous not only to the intellectual and spiritual lives of individuals but to the Church as a whole. Newman got to the heart of it in an 1839 sermon called “Unreal Words.” He said:

The invisible Church has developed itself into the Church visible, and its outward rites and forms are nourished and animated by the living power which dwells within it. Thus every part of it is real, down to the minutest details.

But when the seductions of the world and the lusts of the flesh have eaten out this divine inward life, what is the outward Church but a hollowness and a mockery, like the whited sepulchers of which our Lord speaks, a memorial of what was and is not? And though we trust that the Church is nowhere thus utterly deserted by the Spirit of truth…yet may we not say that in proportion as it approaches to this state of deadness, the grace of its ordinances, though not forfeited, at least flows in but a scanty or uncertain stream?

Newman was speaking of the Anglican Church of his day. But who would argue that the description doesn’t fit American Catholicism now?

Ignoring the Obvious: The Unreality of American Catholicism
Crisis Magazine, March 2003.

Heh . . . from the comments section of Disputations:

A minor semantic quibble: We don’t say St. Thomas “didn’t get everything right,” we say he was “at places insufficiently nuanced.”

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In the washing of the feet, we catch a glimpse of what Jesus does and what he is. He, who is the Lord, stoops to our level. He lays aside the robes of his kingship and becomes a slave, standing at the door and performing the duty of a slave — the washing of the feet. That is the meaning of his whole life and Passion: the he bends to wash our dusty feet, to wash away the dust of humanity, and, in his exceedingly great love, washes us clean. The purpose of this menial task of washing the feet was to make the guests fit to appear at table, to appear in company, so that they could sit together at table. Jesus Christ makes us, as it were, fit to appear at table and in company both before God and before one another; we, who are not fit to appear before God, are received by Jesus. He wears, so to speak, the garment of our wretchedness and, by taking us with him, makes us fit to stand in the presence of God; we have gained access to God. We are washed by letting ourselves be drawn into his love. This love means that God receives us unconditionally even when we are not capable and are not worthy of it, because he, Jesus Christ, transforms us and becomes our Brother.

— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Excerpt from Co-Workers of the Truth.

food for thought (from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)

In the washing of the feet, we catch a glimpse of what Jesus does and what he is. He, who is the Lord, stoops to our level. He lays aside the robes of his kingship and becomes a slave, standing at the door and performing the duty of a slave — the washing of the feet. That is the meaning of his whole life and Passion: the he bends to wash our dusty feet, to wash away the dust of humanity, and, in his exceedingly great love, washes us clean. The purpose of this menial task of washing the feet was to make the guests fit to appear at table, to appear in company, so that they could sit together at table. Jesus Christ makes us, as it were, fit to appear at table and in company both before God and before one another; we, who are not fit to appear before God, are received by Jesus. He wears, so to speak, the garment of our wretchedness and, by taking us with him, makes us fit to stand in the presence of God; we have gained access to God. We are washed by letting ourselves be drawn into his love. This love means that God receives us unconditionally even when we are not capable and are not worthy of it, because he, Jesus Christ, transforms us and becomes our Brother.

— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Excerpt from Co-Workers of the Truth.