Gregorian chant is a type of church music that is considered characteristic of Catholicism -- and it has a long history of use in Catholic church services. However, while Gregorian chant is still given preference in the official policy of the Catholic Church, in this era it is very rarely used in Catholic churches. In this continent, Gregorian chant can be heard in a small number of monasteries and convents.
Gregorian chant is a type of sacred singing that is associated with Catholic prayer and church services, including the Mass. The texts are sung in unison, there is no set rhythm, and the voices are normally not accompanied by musical instruments. It was named after Pope Gregory I -- perhaps because during his papacy (590 A.D. to 604) this type of chant was codified -- and it grew in popularity through the Middle Ages. As well as being used in church services, Gregorian chant was commonly used in Catholic monasteries and convents to accompany prayer services, as well as their Masses.
During the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), the preferred status of Gregorian chant within the musical tradition of the Catholic Church was affirmed. The "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," which was published in 1963, indicates that this style of vocal music is "specially suited to the Roman liturgy" and therefore "other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."
After Vatican II
However, after Vatican II, the use of Gregorian chant declined rapidly within the Catholic Church. A number of probable causes of this decline have been mentioned. One was the change in the language of Catholic church services, from Latin, which is the language of Gregorian chant, to the "vernacular," the language of each country. Another possible cause is the trend toward using contemporary musical styles, such as folk music, in church services.
As a result of the continuing decline, it is now extremely difficult to find a church on this continent where Gregorian chant is used during services. It is still used at a small number of monasteries and convents. The musical styles that have emerged since Vatican II are now firmly entrenched in Catholic churches, and very few Catholic choirs today would be familiar with or proficient in Gregorian chant. Nevertheless, there are recent signs of renewed interest in this genre of church music. In 1994, an album of Gregorian chant by a group of monks from Spain became a best-seller. In addition, dissatisfaction among some Catholics with contemporary church music has led them to yearn for a re-introduction of Gregorian chant -- at least in small doses!
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images