Every culture uses music to communicate with God.
During a conference this weekend at the Priory of Our Lady of Consolation, Oregon Catholics will delve into their own faith’s history with music and the liturgy. They’re examining the sacred art of Gregorian chant, traditional music of the Roman rite.
Friday’s session started with Missa cantata (sung Mass) in the tiny, but elegant priory chapel. The Mass gave attendees the opportunity to experience the chant woven into the liturgical action of the service.
During the service, called the Ferial Mass of Sexagesima, celebrant Father Eric Andersen faced away from the congregation and instead toward the crucifix. Portions of the liturgy were said quietly, and worshipers kneeled as they received the Holy Eucharist on their tongues. Father Andersen explained during his homily the meaning behind the ancient traditions.
Gregorian chant “unites individuals into one voice” that binds worshippers together, said Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, conference coordinator and leader of Portland’s Schola Cantus Angelorum.
The first of a series of lectures on Friday studied “Gregorian Chant and the Liturgy.” Bissonnette-Pitre, a psychiatrist and scholar, paired an explanation of the physiological response to music with the theological history of chant.
“When we hear music, it demands participation in its emotions,” she said. It can transport us beyond the physical, she added.
As an example, Bissonnette-Pitre shared a story of a 2011 visit to the Vatican where she joined one million other people for Pope John Paul’s beatification ceremony. People from all over the world stood packed together like sardines in St. Peter’s Square, but when they sang together, the melody created a sense of cohesion.
Her lecture covered the origin and development of Gregorian chant, including information from church and papal documents.
Yumiko Rinta covered the basics of reading chant musical notation, and Father Andersen will lead workshops on the Roman rite and chanting the scripture.
The conference continues through Saturday, culminating with a Pontifical High Mass Vigil of Quinquagesima, celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Sample. Due to limited seating, only conference attendees will be invited to take part in the service.
The mid-March issue of the Catholic Sentinel will have an extended feature on the history and theology of sacred music.