Saturday, January 23, 2010


EVEN IN the Middle Ages, travelers to Rome would find distinct styles of chant for the Latin liturgy.

This video has Old Roman chant, an ancient style that was found in the city churches of Rome. Its Byzantine influences are obvious.

The texts used for the Old Roman chant were the same as those used in the regions that had adopted Gregorian chant. This particular chant text is an excerpt of Psalm 88 (Septuagint numbering) from the Missa Sancti Marceli.

But the musical root of the chant style goes deeper.  Click here for an audio clip of ancient Jewish chant, from the album Chants Mystiques, with the text of Psalm 133.

Christ and His disciples, and later the early Church, worshiped in the Temple at Jerusalem and the synagogues, so it is not surprising that the modes of liturgical chant used there would be transferred to Christendom. Further, this use also strengthens our understanding of ecclesiology and the continuity of the Church with the Old Testament. In recent decades, liturgists have told us that the Catholic mode of worship was to be restored to its ancient roots, but obviously what we got was anything but authentic, especially in modes of liturgical music.

Music is the link between our psyches and the order present in the cosmos.  Well-ordered and harmonious physical systems — notably musical instruments — will give off sound waves which we perceive as being well-ordered, harmonious, and beautiful. And indeed, the harmonies which are perceived as being most beautiful are in fact the most mathematically stable, which provides a strong link between metaphysics, physics, and psychology.

Chant in the Tradition of the Church uses those modes and intervals which the ancients knew to be the most beautiful and harmonious, and which happen to be provably the most harmonious mathematically and physically. Even secularists who are seeking peace and harmony in their souls understand this intuitively, and will listen to chant as a means of relaxation, although they are obviously missing a lot by not understanding the meaning of the chant texts and their context.

Some music theorists and composers have attempted to expand the acceptable range of musical intervals, far beyond what was considered most beautiful: some now say that all tonal intervals are beautiful, but this means that ‘music’ may be indistinguishable from noise.  Much contemporary liturgical music has a large, measurable component of noise — and what effect does noise have on the psyche? And if individual psyches become disordered due to the effects of music, what happens to society?

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