FSSP Mexico holds Gregorian Chant Camp, August 2020
My name is Anthony Fill, and I am a seminarian at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska. Each year, during the summer, the seminarians receive an assignment for some practical formation and work connected with one of our FSSP apostolates. This summer I am happy to be assigned to Casa Cristo Rey in Guadalajara, Mexico. This summer we held a week-long Gregorian Chant camp for both adults and children.
Visitors to the Fraternity of St. Peter’s apostolate, San Pedro en Cadenas, noticed that sacred polyphony comprises the majority of the repertoire of the church choir – but Gregorian chant is distinctly lacking. Many choir members in Mexico, although talented singers, are unfamiliar with Gregorian chant.
Fr. Daniel Heenan, pastor of San Pedro en Cadenas, decided to use the summer assignments of a few FSSP seminarians as an opportunity to host a chant camp for people of all ages to teach about the official liturgical music of the Catholic Church.
We held camp the week of August 10th through August 14th. We scheduled a daily 90-minute session in the morning for children, and a two-hour session in the evening for adults.
A week before the camps started, two children and ten adults had signed up. By the start of the camps, 20 children and 30 adults had registered, with a number of participants coming from outside the Fraternity apostolate!
The popular perception of Gregorian chant is an antique form of music that saw its use primarily in monasteries during the Middle Ages, and which no longer has a place in the present time. Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council is seen as dealing the death blow to Gregorian chant and putting this ancient music in its final resting place.
Ironically, Gregorian chant has existed in the Catholic Church since its earliest centuries. It was exalted and promulgated as the official music of the liturgy multiple times including by the very Second Vatican Council that is regarded as the break between the use of Gregorian chant and the use of contemporary music in the Church’s liturgy.
As FSSP Guadalajara parishoner and professional music educator, Aida Orozco, reminded the camp participants, the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium designates Gregorian chant as the preferred liturgical music of the Catholic Church: “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” (Art. 116).
Furthermore, as regards the actions of the faithful, the same document proclaims that, “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs” (Art. 30). The mission of the chant camps was to fulfill both of these decrees by passing on the knowledge of Gregorian chant and giving the faithful the opportunity to actively participate in the liturgy. (Reference for Sacrosanctum Concilium)
The final goal of the chant camps was to impart an appreciation for this liturgical music and motivate the participants to continue pursuing and practicing it.
To achieve this goal, the camp instructors aimed to provide the students with enough material so that both the children and adult groups could participate musically in a Sung Mass the following weekend. Each class began with the singing of the Salve Regina, followed by a short talk by one of the teachers, priests, or seminarians about some aspect of Gregorian chant – its history, its development, its use in the liturgy, its conduciveness to prayer, and the importance of the interior disposition that should accompany the exterior act of singing.
We taught each group the fundamental note structures of Gregorian chant, called “neums” – how they are composed and how they are to be sung, a critical step in reading the music and singing together with the rest of the choir members. Time was also devoted to aural training to help the participants become familiar with the different modes and musical patterns of Gregorian chant.
The children were introduced to classic Latin Eucharistic hymns, a few chants from Mass VIII (“Missa De Angelis”), and the simple Psalm-toned Propers of the Mass.
The children had their chance to put into practice what they had learned at the 9:30 morning Mass for the feast of the Assumption, which also coincided with the First Holy Communions of several of the parishoners. The children chanted the simple Psalm-toned Mass Propers for the Assumption, the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei of Mass VIII, and sang Jesu Dulcis Memoria at the Offertory and Adoro Te Devote at the Communion. At the recessional, the young choir sang the Salve Regina, followed by the Mexican Cristero hymn, “Viva Cristo Rey”, a favorite in Mexico.
The adults, many of whom had significant experience in music, were taught the chants of Mass XI and the full set of Mass Propers for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost.
The adult class had their chance to perform at the 6:00 evening Mass on Sunday, August 16th. They sang almost all of the Mass Propers for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, as well as the Creed and the ordinary chants of Mass XI. The Mass ended with the solemn Salve Regina featuring a harmonized drone, followed by a resounding rendition of “Viva Cristo Rey”.
A special thanks is owed to the volunteers from Guadalajara for their help in organizing and running the chant camp.
For the visiting seminarians, whose first language was English, there was the added difficulty of transmitting information in Spanish to the different groups, but the volunteers lent their assistance in ensuring that difficult concepts were clearly understood in Spanish.
The hope is that, as a result of their exposure to Gregorian chant, the participants will continue to investigate and practice this ancient and fitting music as a form of adoration of our Lord and will make it an essential part of the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. The FSSP parish of San Pedro en Cadenas plans to continue instruction in Gregorian chant by offering a weekly class at the parish rectory in September. Some of the participants of the camps are members of choirs in other parishes in Guadalajara.
It is exciting to know that these participants will be ambassadors of the Church’s official liturgical chant, making it part of their weekly repertoire and introducing it to more people than could possibly be reached by the FSSP alone.