Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sounding like church

Typical George.
Any of you who know my youngest son, George, know that he is perpetual motion. Absolutely. I cannot comprehend how he does not ever seem to tire. He talks alot, too. For a two-year-old. He babbles on about this and about that and most of what he says is pretty easy to understand.

Yesterday, I had the rare pleasure of riding in the car with him - just him and me. When you have three kids, it's rare to have any one-on-one time with any of them, so it really is a special treat. Anyway, while we were riding, sans radio, I hummed a little (as I'm prone to do). Then came the chanted words: "Gloria in excelsis Deo. Et in terra pax hominibus" (the words of the Gloria). And, just as suddenly as the words of this chant absent-mindedly left my lips, George pipes up in the backseat: "That's church!"

I was immediately struck with his words. "Yes," I said, "that's church." At St. John's we do our best to follow the Church's guidelines on sacred music, which includes making sure that we make regular use of Gregorian chant. At every Mass, we chant some of the songs (the so-called ordinaries), as recommended by the Church's documents: the Sanctus and the Agunus Dei, namely. We do this because the Church's documents ask us to and because we trust her that there is some intrinsic good in using the Church's language in our worship. But at St. John's, we do not chant the "Gloria" - we sing an English translation that sounds nothing like chant, so George is not familiar with what I was singing. This made his recognition that much more powerful and helped me to realize why the Church insists in document after document that we know and use chant during our worship. It's simple, really. In a nutshell: it sounds like church. Even a two-year-old "gets" that.

So, if you take a friend to Mass and they ask you why we use Gregorian chant during a few key points in the Mass, you could bore them by explaining that this is in accordance with the directions of Rome as expressed in every document since Vatican II, the example of our Pope, etc., etc. Or, you could just give them a short and straight answer: because it sounds like church.