Why do some people hate Gregorian chant?
  • @a_f_hawkins What a memory you have! :D

    Yes, actually, the majority of those who expressed anger have actually come to love the chant. It's been a wonderful transformation, by and large. There are of course, however, a number who would ban the chant for eternity if they could, and while they don't continue to speak up, I'm aware that they desire (fairly fervently) for me and the pastor to both be replaced.
  • What of the possibility of priests allowing poor singing through their own musical ignorance? Could financial pressures, especially in smaller parishes lead to it?
  • JesJes
    Posts: 570
    The same reason people think the crucifix is too gory.

    They just don't understand and are heavily influenced by the temptation to have lax faith.

    The other reason could be that they've heard terrible Gregorian chant (as in sung terribly.)

    I truly think it is the Devil that hates our chants, hates it when we pray the rosary and hates it when we venerate the LORD's sacrifice for us. The Devil is good at finding people to rebuke our Church and turn their hearts to stone.

    It is the very people who deny the existence of Hell that also can't see the beauty in chant and can't cope with venerating the crucifix or the true presence of our LORD and all it means. It is why they have plain crosses, songs that involve clapping or actions and don't attend confession.

    But, have faith, pray for them and they will see the way the truth and the life. They do want to walk with the crucified and risen one. They just don't know His wondrous love yet.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,355
    There are of course, however, a number who would ban the chant for eternity if they could,


    Sadly they may get their wish, we need to pray for them.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    Yea, tomjaw... I know what you mean... pray for their souls!
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  • Geremia
    Posts: 224
    Why do some people hate Gregorian chant (and sacred music in general)? Probably because of sin and ignorance, the "mystery of iniquity" (2 Thes. 2:7).

    St. Thomas Aquinas says that sacred music is to foster devotion, so (Summa Theologica II-II q. 91 a. 2 "Whether God should be praised with song?" co.)
    that the souls of the faint-hearted (infirmorum) may be the more incited to devotion.
    But those who are spiritually dead are worse than "infirm"; they don't have any living seeds of devotion to foster and make grow.
    Thanked by 1Chrism
  • richardUKrichardUK
    Posts: 80
    I love chant when it is well-performed. I think a lot of people do. When it is not well-performed, I feel distracted and I grin and bear it. Nevertheless I respect the effort involved and the motivation. Not unrelated, I've also had to endure cantors and organists at Mass who frankly should not be let anywhere near a microphone or an organ. I recently attended a Sung Tenebrae where all of the chant was performed almost entirely unaccompanied by one very fine solo voice. I wasn't expecting that and it was incredibly special and devotional as a result.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 593
    In our parish choir we do not have members with trained voices nor do we practice everyday. This doesn't mean our choir can't learn to sing chant but it does mean we will not sound like monks in the monastery. Chant and polyphony require good trained voices in order to be sung properly and to sound pleasing to the ear.

    Parishioners in my parish are very forgiving when the choir sings chant but hardly do they ever participate. Also, most parishioners can't read music let alone square notes. These and other factors tend to make chant unpalatable to most. Learning the mass parts as a minimum is a great accomplishment and a credit to our parishioners but we only sing chant during certain seasons, Lent and Advent.

    Another factor, we are probably one parish in ten that are trying to use chant in our services. Most grew up singing hymns, granted hymns with non-catholic sentiments but hymns none the less. In my opinion there tends to be a movemt among some musicians to blanket everyone at Mass with chant and they feel there is no exception to this rule. Granted chant has pride of place but you can also sing hymns and good Catholic hymns can be an effective means to educate parishioners in their faith and Catholic doctrine as well as an effective means of participation.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Carol
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,063
    we will not sound like monks in the monastery.
    Let's not get an exaggerated view of what a couple of dozen men singing sounds like if not selected for vocal skills, even when they are professed monks. Scroll down to today's recording of Conventual Solemn Mass for Latin chant, full Propers and most Ordinary. https://www.churchservices.tv/glenstal (most of the Office is in English)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    Chant, polyphony and playing the organ during the liturgy are a form of prayer, not a performance. Unfortunately many people (including professional musicians) do not know the difference in one from the other. This is not an excuse for poorly executed music but it is also a caution that the scriptures warn us about:

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    I like chant but I can get tired of it if I never hear anything else. Some folks, however, seem to genuinely detest all chant and I have never understood why. The hatred is real.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    IMHO, the Chant must also have two good side dishes of polyphony and organ music for a well balanced meal.
  • Generally I agree w this >> the Chant must also have two good side dishes of polyphony and organ music for a well balanced meal.
    however
    To me, the EF funeral Mass without organ or polyphony shines all by itself.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    @mmeladirecrtress

    I cannot argue against your point in any way... I have sung numerous funerals in the simple pure and unaccompanied fashion... it is stark and most beautiful. However, I am desirous to hear (and play) the harmonic texture of the NOH in its entirety at some point. In fact, I started a condensed version last year which I need to complete.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 831
    Geremia seems to be saying "anathema sit" to anyone who hates Gregorian chant. And, indeed, there have been anathemas against some such things.

    But the root of the hate seems to be the misunderstanding among most Catholics that they have some choice in the matter, that Gregorian chant is presented to them for their approval or disapproval, for their like or dislike.

    Rather, Catholics should be listening to their holy mopther Church, who says to them, "Gregorian Chant is your song, and the model for all other music."

    Freed from the duty of judging church music according to our own dim lights, a Catholic who hears the Church's message and heeds it can move to the next phase, praying "Lord Holy Spirit, why have you established Gregorian Chant as my music, our music, and the model for all other music?" Through inquiry and investigation, the Catholic will discover what Gregorian chant is: not merely a mysterious, unearthly sound, but a musical exaltation of a Latin text. And as that Catholic soul grows in her understanding of the Latin, and pays more attention to the music and words, she can then begin to pray, for example, "Lord Holy Spirit, why have you dedicated so many minutes of every liturgical year to singing about singing a new song? What do you mean by "a new song"?" And so over time through the chant she will breathe more with the Church.

    Pious souls desire to understand the things of God. If they are to decide which music is most likely to bring them to Heaven, they may choose the music that they understand over the music they do not. But if they are invited not to decide, but are told instead to listen to the Church, they will try instead to understand the music of the Church.

    Tl;dr: people hate Gregorian chant because of poor catechesis on Church music, and pastors who wish to add more chant should remember the need to teach on the topic.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    In all fairness, some hate chant because it is done badly. Understandable.
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  • Chrism
    Posts: 831
    In all fairness, some hate chant because it is done badly. Understandable.


    Yes, and we can fix that, but some also hate it when it's done well. We should understand that phenomena as well and try to address it.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    I will say, however, that poorly done chant is not an improvement over poorly done contemporary music. Because it is chant doesn't exempt it from good musical standards. In the hands, or voices, of people who don't sing well, it can be horrid.
    Thanked by 1Chrism
  • Chrism and Charles are both right -

    Many people may be drawn to chant if it is chanted well and with authority.
    Others couldn't care less about how well or poorly it is sung - they have a visceral and irrational dislike of it, on general principles, or because it is associated with an historic churchmanship that they detest and don't want to be reminded of.

    This is in the same category of people who hate Mozart or Bach, or anyone else, no mater how admirably they are performed. One of the most hate-filled pair of eyes I ever saw were those of a young man in his early twenties who was furious beyond belief at my mere mention of Mozart's music. People are going to hate what they hate, no matter the irrationality. All hate is fundamentally irrational. It's all bound up in their self-identity.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,608
    Or their expectations. And, as is sometimes observed in recovery circles, expectations are pre-meditated resentments.

    (And I would add: resentments are not of God.)
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,084
    At one time, I didn't like chant. Hearing it on the radio, all I could make out were the vowels. It sounded mushy.

    Isn't it ironic that the same people who hate classical music love the soundtrack to movies with full orchestration and in a similar style!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CharlesW
  • Geremia
    Posts: 224
    @Chrism:
    Geremia seems to be saying "anathema sit" to anyone who hates Gregorian chant. And, indeed, there have been anathemas against some such things.
    ¿Are you referring to Trent session 22, can. 7 on the importance of externals for increasing piety:
    If any one saith, that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety: let him be anathema.
    Sacred music is an "outward sign" and "office (duty) of piety".

    @Chrism:
    But the root of the hate seems to be the misunderstanding among most Catholics that they have some choice in the matter, that Gregorian chant is presented to them for their approval or disapproval, for their like or dislike.
    Yes, whether it's pleasing to us or not is irrelevant. From the same Summa Theologica II-II q. 91 a. 2 "Whether God should be praised with song?" article quoted above, arg./ad 5:
    Objection 5: Further, the praise of the heart is more important than the praise of the lips. But the praise of the heart is hindered by singing, both because the attention of the singers is distracted from the consideration of what they are singing, so long as they give all their attention to the chant, and because others are less able to understand the thing that are sung than if they were recited without chant. Therefore chants should not be employed in the divine praises.
    […]
    Reply to Objection 5: The soul is distracted from that which is sung by a chant that is employed for the purpose of giving pleasure. But if the singer chant for the sake of devotion, he pays more attention to what he says, both because he lingers more thereon, and because, as Augustine remarks (Confess. x, 33 [on how St. Augustine "Overcame the Pleasures of the Ear, Although in the Church He Frequently Delighted in the Song, Not in the Thing Sung."]),
    each affection of our spirit, according to its variety, has its own appropriate measure in the voice, and singing, by some hidden correspondence wherewith it is stirred.
    The same applies to the hearers, for even if some of them understand not what is sung, yet they understand why it is sung, namely, for God's glory: and this is enough to arouse their devotion.
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  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 1,032
    Gregorian chant is the classic example of Gebrauchsmusik that became, in many ways, far greater than the sum of its parts through centuries upon centuries of elaboration. It's like saying that you're not the biggest fan of the preface dialogue - okay, who cares?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    In some instances, I could say I love the chant but hate the singers.
  • I don't think I've ever met someone who hated Gregorian Chant. On the other hand, I've met plenty of Catholics who didn't care. They like it, sure, they think it's beautiful and spiritual, and deep and so on. But they would say the same of "Sacred Pop Music" too, or any other style. For them, Gregorian Chant is fine, but it's just one style among many others. And they don't care about it being THE official chant of the Latin Church.
    Which brings me to another issue: when most people praise Gregorian chant, they usually talk about it being beautiful and nice to hear; that is to say, they praise it's esthetic qualities. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, they almost never consider the fact Gregorian chant is to be promoted also, if not mostly, because of its texts, especially the Propers of the Mass. This just never comes to their mind. And to be fair, I've seen the same with quite a few Gregorianists.
    By the way, this could be one of the reason why so many people won't hear about attempts to make vernacular plainsong, because they don't think about the texts being the same, they only think about the melodies being different.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 464
    However, they almost never consider the fact Gregorian chant is to be promoted also, if not mostly, because of its texts, especially the Propers of the Mass [...] this could be one of the reason why so many people won't hear about attempts to make vernacular plainsong, because they don't think about the texts being the same [...]
    I think that (at least in German speaking countries - experts anuwhere?) the propers have been losing the battle for more than five centuries. The prohibition to sing translated liturgical texts in the vernacular; so people sang devotional songs instead, and choirs concentrated on the ordinarium and motets (did they?) and the propers were left to the schola. In contrast to the ordinarium, people didn't understand the texts - until they got translations to read along, which on the other hand doesn't foster meditative listening. It's hard for a choirmaster to make people feel in this situation that gregorian chant is the real liturgical music from which anything else is merely derived.

    As a consequence, propers in the vernacular as integral part of the liturgy needed to start from scratch after Vat.II - and wouldn't profit from what was well-known, great liturgical music; let alone the Zeitgeist where 'papal documents say' doesn't equal 'the Church requires'.

    On a personal note, I had no clue what propers were for more than thirty years of mass attendence...
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,084
    Until I joined this site, I didn't know what 'propers' and 'ordinaries' were. I'd never heard the terms.
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  • Elmar
    Posts: 464
    Same (not quite) with me - plus now that I know them, I am certain that I never heard propers sung before joining our re-erected schola in 2009.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw CHGiffen
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,708

    By the way, this could be one of the reason why so many people won't hear about attempts to make vernacular plainsong, because they don't think about the texts being the same, they only tink about the melodies being different.


    well, the first leads to the second. I'm not really interested in shoehorning English onto Latin melodies, and I'm not really interested in fighting over translations, as very little exists as a translation of the Vulgate, of the Septuagint, and of the Vetus Latina (in English or in French) that would please everybody and adequately translate the Mass and office. Doing everything from scratch takes a lot of effort, and while Stanbrook did translate the Roman office, it was only for reciting.

    At that point, I'm sticking to the Latin.

    Also, I think that one reason why people hate chant is that it's performed badly, not just by untrained singers but trained singers whose vocal technique is still too operatic. It's unbearable, and I like chant.
  • I'm not really interested in shoehorning English onto Latin melodies


    Neither am I, but that's hardly the point. The point is not to adapt the text to the melody, but rather to adapt the melody to the text. Which means one has to change the melody to make them suit the text. Mr. Bruce Ford (who is a member of this forum I think) has had some good words about this, following what Canon Douglas wrote in the first half of the 20th Century.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,708
    Yeah, but that gets us back to square one: which text?.

    In any case, and this is my real point, I think that the Palmer-Burgess method of adapting the text to the melody and only rarely vice-versa might be unsuccessful musically, but it acknowledges something important: just losing the authentic melodies is a real problem that advocates of the vernacular basically can't resolve.
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  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,084
    Part of the problem is that people find chant BOOOORING
  • Which text? I might be wrong, but the English-Speaking world has quite a few good English Bibles, among which are the KJV, the DR and the current RSV-2CE (for those who prefer Modern English).
    It will actually be harder for us French, because, while there are plenty of good Bibles (the Bible de Jérusalem and La Bible : traduction officielle liturgique being good examples), few of them are translations from the Septuagint or Vulgate of sufficient literary value. I am working (very slowly) on a translation of the Gallican Psalter into French in order to use it for the Divine Office.

    just losing the authentic melodies is a real problem that advocates of the vernacular basically can't resolve.

    They actually can resolve this question with great ease: yes, the "authentic" melodies, will be lost when adapted to the vernacular, and this is not a problem at all. Purists might regret it, but they will still have the Latin chants available to them and to anyone who wishes to keep praying in Latin.

    Also, I think that one reason why people hate chant is that it's performed badly, not just by untrained singers but trained singers whose vocal technique is still too operatic. It's unbearable, and I like chant.

    I agree with you on this one. How often have I heard: "Yeah, Gregorian chant is good, but only when it is well sung" (which is almost a tautology in my opinion).
  • MarkB
    Posts: 845
    I think Fr. Samuel Weber has done a praiseworthy job in The Proper of the Mass setting the English antiphons to chant melodies that largely adhere to their Latin Gregorian counterparts; that is, in his (i) setting for each antiphon. They sound authentic and what you would expect a Latin chant to sound like. The other settings are simplified, with (iii-iv) being just psalm tones and quite boring, in my opinion, which is why I would never adopt the Ignatius Pew Missal.

    I know of a parish that uses the Ignatius Pew Missal for all the chants, week after week, same psalm tone, and they are led by a loud, operatic, vibrato-singing female cantor. I think it's unbearable, and if that's what people think chant is, then no wonder they hate it because I hate that too.

    I've been chanting Weber's Communion antiphon (setting i or ii) at the start of Communion for eight months, and the number of people who have told me not just that they enjoy it but that it's one of their favorite musical parts of the Mass has surprised me. Many say the chant helps them pray.
  • I think Fr. Samuel Weber has done a praiseworthy job in The Proper of the Mass setting the English antiphons to chant melodies that largely adhere to their Latin Gregorian counterparts; that is, in his (i) setting for each antiphon. They sound authentic and what you would expect a Latin chant to sound like.

    I have heard some of the works by Fr. Weber, and it works really well indeed. The one problem I have with it is he chose to take the Introit and Communion antiphons from the Missal rather than from the Gradual - which is a shame, since the Missal antiphons have been designed for Read Masses, unlike the Gradual antiphons; and these two sets of antiphons are quite different from each other.
  • shoehorning...,,,[?]
    Did you have some examples in mind? Certainly not Palmer-Burgess, or Bruce Ford - then, there is the impeccable work of Winfred Donglas, Canon of Fond du Lac.

    I have heard important chant scholars sneeringly and with a wave of the arm dismiss Englished chant as just words and notes thrown together. These are doubly sad and disappointing because of the stature of the men who do the cynicism, and toss it off also with the most indefensible subjectivity and utter lack of objective thought or investigation that would or would not give some credence to their pompous pontifications.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,063
    Most, though not all, of the Missal Introits are identical with the Gradual Introits.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    Jehan wrote, with regard to Fr. Weber's work:
    The one problem I have with it is he chose to take the Introit and Communion antiphons from the Missal rather than from the Gradual

    This is a lawful option according to the U.S. edition of the GIRM.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • It is an entierely lawful option, but I regret the fact this option exists.
  • One wonders how it got to be a lawful option.
    Singers- oh, we just don't know those Latin antiphons- not even if they are in English. Oh, they are just too hard and we just can't do them. The ones in the missal are soooo easy for us, and them we like.
    Church - well, dear singers, why didn't you say so before??? We certainly want to make everything soooo easy for you, so forget about all that other stuff and just do the ones you like - we really don't care.

    (And, naturally, it now being yet another 'valid option' means that 98% of the people will 'opt' for it - but Rome really doesn't care one way of the other. If it did there would be no options, 'valid' or otherwise - so it obviously doesn't. How certain people just love saying 'well... it is a valid option!'.)
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,063
    GR and GS both provide official Latin Propers. But they illustrate two different uses we might make of the minor Propers. One is to have them as meditative texts sung by specialist singers, the other to have the congregation voice them for themselves. For the EF both are valid approaches, and I think for the processionals probably it is better to use congregational song for the Introit (in line with the purpose expressed by GIRM), and have meditative at Communion.
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,063
    Gregorian chant is not just one thing, is it. The melismatic stuff in the Graduale Romanum is quite different from Office chant, and the Kyriale falls nearer to the latter.
    There is a clear directive from VII to preserve the authentic music of the GR. And you do not preserve music by putting it on the shelf, it has to be performed. IMHO you do not preserve the chant if you translate the text into another language either. Translation will lead to both a change in syllable count, and a reordering of the thought flow, and thus to a poor fit with the tune.
    NB VII also commended polyphony.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    losing the authentic melodies is a real problem
    once you LIVE with the GC week in and week out, there is nothing that can possibly replace or substitute for it... that includes both the Kyriale and the Propers... especially not a vernacular setting. But very few live with it week in and week out to realize what it is in the way I am speaking about... and then to sometimes include the excellence of the NOH accomps then also opens up harmonic realities that bring in another layer of a mystical property. I lived without this almost my entire career, and now that I am immersed in its incredible grandeur I am both thrilled to be in it, and sad to have not always lived in it.

    Polyphony is also wonderful, but it will never equal the greatness of the pure chant itself.

    The chant is not something you can just perform (poorly certainly not), but it cannot just be performed well, it must be prayed from the whole being in order to begin to understand and appreciate what it truly is.

    I would also say that it would be very difficult if not nearly impossible to include the chant in the NO because unlike the TLM, the actions, prayers and music occurs in overlapping layers that promote and allow the flexibility and length of each chant. This aspect of the TLM is one of the most amazing subtleties that promote sacred music in a way that is completely devoid in the NO.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,063
    it must be prayed from the whole being in order to begin to understand and appreciate what it truly is.

    Can that be done in a typical parish, was it ever done in an average parish, by the typical parishoner? (whatever typical or average mean)
    Aquinas: If they understand that we sing for God's glory; but unfortunately they have not been told that, so they think the singing is to express their emotion, or even just to give them pleasure.
    We need to maintain beacons of excellence, and many of them, but also to ensure that nowhere fails to achieve the minimum suggested by Jubilate Deo.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,608
    And yet there were many people who lived with GC week in and week out who ... did not have an insuperable problem with not sticking with that.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    insuperable problem with not sticking with that
    And WHO might they be???? Names?

    I know a “many” just myself... by first hand acquaintance-includes deacons, priests, bishops and more. Means nothing to the point I am making.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,677
    I once had a priest say that chant made his toes curl. Some folks really do dislike it.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    Can that be done in a typical parish, was it ever done in an average parish, by the typical parishoner? (whatever typical or average mean)
    Yes, but the propers are not intended for the congregation... the Kyriale is, and hymns before and after are also options. The congregation is also not expected to sing polyphony. I think this is pretty obvious, yes? Various congregations I have attended sing the Kyriale... very beautifully. However, this requires a musician who sees the instrinsic value of pursuing such a course. Unfortunately, they were all suppressed in the early days of the revolution. But that didn't last long.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,940
    made his toes curl
    ...similar to the scene in the Wizard of Oz?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,708
    I might be wrong, but the English-Speaking world has quite a few good English Bibles, among which are the KJV, the DR and the current RSV-2CE (for those who prefer Modern English).


    Yes, that's just it. The KJV is not a translation of the Vulgate, though it refers to the Vulgate, particularly in the New Testament, the RSV is most certainly not — it explicitly translates from the Hebrew and doesn't even give the Greek text of certain passages in th appendix — and the Douay-Rheims edition is wonderful but I can sort of see why people won't use it, on literary grounds as much as the fact that it's very clearly trad. (This is not a point in favor of the KJV's perceived literary merit as much as it is to say that the D-R has a long editorial history.)

    Purists might regret it, but they will still have the Latin chants available to them and to anyone who wishes to keep praying in Latin.


    I'm not sure why how the Latin could be kept in a meaningful way once the vernacular is introduced, so no, the problem is not resolved. It is simply dismissed.

    As to shoehorning, Palmer-Burgess is fine for what it is, but I stand by what I said.

    I agree with Hawkins and with Francis.

    As to Liam's point, yeah, but so what? Their problems were probably not liturgical at first, they were political, whereas now people have (mostly, not entirely) come to the liturgy then realized there are other problems in the world. I speak not only for myself, but most clearly of myself; I became increasingly trad at the same time that I started to think coherently about liberalism and Catholicism.

    All of this is to say that what a bunch of monks and priests thought from 1945–1965, when vocations were at their highest but when formation was at its worst in many ways, is not really indicative of what singing chant week in and week out today will have.
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