Gregorian chant, in the understanding of the Church, is the Word of God in sonorous form. The Church itself, by declaring it "the proper chant of Roman liturgy" (SC 116), has provided it with an ecclesial quality, classifying it in a category of judgment that transcends the purely artistic dimension: the Church, in essence, claims its ownership. This firm position, this "going beyond", must make us reflect: what presents itself to us as a musical repertoire, an artistic product albeit of enormous dimensions, the Catholic Church makes sure to firmly put its seal on. The Church has never identified itself in a work of art, in a page of music, in an architectural style: its tradition is the result of the incessant relationship with the culture of all times, but without the exclusive identification with any particular art form. Yet, on Gregorian chant , the Church has somehow forfeited its generally balanced stances, clearly overcoming any purely artistic-cultural mindset as clearly insufficient to define the quality of an evidently anomalous relationship. The key to reading this apparent anomaly lies precisely in the foundational relationship between the Word of God and the Church. "His" is the interpretation of Sacred Scripture: an interpretation, an exegesis, an understanding that finds sound and communication in Gregorian chant through musical forms and styles which, in turn, identify precise liturgical contexts. And it is precisely the liturgical connotation that underlies a rich musical diversification in the composition of a repertoire as varied as it is boundless. Our proposed program touches a consistent specimen of the various expressive forms which the ancient medieval monody is nourished by: from the cantillation of the lectio to the syllabic antiphons, from the hymns to the responsorial forms, from the sequences to the tropes of the chants of introit. But the "fil-rouge" of the entire program consists of the offertories, here proposed without the solistic versicles (which were, in ancient times, regularly performed). These are "ear-catching" compositions, which are essentially distinguishable by their musical exuberance. The ornate style is their expressive feature: a compositional and executive virtuosity, largely free from strictly formal logics - which instead regulate the chants between the readings (graduale, tractus, alleluia) - drawing original melodies of extraordinary richness and playful expressiveness up to the extreme limits of ornamentation and invention. A "response" to the Word that becomes a true "offer" and which, as such, intends to present the best of its expressive peculiarities.
With the Apostolic Letter Porta fidei, dated October 11th, 2011, the Holy Father Benedict XVI announced a Year of Faith, beginning on October 11th, 2012 and ending on November 24th, 2013 (the Solemnity of Christ the King). The beginning of the Year of faith coincides with the memory of two major events that have marked the face of the Church in our days: the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (October 11th, 1962) and the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (October 11, 1992). On proposed program traces an itinerary marked by Gregorian chant, articulated in six points, each of which symbolically identifies the salient stages of the journey of faith transmitted by the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Starting from the Trinitarian faith, we proceed our path on the faith of the Virgin Mary. Finally we will, via the tale St. Thomas's doubt, elaborate on the faith of men (evangelical episode on the healing of a man who was born blind) and the faith of the apostle Peter, on which the faith of the entire ecclesial community is based. It is in fact the Church which, in the singing of the Creed - at the conclusion of the program, joyfully proclaims its faith in the Lord.
Since the beginning of the Church, Mary has been at the center of the attention of believers: the disciples of the Lord looked up to her, feeling lost after the dark hours of the Calvary and stunned by the dazzling light of the Easter resurrection; she was referred to by converts from Judaism who saw not only the Messiah but also the daughter of Zion materialize in history; to her the Alexandrian communities devoted their prayers, while seeing her as the true mother of God announced to the fathers of ancient Egypt in the figure of Isis.
The early Christian culture, in its final period, sings the glory of Mary by concentrating hopes and dreams in it, recovering nostalgia and promises, in a not always clear entanglement between orthodox theological propositions and images evoked by paganism and superstition; sometimes, heterogeneous layers overlap and, beyond their relevance and objectivity, nevertheless reveal a passionate enthusiasm and a warm filial love for Her, whom the Church recognizes as its mother.
In this climate, the exuberant flourishing of Marian literature, especially in the field of poetry and music, is understandable. Typical is the hymn "Ave, maris stella" - once attributed to Venanzio Fortunato - with its overwhelming sequence of evocative images that recall the dangers of life, but open the heart to the certainty that when Mary welcomed of the Angel's salutation "Ave", the human destiny which had been gravely affected by Eve was overturned. It is also no surprise that our proposed program addressed various pages of Psalm 44 (45), with its reflection on salvation and on the explicitly feminine theme. Five more chants are proposed: as many theological and musical variations on the co-redemptive features of Mary - an attentive auditor of the Word that comes to life and constantly works in Her, while impregnating Her with a beauty which spreads a new sense of human existence everywhere.
The originality of a single and identical Psalm Word each time it is re-read is shown by the two versions of the same text ("Diffusa est gratia"), turned into a simple antiphon of communion first, and into an offertory responsory second, in which the magnitude of the vocalize on " saeculum speculi" seems be aiming towards expanding the historical space and immersing the blessed by God - headed by Mary - in the eternity of the Creator. It is already an anticipation of the eschatological perspective sung by the visionary of the Apocalypse, of which some particularly incisive statements can be heard in the subsequent lectio.
Destiny of full opposition, that of Mary of Nazareth, which closely follows that of her Son without withdrawing from the trial of the Cross. And it is the destiny of the joyful and suffering Church that is reflected, for example, in the two sequences "Ave mundi spes Maria" and the more famous "Stabat mater dolorosa" which still accompanies the pious meditations of the Crucis to the present day. And in the wider world of popular devotion, full citizenship has always been awarded to the last two Marian songs, the antiphons "Alma redemptoris mater" and "Salve regina", which for centuries have concluded the liturgical prayer of the Church every day at the end of compline.
The Church has always been the guardian and interpreter of Sacred Scripture. The mystery of Incarnation is at the center of its reflection and at the heart of its faith. Gregorian chant explains such faith and lays its roots in the exegetical tradition of the sacred texts formed in the patristic context. The "sound" of Gregorian chant repeats the "meaning" that the Church intended to assign to those texts, proclaimed in the Holy Liturgy with different styles and forms but with equal solemnity and noble rhetorical art. The juxtaposition of Gregorian chant with the texts of St. Augustine therefore appears as appropriate as it is necessary and illuminating to fully grasp the most authentic matrix of a liturgical-musical repertoire that the Church has made its own and that the European musical culture has laid as the foundation of its well-planned secular path.
The centenary of the death of St. Gregory the Great (604-2004) offers a significant starting point for reflection on the decisive contribution that his distinguished personality was able to provide not only to the ecclesial institution, but to the entire Western culture. Medieval spirituality recognized an absolute point of reference in the figure of St. Gregory: the chant of the liturgy itself, although not composed by him, gains authority by the very fact of being defined as "Gregorian". On the other hand, Gregorian chant strongly recalls the character of St. Benedict, who in the first half of the sixth century gave origin to his own monastic order and hence to an extraordinary monastic experience, in which the Gregorian took shape and was kept as an inestimable treasure of the Church and a symbol of unity for the entire Christian Europe. It is no coincidence that Gregory is concerned with writing a "Life of St. Benedict", not to trace a historical profile, but rather to acknowledge his being a "man of God", thus discovering in him a humanism that essentially promises to be a "total reconstruction of man". This, in fact, has been the case in the fruits his philosophy has reaped throughout Europe. The program proposed here alternates passages from the Gregorian repertoire - referring to these two giants of the Western spiritual and cultural tradition - with readings of textual fragments taken from Gregory's literary work "Life of St. Benedict".
"I beg you before God and Christ Jesus ...: proclaim the word, insist on every opportune and not opportune occasion" (2Tim.4,1). Thus Paul addresses Timothy in his latest "solemn recommendations", placing the value of the proclamation of the Word before the concrete situation of the announcement.
An inopportune occasion, that is an extra-liturgical context, does not cancel out the dimension of the proclamation if it occurs in the encounter with the Word: the Word overcomes situations and Gregorian chant, "liturgy of the Word", remains in any case the "sound of the Word "even if deprived of its cultic matrix.
This program focuses its attention on the meditation that Gregorian chant has reserved for the Pauline texts, from which it has drawn with a certain parsimony and with masterly wisdom. Although it is not possible, through this singular path, to draw a complete picture of the overflowing richness of Paul's letters, the succession of passages clearly brings out some of the central themes of the life and preaching of the apostle to the peoples, from his conversion ( Ant. Saule, Saule) at the conclusion of his unique and painful experience of faith (Resp. Bonum certamen).
But it is the paschal event of the Risen Crucifix that constantly imposes itself as the absolute center of his story and of his thoughts; it is precisely in the paradox of the cross, in the extreme abandonment of Christ and in his resurrection, that Paul sees man's destiny of salvation. The death and resurrection of Christ, never separated, reveal the truth about the man who is grafted by grace and faith into the very life of God in Christ. In him we live (Ant. Mihi vive), in him we suffer and die (In Nos autem gloriari ... in cruce), in him we are resurrected (Co Si consurrexisti), by him we are clothed (Co Omnes qui in Christo) and nourished (Co Hoc corpus).
Paul's message is the knowledge, indeed, the "overknowledge" of Christ, understood not as a pure intellectual or philosophical exercise, but exactly on the contrary, as a synonym of "charitas", that is, of love (Ant. Maneant in vobis, In Caritas Of the). Indeed, those who sing Gregorian are convinced that the ancient and anonymous musical codices are nothing more than a high and concrete expression of love for the Word.
The interpretation based on those codices wants to meditate on those texts in the same way and tends to give, as less unworthily as possible, an answer in tune.
"Iste est Johannes" is a meditation on John's Gospel through Gregorian chant. The program is composed of chants, very varied in compositional style, whose text is taken from or directly inspired by the Gospel of John. The narrative itinerary, which follows the Gospel text in an orderly manner, is also conceived according to a path through the varied musical forms of Gregorian chant. This gives such program considerable interest and a great variety of expression, while also managing to make the listener clearly grasp the "common thread" that runs through the collection of the proposed chants. Gregorian chant realizes a real lectio divina out of the Johannine text. In turn, the fourth Gospel is substantially configured as a meditation on the first three synoptic Gospels; we can therefore speak of "lectio inside the lectio", that is, an operation that deeply investigates the significance of the texts, absorbing their infinite resonances. The overwhelming light that emanates from it generates the mystery and amazes anyone who can at least understand how the thin thread of a monody supports and dares to "explain" the ineffable. The cantor becomes a servant of the Word, and with him so does the choir in a common sacrificium vocis which does not admit "polyphonies" and which associates all those who adhere with their minds and hearts.
The program begins with a presentation of evangelist's figure, Christ's beloved disciple (Iste est Johannes), after which the themes and salient moments of the Gospel itself are developed: from the essential function of the Baptist (Fuit homo) to miracles, or, better, to the "signs" of Cana (Nuptiae factae sunt), of the man born blind (Lutum fecit) and of Lazarus (Videns Dominus flentes); the crucial moment of the program, as well as of the Gospel, is the Mandatum novum, presented here with a series of short syllabic antiphons "Ad lotionem pedum", belonging to the liturgy of Holy Thursday. At this moment, thorugh John's glance, we are witnessing the maximum "lowering" of Christ, who from now on will dominate events and, in the eyes of the now mature believer, will appear as the real winner in the following, dramatic turn of events. John, in fact, reinterprets the same Passion as a paradoxical but real fulfillment of the Scriptures: the wood of the cross is the place of the King Messiah's definitive enthronement, as well as the "consummatum est" is the inauguration of the new covenant under the sign of the Spirit. And right on the cross Christ dies "pouring out the Spirit" (Veni sancte spiritus). Easter joy (Haec dies) is not separated from the sign of the nails that move the incredulous Thomas (Mitte manum tuam) to faith. The program concludes with the hymn Te saeculorum principem, placed by the liturgy on the feast of Christ the King. The Gospel of the "in the beginning", which narrates the royalty of the "Word who became flesh" as an echo of the more ancient (Gen 1,1) "in the beginning ", finds in Gregorian chant a faithful guardian and an illustrious interpreter.
"Quatuor Tempora" means "Four seasons" and designates, in the liturgical language - albeit in the different modes of historical evolution - the first Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of each season. Such days were characterized by prayer and fasting: the liturgical texts are a plea to God and thanks for man's work, activities and industriousness. We therefore find the appreciation of the passing of times read in the light of man's work and in his relationship with God.
The concert program draws on the tradition of Gregorian chant through the choice of chants specifically intended for these occasions: third week of Advent (Winter), first Sunday of Lent (Spring), week after Pentecost (Summer), third Sunday of September (Fall). The pieces on the program are alternated with sacred readings taken from the same liturgical tempora.
Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Matthæum.
Tunc venit Jesus cum illis in villam, quæ dicitur Gethsemani, et dixit discipulis suis : “Sedete hic, donec vadam illuc et orem”. Et assumpto Petro et duobus filiis Zebedæi, cœpit contristari et mæstus esse. Tunc ait illis : “Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem : sustinete hic, et vigilate mecum”.
Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
Then Jesus came with them to a farm, called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples: "Sit here, while I go over there to pray." And I took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to feel sadness and anguish. He told them, “My soul is sad until death; stay here and watch with me ”. (26.36-38)
Father, in your foreknowledge you know everything before it is
and when it is
you watch it be with your inscrutable gaze.
How far away is the anguish that oppresses me.
The anguish you see on my face
and in my heart is that of presentiment.
Everything is understandable to you: this too;
yet I doubt sometimes
that this suffering does not reach you
then I immediately repent of this
because I know your mercy.
Father what is going to happen that has not already been for you?
What is this dismay?
There is, within time, something that ails me,
time belongs to humans, for them you created it,
you gave them to create it, to inaugurate epochs, to close them.
You know time, but you don't share it.
From the depths of time I tell you: time's sadness
is strong and invincible in man.
HYMNUS - Rerum Deus
ANT - Non in solo pane
ANT – Aquam quam ego dedero
ANT – Ego dæmonium non habeo
ANT – Lutum fecit
ANT – Videns Dominus
HYMNUS - Celsae salutis
ANT - Hosanna Filio David
ANT - Pueri Hebraeorum
GR - Christus factus est
OF - Improperium
ANT - Ubi caritas
HYMNUS - Pange lingua
TR - Domine exaudi
LECTIO - Passio Domini nostri (Io 19,25-30)
RESP - Tenebrae factae sunt
SEQ - Stabat mater
CANT - Vinea facta est
IN - Alleluia. Haec dies
Ad Missam in vigilia
IN - Hodie scietis
SEQ - Laetabundus
Ad Missam in nocte
IN - Dominus dixit
GR - Tecum principium
AL - Dominus dixit
CO - In splendoribus
ANT - Hodie Christus natus est
Ad Missam in die
IN - Puer natus
AL - Dies santificatus
Lectio Sancti Evangelii (Jo 1,1-14)
OF – Tui sunt caeli
CO - Viderunt omnes
RESP - Puer natus
In Epiphania Domini
IN - Ecce advenit
GR - Omnes de Saba
AN - Videntes stellam
The Earth theme is, first and foremost, one of the most heartfelt subjects in the Scriptures, which teaches us, from the very beginning of the Genesis, that Man and Earth are placed by God in close relationship with him and with each other. The Man is molded from the Earth, made of "dust from the ground" until God blows His spirit into him. In open controversy against every ancient and new myth that sacralizes the Earth goddess as an ancestral mother figure, the biblical wisdom here reminds us that the Man is earthy, short-lived: a fragile fruit of the Earth though not a child of it because he was created by God. Far from every idolatry, Israel does not celebrate the Earth in itself: everything is a means and a reference that leads back to the One from whom everything comes.
All the institutions and events of salvation are gifts of the powerful breath of God who, since the creation of man, continues to fertilize this land and its history, making it live and relive, beyond its every possibility.
While following the Christological itinerary of the liturgical year in the company of Gregorian chant, we cannot fail to notice how, in the choice of the texts entrusted to the exegesis of the liturgical chant proper, the Church has intended to sow and grow, in this long journey, the theme of the Earth as intimately linked to the intentionality of God.
We see this concept already underlined in the Communio of the first Sunday of Advent, Dominus dabit benignitatem: Dominus (the Lord) is the protagonist, from whom the entirety of the antiphon originates: the Earth "will give its fruit" (et terra nostra dabit fructum suum) precisely because the Lord "will give his good". Psalm 84, from which the text of this communio is taken, also resounds in the offertory of the third Sunday of Advent with its second verse: Benedixisti Domine terram tuam, where the musical underlining on terram is subordinated to the divine blessing, cited precisely in the chant opening.
The Man-Earth binomial, widely developed in the Old Testament, finds its solution in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation of God, in fact, manifests its irreversible link to God's saving plan. The Son of God, the Word through which everything was made (as the prologue of John's Gospel states) becomes Man, which is why the earth welcomes no longer a concept but a Person: no longer justice, but the Righteous who realizes it; no longer salvation, but the Savior. This is what is proclaimed, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, with the introit Rorate coeli, whose original text (taken from Isaiah) was in some way forced by Jerome into a Christological interpretation. In this way, the reality of the "gift of God", which the Old Testament had identified with the "gift of the Earth", is transferred to the person of Christ. Paul's letter to the Galatians will tell us, in chapter 3, that the inheritance of believers, is He (Christ) rather than a land.
This leads to the Christmas masses, where the theme of the Earth is cited in every Offertory with ample emphasis: Laetentur coeli et exsultet terra from the Night Mass and from the offertory of the Mass of the day, Tui sunt coeli et tua est terra.
The Mass on Christmas Day is the context in which this theme becomes more present: first in the Alleluia Dies sanctificatus (hodie descendit lux magna super terram), but above all in the communio, whose is taken from Psalm 97: Viderunt omnes fines terrae salutare Dei nostri ("All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God"). In this regard, it is worth noting the emphasis which is given precisely to terrae in the first part of the chant.
With the Epiphany, the theme of the earth is accompanied by the themes of gift and adoration. However, it should be noted that adoration does not only concern the Magi, kings of the earth and of the peoples (as the passages of the chants, Omnes de Saba and Vidimus stellam): the earth itself, the whole earth, is in fact called to worship the Lord. On the second Sunday after Epiphany (today II Sunday in Ordinary Time) the introit draws the text from Psalm 65: Omnis terra adoret te, Deus ("all the earth adore you, O God"). The strong musical emphasis (both melodic and rhythmic) is precisely on the verb: the whole earth is called to adore God, in resonance with the manifestation and royalty celebrated a few days earlier, on the solemnity of the Epiphany.
It is curious that even at Easter the theme of the earth is highlighted: even the offertory of the Mass of the day begins with this word, combined with the two successive verbs of opposite sign: terra tremuit et quievit, dum resurgeret in iudicio Deus ("The earth trembled and became quiet"): the event of the Resurrection shakes the earth and the phrasing put in place by the Gregorian is all projected to the second part of the antiphon and to the concluding alleluias.
The Easter season, as is well known, is the time of the alleluia, that is, of jubilation and announcement. The earth also participates in it, and every Easter Sunday, after Sunday in albis, contains this invitation in its proprium chants, in particular in the introits. This is the case for the joyful introduction of the third Sunday, with the text of Psalm 65: Iubilate Deo omnis terra ("The whole earth raises voices of jubilation to God").
Earth's jubilation, however, finds its root and reason in the mercy, with which the Lord has filled the earth itself. Thus the introit of the fourth Sunday of Easter tells us, with the text of Psalm 32: Misericordia Domini plena est terra ("the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord").
After the themes of preparation, adoration, mercy and jubilation, here is finally that of announcement: the announcement extended to the ends of the earth: Vocem iucunditatis annuntiate… ("Proclaim the announcement of joy and be heard; announce to the ends of the earth that the Lord freed his people"). The "ends of the earth" coincide musically with the acute bound of the melody, achieved with a very elaborate compositional style.
The famous introit Spiritus Domini on the day of Pentecost summarizes this journey, assuring us that "the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole earth".
What is left to us is to narrate the wonders of the Lord (Narrabo omnia mirabilia tua), rejoice and sing his name.