Gregorian Chant

by frankbeswick

The monastic music of the Catholic church is designed to soothe the emotions and is a great help in dealing with stress.

At the English Reformation Gregorian chant, which had been sung in monasteries for centuries was banned as part of the Protestant reformers' determination to rid themselves of all things Catholic. However, in doing so they deprived England of one of the most beautiful kinds of music. After the Catholic church was reinstated in the land the music that had filled European cathedrals and monasteries was restored to the country. But many people do not know it and it is still a minority interest. Its gentle cadences are intended to calm the nerves and soothe the soul.

Monastic hours

Gregorian Chant,sometimes known as plain chant, is always in Latin.It is geared around the liturgy, the formal public worship of the Catholic church, in particular what are known as the monastic hours, although they are not an hour long and can vary in duration. They are the times of the day when monks sing the divine praises. Some chant forms part of mass. The hours are as follows:

Matins: early morning, after which is meditation and mass

Lauds: Prayers before breakfast

Prime [now combined with Lauds]

Terce : Mid morning, the third hour

Sext: at the sixth hour

None: the ninth hour [pronounce the second letter as hope]

Vespers: Early evening, known by Anglicans as Evensong and combining some elements of compline.

Compline: the night time prayer. This is particularly beautiful.

Plain chant is always sung in monophone, that means that there is no descant or harmonies and that the music is simple. This is intentional, as it is meant to be part of an emotionally simple life focused upon the one goal of seeking God. The liturgical hours are sometimes known as divine office. In the course of a week all one hundred and fifty psalms in the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament are sung.

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Psychological benefits of chant

Plainchant is intended to soothe the spirit. The gentle cadences are intended to have a psychologically calming effect on the mind and to inspire the spirit to gentleness and tranquillity. Particularly at night, when the monastery is settling down, they prepare you for Magnum Silentium, the great silence, which is the soundless time between last and first prayers intended for quiet reflection and deep sleep. Having experienced Magnum Silentium preceded by a plain chant evening compline, regularly over a period of years, I can testify to the powerful influence for good that it has on the spirit.

Lay people often benefit from chant. I find that it is psychologically calming. I have particularly found it useful when dealing with the strain of a persistent, but occasional medical problem. I suffer from occasional, but intense palpitations, when my heart runs too fast, which is uncomfortable and a bit scary .It is connected with stress. It has not happened much recently, but I have been known to retreat into a dark room to lie down with a cassette of Gregorian chant when a palpitation is happening. The chant has a calming  influence which can counter the stress and anxiety that can bring on an attack. Similarly a stressful day when you are worked up by excessive pressures in your job needs some gentle music to calm you, and plain chant can serve this function. You do not need to understand the Latin, as the music is what soothes.

If you want to use  music as a background for meditation Gregorian chant can serve you well. Sitting in a quiet chamber and letting the mind go blank to the accompaniment of gentle, beautiful song creates an ideal environment for meditation to happen.Do you need to be a Christian to value or use this music? Not at all. I cannot speak for non-Christians, but many of them, even some atheists, love the beauty of Catholic liturgical music, particularly Gregorian chant and are welcome to enjoy it.

Plain chant

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Music reflects the soul of its composer and is chosen to reflect the spiritual feelings of those who sing it and listen to it. It is the language of the soul. To choose to sing or listen to plainchant is to opt for tranquillity. It is the product of gentle and calm souls focused upon spiritual things, and in this music they invite you to journey with them, following in their wake as they move forward in serenity towards the ultimate.

Not all monastic chant available on disc is by males, though much is. Some chant uses women's voices, as the nuns also sing it, and it is equally beautiful, though I must say that having attended a service where nuns were singing compline, it was too high for my voice, and as the only male there I stood out a bit.

Chant is the antithesis of rock and heavy metal, which have their place, though not in my music library. But there is no truth in the saying that the devil has the best tunes.


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Updated: 12/03/2013, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick 12 days ago

I think that nuns might have Some tunescof their own, but in my experience males and females share the same hymns.

DerdriuMarriner 12 days ago

Online sources associate Gregorian chant more with monks than with nuns. They describe nuns as chanting Gregorian-ly only if their order is Benedictine.

Is that true also of monks who preserve Gregorian chant?

frankbeswick on 07/16/2022

I don't want to single out any one psalm, as different psalms appeal to different people, and as I use a tablet for my divine office, I can only pull out the psalms of the day. It would be different if I had a breviary. I use the office as provided on-line by Catholic Exchange. I do like compline, the night prayer, so if you want to pull some psalms out of compline you will get a taste of night time in a monastery or convent.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/15/2022

frankbeswick, Thank you for practical information and product lines.

The computer doesn't cooperate with small images such as the one to the left of your title. What is the image of?

In particular, I like your information in the subheading Monastic hours. It must be quite an experience to take part in such a divinely beautiful schedule.

All the psalms please me. But I prefer -- albeit by just a bit -- some more than others.

Which psalms would you say render themselves most beautifully during the monastic hours by which all 150 are performed?

Veronica on 06/13/2015

I have two Gregorian chant CDs and I agree that they are marvellous for de-stressing and calming the nerves. If you go to the ruined Abbeys in Yorkshire they sometimes have Gregorian chants playing while you walk round the ruins. IT's so atmospheric and a marvellous experience.
An excellent post.

ologsinquito on 12/29/2013

I'm pinning this to My Wizzley Writing Board.

frankbeswick on 12/27/2013

Thanks, Emma.

I sang some chant to my dying father, as he went through his final two days of life, slowly slipping away. He had loved it all his life [and could understand the Latin.] He showed some response and I know that he appreciated it. It gave him some peace as he was passing.

cmoneyspinner on 12/04/2013

Your summary statement says it all. The music definitely has psychological benefits.

jptanabe on 12/04/2013

Great article on Gregorian chant. I used to think chant was boring, but then I listened and found it really beautiful, and as you say soothing. As far as rock music goes, there are some really great songs that move me, even saved my sanity in times of struggle. The devil only gets the best if we let him!

RupertTaylor on 12/03/2013

On the devil's music, I am reminded that the founder of the Salvation Army quoted George Whitefield as saying "Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?"
I'm with you on rock and roll Frank, whether it's of the heavy metal, grunge, or punk persuasion. It's not music it's just noise. Actually, it's bloody awful noise.

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