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