James MacMillan, the Catholic composer, and Fr Guy Nicholls, founder of the Newman Institute of Liturgical Music in Birmingham, addressed a meeting of around fifty choir directors and chant experts at the second biennial meeting of the Gregorian Chant Network at the London Oratory on 18 February, sponsored financially by the Latin Mass Society.
The Network, which was founded two years ago by the Latin Mass Society, Una Voce Scotland, the Association for Latin Liturgy, the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge and dozens of Chant scholas across England and Wales, aims to promote greater knowledge of, and expertise in, the Church’s most ancient musical form with the aim of fostering its wider use in the Catholic liturgy.
Dr MacMillan was the principal speaker and addressed the meeting about the role of music in the Church’s cultural patrimony. He recalled that, as a young boy, he had attended what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and noticed that, ‘the sense of beauty, the sense of sacred awe, was umbilically connected to the music.’ He observed that beauty as a concept had largely been lost from contemporary Church music. Indeed it had been accompanied by the abandonment of any objective notion of beauty at all. This fitted in with a widespread liturgical trend, namely, celebrations of Mass that have become self-preoccupied and centred on the notion of self-expression; a liturgy that too often focuses on community rather than the divine. In Dr MacMillan’s experience, the singing of Gregorian Chant had helped priests and their congregations to recover their focus on what was important in the Mass – that sense of beauty and the sacred.
Fr Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory, gave the meeting a brief but fascinating update on the progress achieved at the Newman Institute of Music, which was established in the wake of the Holy Father’s visit to Britain, and which was dedicated to meeting the musical needs of both clergy and laity.
The meeting was chaired by Dr Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society, who reported on the activities of the Gregorian Chant Network over the past two years and looked forward to further success in the months to come.
The very successful gathering concluded with Vespers in the Little Oratory, led by Fr Andrew Southwell, the Latin Mass Society’s National Chaplain.
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