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Cosj CHOIR and in chorum

Music Director & Director of Marketing: Rebekah Wu

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The Evocative Power of Chant

by Fr. Joseph Homick, COSJ

As the experience has been recounted in ancient times, we should be unable to tell if we are in Heaven or on Earth when entering a church wherein divine rituals and sacred chant are being offered to the Most High God. Here at the COSJ monastery, we are trying to recapture some of that ever-ancient, ever-new mysticism of divine worship and make it available to all who wish (as is said in the Byzantine Liturgy) to lay aside all earthly cares in order to sing the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-creating Trinity.

The Tradition of the Church is a living, Spirit-breathed Tradition, bearing the heritage of Christ through all ages, as the Church profoundly expresses her mystery as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Within this Tradition, Gregorian chant stands out as a time-tested means of expressing and holding aloft the treasures of divine worship, in such a way that it is not even necessary to fully understand the Latin in order to be carried on the wings of the sacred chant to the very gates of Heaven.

In the Western world, Gregorian chant is an antidote to the loss of the sense of the holy, a malady which has afflicted our culture on almost all levels. This is why we have so much to offer to anyone who may be longing to discover the Face of God. Many people who first come here have not experienced sacred chant in the Mass, and they are moved and exhilarated by its beauty and evocative power. They also are not aware that Vatican II stated: “the Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as especially suited to the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116).

The fruits are rich when we worship the Lord while breathing an atmosphere of angelic chants and hymns. Mu sic has power to shape emotions, to direct thoughts, and to stir hidden depths in the
soul. The power of music can be used for good or evil, but in Gregorian chant, music has been taken up into the realm of the Holy, and thus it reaches its loftiest goal.
It has been said that Gregorian chant can neither be properly sung nor understood outside of the context of prayer and worship.

In my own experience, the music of the chant (even when I can’t attend to the words because I am praying the prayers of the Mass at the altar) enhances my faith and experience of the Divine Mysteries. Chant helps bring light from Heaven into the heart of prayer. When I lift up the host at the offertory, saying, Suscipe, Sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus, hanc immaculatam hostiam..., and my soul is permeated by ancient hymns that have been sung by saints for centuries, my spirit seems to rise like incense before the throne of the thrice-holy God.

The power of the chant has a way of parting the veil that enshrouds the heavenly Mysteries, ordinarily accessible only through naked faith. Something happenswhen the chant enters the ears of the soul, and it makes us tremble to realize with hitherto unknown clarity: Yes, it is true; He is here! Or rather, we are transported there, where the Lord sits at the right hand of the Father, where the Queen reigns and the saints and angels engage in their exquisite blend of prostrate reverence and ecstatic joy. Then every word we have ever read about the Incarnate God suddenly takes flesh and is illumined with Uncreated Light bursting from the wounds of the Crucified, and the tears of wonder, gratitude, and unabashed worship can barely be restrained.

That is why we at the COSJ are making great efforts at great expense to insure that we have beautiful and powerful chant at our Masses. We must “give the Lord the glory due his name” (Ps. 95:8) and allow Him to take us mystically where He is, “having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know...what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable
greatness of his power in us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19).

Mater Dolorosa Catholic Parish // 307 Willow Ave, South San Francisco, CA 94080