Monday, December 10, 2012

Gregorian Chant and the Moral Formation of Children

As children grow into adolescence and adulthood, they face many moral challenges. When navigated well, in keeping with the sound moral judgment of the Church and the inner light of conscience, these moral challenges are like vaults, raising people higher. But navigating well is difficult. The traps are many, and serious, and few avoid them completely.

St Therese of Lisieux was one of the lucky few who avoided the worst difficulties of adolescence. She attributed this to her upbringing, and she was grateful, and attributed this to God’s mercy. She compared her life to that of the daughter of a doctor. If the daughter of a doctor tripped over a stone, fell and broke her leg, her doctor-father could heal her, and that is one kind of mercy. But if her father saw the rock in the path ahead, and removed it, that is another kind of mercy, and the kind that she best knew in her own life.
I believe that the Church has a few golden years of opportunity when working with children, from the ages of perhaps 5-10, to give them a valuable aid to moral formation: Gregorian chant. During these years, children learn quickly. They memorize easily, and retain what they have learned for life. It has been my experience working with adult choirs that have not sung chant before, that the oldest members remember the chants they learned as children.
Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote, “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not,—like some well in a retired and shady place, difficult of access.” No human teacher can give the Christian this peace. It is the gift of sanctifying grace, the divine indwelling, the interior place by which God makes the human body His own temple. God Himself gives this grace, through the Church, in the waters of baptism. We cannot make it, but I believe we can foster a child’s personal access to God in the soul by helping them to be present to this divine gift from their youth, through Gregorian chant.
Probably everyone who has taught chant to the young has seen a child drift away and stop singing, not through laziness or inattention, but with a kind of otherworldly focus, or contemplation. I consider this to be a moral formation of a very high type, a touchstone in the life of grace that will not easily be tempted away, and which, after a fall, will make return to health much easier.
And for those of us who have already passed through the trials of adolescence, for better or worse, it is not too late. The morning is the childhood of the day. Waking up, rousing ourselves to chant to God our morning praises will lead us peacefully through the day, and into night.
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