Sunday, February 8, 2015

Unlocking the Treasury's Doors

The other evening, noticing the indescribably beautiful green-blue of the sky below a ridge of cloud in the late afternoon, I was struck with a rare (for me) impulse to paint, to in some degree capture the beauty of what I was seeing. It was the kind of moment when Monet's paintings of haystacks makes perfect sense, his desire to capture light and color, to hold nature's time still in its moments.

The urge to be a first-rate visual artist is something most of us can never accomplish. Most of our drawings and paintings will always be puerile. The visual arts are given to a rare few. Which is one more reason--as if there weren't enough already, on the moral and religious and intellectual levels--to consider the teaching of Gregorian Chant to children to be the very best possible use of pastoral time, outside of the Liturgy itself. Full stop.

During the low points of chant's liturgical usage during the second half of the last century, the study of chant was kept alive in the music departments of universities. This is because Gregorian Chant is first-rate musical art. Not only is it intensely suitable for liturgical prayer and moral formation, but it is also genius-level art, worthy of lifetimes of rigorous study.

And, it is accessible to all.

For children in particular, Gregorian Chant is particularly suitable. Developmentally, unless they are particularly gifted in math and music, children usually struggle to harmonize. But chant, as a single horizontal line of music, can be mastered, step by step.

No one would give an eight year old an original Monet to touch and look at from every angle, in order to be formed in the art of drawing. But a five year old can hold on to a Kyrie, a six year old can remember a Marian antiphon, an eight year old can be given an Introit, and a nine year old can make an Offertory antiphon his or her own. The music's contours and shadings are not only knowable, but singable, and thus internalized. The prayer of the Church becomes the heritage, in a strong sense, of its youngest members, to stay theirs through their lives and into eternity.

The older brothers of one of my young chanters once complained to me that their little brother--now in high school but then a small boy--sang the Salve Regina all the time.

And isn't that great? Is there any reason to keep our children from this treasure?