Young people sing the praises of liturgical music

They wanted to make their voices heard. To show that the beauty of liturgical chant is an important part of their faith.

Jun 13, 2016

FRANCE: They wanted to make their voices heard. To show that the beauty of liturgical chant is an important part of their faith. And they succeeded. On May 28-some 29,471 young Catholic choir members gathered in the immense, newly renovated Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Grenoble (France), for a weekend dedicated to liturgical music.

It would have been difficult not to hear them considering the basilica's extremely reverberant acoustics, maybe not the best choice for such a large gathering of singers. But this did nothing to mar the quality of song led by the participants, nearly all active in their own parish choirs.

Ecclesia Cantic, in fact, was born of a paradox. This gathering of students and young professionals is the brainchild of Sebastien Barasinski, 38, a man who freely admits to his musical ignorance. But this consultant from Grenoble realized that singing really means something to the younger generation.

The large turnout at this first edition proves him right. Participants came first and foremost to perfect their vocal technique and the art of being a cantor — the official term for the person who leads song during Mass.

"Poor singing prevents me from praying," insists Sophie, 33 years old. "Musical beauty may not be at the heart of our faith, but it is the showcase," she said.

"A well-sung Mass creates a natural flow into prayer," said Alban, 25, a software designer and member of the St. John Paul II choir in Paris. "One song intoned by four voices changes everything for me," said Maelle, 28, a pediatric nurse and member of the same choir.

Marie-Pascale, 29, from Roanne, speaks ironically about these songs, which "don’t say anything, where everyone is holding hands, the sun rises and the mountain is beautiful." This "sugarcoated" piety, to use the words of Benedictine Patrick Pretot, monk from the Pierre-qui-Vire Abbey, former director of the Higher Institute of Liturgy at the Catholic Institute of Paris and director of the review La Maison-Dieu, is a pitfall young people want to avoid.

Things are looking up according to many participants, especially those from large cities who have noticed a new momentum behind liturgical music in their parish. "We are lucky," said Quentin, a 22-year-old medical student from Lille. "The quality of the songs is really improving."

Throughout the exceptionally sunny weekend, there were conferences, Masses and missionary concerts in the streets of Grenoble. In the master classes, participants could discover the subtleties of Gregorian chant, be initiated to the rich variety of the Liturgy of the Hours, or pick up a few hints for leading song during Mass: how to clearly indicate the beat, ensure that the congregation does not slow down, speed up, or transpose the key of the melody; stay in tune and tempo with the organist who cannot always hear the singers.

Brother Pretot warns against the temptation to make Mass into an aesthetic object: "Singing in the liturgy is not an artistic performance but a spiritual act and a communal activity. It is not the secret garden of a musical elite, but also something for babies, the elderly who can no longer sing and handicapped people who yell."

The Benedictine monk reminded the young people that the Second Vatican Council urges all Catholics to sing the liturgical songs, a tradition that fell somewhat out of favor after the 16th century. Yet the Constitution on the Divine Liturgy states that participants should not be "mute spectators." Church choirs must avoid the temptation to be the only ones singing during Mass, taking liturgy beyond aesthetic considerations.

Encouraged by the event's success, the organizing team has already announced that a 2017 edition will be held in Paris. And next time it will be under the direction of Martin Szersnovicz, lawyer and religious song composer.--Global Pulse

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