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Ancient Advent Chant to Ring in the New Year

The First Sunday of Advent begins a new liturgical year. There are many rich ways the Church inaugurates another year, but one widespread custom in the late Middle Ages is ever ancient, ever new. This November 28 at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Masses each before the Introit (Ad te levavi), our Schola Cantorum will sing these verses in Latin:

When the most holy Gregory poured out prayers to the Lord that He might surrender to him from above a musical gift in song then the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove and enlightened his heart to such a degree that at last he began to sing saying thus: "Ad te levavi…

It is an interpolation within a liturgical chant of a new text with its own melody to honor the pope who tradition tells us reformed the liturgy of the Roman Church and collected the melodies that take their name from him: Saint Gregory the Great (540-604).

St. Gregory is already one of the greatest Fathers in the history of the Church—one of four Doctors of the West. But the attribution of the entire melodic repertoire of liturgical songs in Latin to a single figure is especially legendary. The legend is honored by our singing and joined by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2007’s Summorum Pontificum:

“As from time immemorial, so too in the future, it is necessary to maintain the principle that ‘each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally received from apostolic and unbroken tradition. These are to be observed not only so that errors may be avoided, but also that the faith may be handed on in its integrity, since the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of faith (lex credendi)’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd ed., 2002, 397).

“Eminent among the Popes who showed such proper concern was Saint Gregory the Great, who sought to hand on to the new peoples of Europe both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture amassed by the Romans in preceding centuries. He ordered that the form of the sacred liturgy, both of the sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office, as celebrated in Rome, should be defined and preserved. He greatly encouraged those monks and nuns who, following the Rule of Saint Benedict, everywhere proclaimed the Gospel and illustrated by their lives the salutary provision of the Rule that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God.” In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman usage, enriched the faith and piety, as well as the culture, of numerous peoples. It is well known that in every century of the Christian era the Church’s Latin liturgy in its various forms has inspired countless saints in their spiritual life, confirmed many peoples in the virtue of religion and enriched their devotion.”

We at St. John Cantius Church are focused on restoring the sacred in our church across the globe and in each human person. The legend of St. Gregory—and the melodies we sing—only amplify that pursuit.





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