Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

By Cantor

To Thee, O Lord 

The first week of Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year and opens with one of the most famous and beautiful Gregorian chants: Ad te levavi  (Unto Thee. O Lord, do I lift up my soul). This chant has even been designated by some chant scholars as the “summit of spirituality in Gregorian chant.”

“Ad te levavi” deserves special attention because of the extraordinary way in which it illuminates the text. The opening text phrase — Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam (Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: in thee I place my confidence; let me not be confounded) — opens with a quick, upward  sweep  to the word “animam” but then immediately rises one note higher on the word “meus.” Instantly, our ears tell us that someone is crying out to God, lifting their voice in emphasis on “my soul” but, even more so on “my God.” The chant does not descend until “non erubescam.” The person crying out bows his head at that moment, in hope of hearing a response. In this opening phrase, the chant has placed us in the position of need as we lift our prayer upward.

Dom Eugene Cardine, one of the great 20th century chant scholars, stated that the sound of the chant was literally “extracted” from the sound of the words. We have a moving example of this as we open the new church year.

The Community of Jesus







Image Credit: Abbey of St. Peter of Solesmes, Paleographie Musicale


This entry was posted in Advent, Church, God, Gregorian Chant, Liturgy of the Hours, Men of God by Cantor. Bookmark the permalink.

About Cantor

I have been a cantor for over 25 years and an organist for most of my life. Chanting with people at home and across the country is one of my greatest joys. I remember the days of staring at the section of our undergraduate music text thinking to myself "what are all those dots and WHY do I need to know about them?!" Now, 33 years later, I am so grateful that those "dots" have helped teach me many things about God and His love!

2 thoughts on “Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

  1. Yes, probably Gregorian chant would be my longest dream. Today no longer people even the churches know and sing it. I live in Indonesia. Catholics only a tiny spot of people. Sporadically chant could still be heard, but sung mostly by the old. I don’t know how to do with the dream. Really I miss chant but quite difficult to have companion (group) to deal with and together praise the Lord, cantate Domine.

  2. A really helpful post on a beautiful chant – thank you! The last phrase of the antiphon echoes and reinforces your insight, it seems to me. The music leaps up again for “te exspectant” but drops down for “non confundentur.” This rising joyously towards God alternating with a softer, more humble recognition of my own potential to be put to shame (by myself, of course!) seems so true at least to my experience of life with Christ.

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