By Sr. Fidelis
In the summer of 2007 I had the privilege of studying Gregorian Chant with Dr. Mary Berry, CBE, along with three others at her home in Cambridge, England. It was a time of adventure – each day full of surprises as she taught us to ask questions and guided us in research and discovery. I recently found two quotations of hers:
“Chant is like a garden. You visit it dozens of times and always see something fresh.”
“You can always find more in each piece. The more you sing it, the more you find.”
How different her insight on the alive-ness of Gregorian chant, belying the label this music is so often given of “plainsong.” And yet, as one who sings the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours regularly, this is not always the approach I take. I can come to a service and sing parts of it so well by heart, that my mind may wander in a million directions, or I can focus on notes and technical aspects and not think a thing about the actual words I am saying.
Having recently been challenged by a friend to make the chant a personal prayer, I find myself looking and listening with more open eyes and ears. Even the simplest opening phrase of Deus in adjutorium meum intende, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina – “O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me” – can mean myriad things to me depending on my day, my circumstances, my sense of need at that moment. The possibilities for new insights or discoveries about God, myself, our world are endless. The chant in all its simple beauty becomes the vehicle for meeting God in a fresh new way.