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Gregorian chant enthusiast admits tradition can be boring without proper teaching

Ronan Reilly

Ronan Reilly: “First off when I began to sing chant, I thought it was boring.” Photo: Patrick J. Lee.

GREGORIAN chant promoter Ronan Reilly is the first to admit traditional church music can seem uninspiring in the beginning.

As a young Catholic, the Sacred Music Association member remembers being bored by singing chant for the Mass.

He couldn’t understand why it was useful spiritually or musically to sing one syllable over and over in various tones, a music system in chant known as neume.

“First off when I began to sing chant, I thought it was boring,” Mr Reilly said.

It wasn’t until he received proper teaching about chant and its origins in the life of Christ, that he understood why chant was so important.

“I heard it explained once that many things in the Church are like sitting down with your grandmother,” Mr Reilly said.

“Sometimes you want to play soccer but she can’t, so you just have to sit at her feet and listen.

“And when she’s 2000 years old and has travelled the world so many times, and wants to tell you about her husband and herself as the Bride …”

Mr Reilly, who is directing music for the Brisbane Oratory, is hoping people who have found chant boring will make an effort to learn more about the tradition. 

“One of the many things about tradition is that it has to be living, it must be put on display,” he said.

He hopes a workshop in Townsville next month will be the start of a sacred music restoration for Queensland. While the use of Gregorian chant in the Mass can be synonymous with the Latin Mass, Mr Reilly said it was not limited to the one liturgical rite.

He encouraged others in the Ordinary form to take up the tradition, which in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy afforded it “pride of place in liturgical services”.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to what the Church wants,” Mr Reilly said.

“When you hear it, you might not understand it.

“Persevere, have patience and humility, and stand back in awe.”

Mr Reilly said it was also important to remember Gregorian chant had its origins in the Middle East and also Jesus’ time.

“It’s the ordinariness of it but also the antiquity of the music, and some (compositions) go back to the temple,” he said.

“In (the Gospel of) Matthew, after the Last Supper, Our Lord sang psalms of thanksgiving after the Passover.

“That is amazing and, I believe, awe-inspiring.”

The Gregorian chant workshops in Townsville will be held on October 7 and 8, with a special timeslot for school students on the Saturday morning.

The workshops will be followed by a holy hour and time for confessions and a Latin Mass on October 9.

For more information on the workshops or the Latin Mass contact Susan Le Feuvre on 0401 608 445.

By Emilie Ng

Catholic Church Insurance

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