Gregorian chant called seminarian to Catholicism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As Gabe Bouck enters Advent, a season in
which Catholics are urged to answer God’s call for conversion, the seminarian
is reminded of the melodic voice that inspired him to become Catholic.

The former Baptist recalled attending his first Mass nearly six years ago where he encountered sounds he had never before heard in a
church and it was coming from the priest.

“The priest sung the entire Mass,” said Bouck, a first-year
seminarian at Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of
America in Washington.

This priest sang the liturgy in ethereal tones, mysterious
sounds to the young Protestant with a musical background. He was used to music
that came in more predictable forms with standard rhyme or meter.

But the reverberations coming from the priest defied the musical
logic Bouck had come to expect and it mesmerized him throughout the Mass.

“It absolutely took me to another place altogether,” he told
Catholic News Service during an October interview. “There was something about
it that immediately brought to my mind, ‘I am experiencing something that is
holy right now. There’s something very solemn and very reverent going on in a
way that I have never experienced in a Protestant church.'”

Bouck hadn’t realize he’d encountered Gregorian chant.

He did realize at that moment that he wanted to become
Catholic and the sounds he deemed mystifyingly beautiful called him to

Gregorian chant is a monadic and rhythmically free
liturgical chant considered the official music of the Catholic Church.

Not to be confused with liturgical hymns and other sacred
music, Gregorian chants are typically unaccompanied sung prayers and official
texts of the liturgy and congregation responses.

When the priest is singing portions of the Mass and the
congregation sings the response, they are practicing a form of Gregorian
chant, said Timothy S. McDonnell, director of the Institute of Sacred Music at
The Catholic University of America.

Choirs in some Catholic churches also sing Gregorian chant,
both in Latin and English, as part of a repertoire that may include other
sacred music.

Though documents from the Second Vatican Council gives
Gregorian chant — developed between the seventh and ninth centuries in the
Diocese of Rome — pride of place in the Mass, it’s no longer the dominant sound
in most Catholic parishes, McDonnell told CNS.

Gregorian chant was largely replaced by more vernacular
music following Vatican II, when the traditional Latin Mass was changed to the
dominant language of each country.

However, Gregorian chant began to regain popularity in the
1990s and some Catholic parishes began reintroducing it during worship.

Bouck believes it was no mistake that he happened to attend his
first Mass where the priest celebrated it completely in Gregorian

Once he settled into parish life at the Catholic Church of
the Ascension in Memphis, Tennessee, Bouck joined the choir and eventually
became its director.

“We did Gregorian chant, we did contemporary worship type
music and traditional hymns,” he said. “But chant was always something that
moved me and something that meant a lot to me.”

Bouck’s music ministry and involvement in the church would
eventually lead him to consider the priesthood, a vocation he is now seeking in
seminary, where he offers his considerable singing talents in the school’s

It’s not uncommon for someone involved in a music ministry
to hear the call to the priesthood, said David Lang, music director of
Theological College.

“Those men are really engaged in the liturgy, especially if
Gregorian chant is featured in their music,” Lang told CNS. “The texts are
divinely inspired and when you are singing them it’s like you are praying
twice. We shouldn’t be surprised that someone hears God’s call in that

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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