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The Gregorian Chant – A Roman Sacred Song

Introit and Gradual from St. Gallen, MS 359
The Gregorian Chant – A Roman Sacred Song
on October, 22 2013

The Gregorian chant is a traditional hymn that is sung with no instrumental accompaniment. Men and women from various religious orders usually sing the hymn, with only their voices chanting the vocal arrangement. The chant evolved from western and central Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries and had been polished and revised through time with added riposte from counterpart choristers.


There is a popular belief that the Gregorian chant is credited to Pope St. Gregory the Great for its invention as indicated by the attribution of the chant to the saint’s name. However some groups of scholars also believe that the chant actually evolved from a combination of Carolingian and Galloican chant, two kinds of Roman chants that are said to have been sung at an earlier time.

Structure and melody

Gregorian chants commonly have 4 modes that later on expanded to 12 modes. The tonal quality of the chants bears a definite sing-song pattern with regular intervals usually taking place in groups of syllables. There is a distinct cadence that is identified with Gregorian chants. When listening to its melodic pitch the voices noticeably separate at one point and then blend together after several repetitions. The traditional melodies of these songs are composed with the use of “neumes,” a musical notation system that gave rise to the 4-line and 5-line staff being used in the present time. Much like in choruses, Gregorian melodies make use of variations of voices with different blends that harmonize together in whole.

Melody and text

The accompanying text in the songs has liturgical meanings. The message of the text varies according to the type church service where it is used. Ordinary church service generally makes use of the same texts. Gloria incantation came early in the 7th century while the Sanctus and Benedictus came during the time of the apostles. Latin mass often used the Agnus Dei chant. Ite Missa Est was sometimes substituted by Benidcamus Domino with an opening Kyrie melody.

New development

The Gregorian chant is still very much alive in Roman Catholic masses. The liturgical and musical typescript that was discovered in the 19th century had been widely edited to fit the present time. For a while, there were hardly any chant books available for use. In order not to lose this religious treasure, monks were sent to search libraries in Europe to look for pertinent chant materials. The official version was henceforth reprinted in 1871, the only existing version according to Pope Pius IX. It was in 1889 when Solesmes monks came up with a series of publications. The manuscripts were corrupted in many areas however and were salvaged only by photographing the deformed parts to hopefully preserve the original form.

Reconstructed manuscript

Solesmes monks worked hard to reconstruct the original Gregorian chant manuscript. By putting together what remained from the old material, he was able to produce a facsimile edition. Academicians accepted the reconstructed script but Vatican rejected it. However in 1903, Pope Leo XIII died and Pope Pius X who succeeded him immediately accepted the restored manuscript.

New age

In the modern age, the Gregorian chant gained a new following in the form of a plain chant that came to be part of popular New Age music in the 80s and 90s. The musical score recorded by Benedictine monks of Spain was released in the market to promote calm and serene disposition to the listener. In 2008, Music for Paradise chant music with Gregorian chant theme came out in CD form and became a best-selling album in the Austrian pop music scene.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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