GREGORIAN CHANT SCHOLA OF SAINT JOHN’S ABBEY AND UNIVERSITY
Saint John’s Abbey in central Minnesota, founded by Bavarian Benedictine monks in the middle of the nineteenth century, has developed many ministries and become a center of prayer, scholarship, education, parish ministry, inter-Christian ecumenical dialogue, publishing, and progressive liturgical renewal. It is the home of St. John’s University and School of Theology•Seminary, Preparatory School, Liturgical Press, National Catholic Youth Choir, Boy Choir, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, and the hand-written and illuminated Saint John’s Bible. There are approximately 140 monks in the Benedictine monastic community.
The Gregorian Chant Schola of Saint John’s Abbey includes monks as well as undergraduate and graduate theology and music students. Men and women sing together, which roughly replicates the medieval sound of singing in octaves with choir boys singing the higher part. The schola sings regularly throughout the school year at abbey Sunday Mass or weekday feast day Mass, and sometimes sings also in undergraduate campus ministry or graduate School of Theology liturgies as well as at the neighboring monastery of Benedictine sisters in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Saint John’s Abbey has long been a progressive center of liturgical renewal, promoting the ideals of the Second Vatican Council for vernacular, active participation, simplification of the rites, ecumenical use of Protestant and other Christian resources, and involvement of women and men in a variety of liturgical ministries. A small but very important part of this liturgical experience is the use of some Latin chant (within a primarily English liturgy) as a sign of communion with the Church around the world and across the ages, and as reminder of our Benedictine musical tradition.
Gregorian chant is sung according to the principles of semiology, which developed in Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. In this approach, the rhythmic interpretation is based upon the natural rhythm of the text and the nuanced indications of manuscripts from the tenth to twelfth centuries. This gives a certain flexibility and dynamism to the chant.
The use of Latin chant at St. John’s Abbey could be considered typically “American” and somewhat reformist, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Sometimes the psalm verses are sung in Latin (with translation given to the congregation), but sometimes the psalm verses are sung in English, at times in harmony. In the spirit of the post-Vatican II Graduale Simplex, antiphons are pulled freely from the Liturgy of the Hours and paired with psalms for use at Mass. Sometimes harmony is added to Latin chant in the spirit of “organum” which dates at least to the eighth century.