Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday - Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant is perhaps the pinnacle of sacred art as it is integral to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, i.e., the chants are actually part of the Mass, rather than an adornment or accessory.

Below is the Tract for the Palm Sunday Mass. The text comes from Psalm 21 and begins "Deus, Deus meus, respice in me: quare me dereliquisti?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") These words from Psalm 21, of course, are uttered by Christ from the Cross on Good Friday, and thus make them especially apt for the Palm Sunday liturgy, which begins Holy Week and anticipates the Christ's Passion, death, and Resurrection celebrated in the Paschal Triduum beginning on Holy Thursday.

The Tract comes from the Roman Gradual, which was revised following Vatican II. This particular Tract for Palm Sunday was retained following Vatican II (as were many of the Mass Propers), so it is identical to the Tract sung on Palm Sunday at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Unfortunately, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, most Catholic parishes routinely substitute the Tracts (and Graduals) with the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel acclamation, so that it's likely that very few Catholics raised since Vatican II have ever heard the "Deus, Deus meus" Tract. This is a shame.

At Mass today, our parish sang a very dignified version of the Responsorial Psalm, which featured mostly the same text from Psalm 21 sung in English. Even so, the Responsorial Psalm (which is much simpler in form so that the congregation can join in the singing of the antiphon) lacks the beauty, dignity, and contemplative nature of the Tract. I can understand why a simpler version of the Tract or a simple Responsorial Psalm is at times advantageous, but these melismatic Tracts and Graduals are our patrimony and--as Vatican II proclaims regarding Gregorian Chant--are a treasure of inestimable value. May they one day be restored to their rightful place of honor in the liturgy, to the glory of God and for the benefit of the faithful.