This is a question which I’m interested in as a historian. I’ve been reading about Islam and Arab Christianity, and one of the things mentioned was the night gatherings of Christian believers to chant passages of Scripture and Psalms to particular rhythm patterns.
This quite facinated me as it reminds me very much of Islamic Qur’an recitation with its tajwid rules of pronounciation.
But I’m wondering: is this still a practice in any modern church to practice Scriptural chanting?
It is quite ordinary in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Although for us it is more common that the reader (someone from the congregation) would just read the Epistle. But if someone is capable and confident of chanting the Epistle, they would. I would if I was asked to read, although sometimes I would also be concious if it is a bilingual Liturgy and the Ukrianian reader just read the Epistle, then I would read too. I don’t want to come off as someone trying to show up the other reader.
Why yes. Every particular church in the Catholic communion. The Roman church still has standardized Gregorian tones for Lessons, Epistles and Gospel readings, as well as authentic tones for propers such as Introits, Graduals, etc. The Divine Office also has standard tones for the psalms, which are still chanted, especially in monasteries.
Our LCMS Lutheran church uses the setting three for the Divine Service in the Lutheran Service Book. We chant all liturgical responses, which are set to organ music. We also chant the introit to one of eight psalm tones.
I don’t know whether you’re the type of Muslim who is open to receiving this kind of information, but it is a matter of historical fact that the Islamic chant borrowed heavily from pre-existing Syriac Christian chant, as Syriac was the language of the Christians of the Middle East at the time of the Arab-Islamic conquests (and even in Arabia proper, the Christians had depended on Syriac as a medium of expression, even though it wasn’t their native language, as Arabic hadn’t developed into a language of Christian theological expression at that time; see Tremingham’s 1979 book “Christianity among the Arabs in pre-Islamic times” for more on that). The maqamat of the Syriac Orthodox match those of the Arabs (but of course have their own names in Syriac; Maqamat in Arabic is first recorded in the 14th century, and even if it had extended to earlier times, it was post-expansion anyway), and I think any honest Muslim can’t miss the similarities between Syriacchant and their own Islamic religious chant.
Of course, Syriacs are not the only people who chant their liturgies (including the scriptures). We do it in the Coptic Orthodox Church as well, whether in Coptic (the original language of the Church, now reduced to a liturgical language only thanks to Arabic), Arabic (fusha or as close as the chanter can manage; for instance, you’ll notice if you know Arabic that the qaf is present in this reading; it isn’t in colloquial Egyptian Arabic), English, Spanish (reading from the Gospel begins at ~31 minutes, after the introduction in Coptic), etc.
This is a general “Eastern” or “Oriental” Christian tendency, by the way. All the native Christian Churches of the East (Eastern Europe through the Middle East) do this. Only the forms of chant differ, and even then not that much. Here’s the Eastern Orthodox take on the chant in Arabic (probably from Syria or Lebanon, where most Arabic-speaking EO come from), and its Middle Eastern Catholic equivalent (that one’s Maronite, from Lebanon; Raja Badr was a famous singer back in the 1970s-early 80s). Contrast that with the Armenian Orthodox way, or that of the Malankara Syriacs in India, and you’ve pretty much covered all possibilities in the native churches (leaving out the Greeks and Slavs as the EO in general have much more uniform liturgical practices, so even a Russian Orthodox reading in English will be of the same tonal quality as the Arabic previously linked, as they are ultimately based on the same Byzantine musical principles).
It should also be said that chanting of the scriptures used to be the norm in the Western church as well, during its Orthodox period and some time afterward (at what are now considered “Traditional Catholic Churches”, you can still find it).
I was in a Benedictine monastery for two years, and we chanted EVERYTHING. While it’s more common for the Psalms and canticles of the Divine Office to be chanted in a community setting, I have chanted the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) privately, rather than just saying the Psalms/Canticles. Of course, my monastic training helped with knowing how to chant them
At mass on Sundays, the group I play organ for chants at least one proper of the mass of the day. Although most Catholic parishes don’t use them, there are actually specific chants (the propers) for the beginning of the mass (Introit), the Offertory, and Communion. Each proper consists of a sung antiphon, and several verses of a Psalm, with the antiphon repeated after every two or three verses.
So yes, there is still a practice (growing in some places) of chanting the Scriptues.
As dzheremi has kindly pointed out, and he is correct in saying that Islamic chanting was strongly influenced by Christian chanting.
Chanting has been a way of invoking the spirit of prayer for several Divine dispensations long before Christianity. Hebrew chanting of several prayers comes to mind and even before that the melodious chants of Zoroastrian prayers may well in themselves have been strong influencers of all modern day and historical expressions of chanting in all global religions
This is a good point. We Christians inherited quite directly some chant froms from the Jews, at least initially (first Christians were Jews, after all, and the earliest liturgy still in use is that of St. James, bishop of Jerusalem in the first century AD), and although most Jews no longer use Aramaic (the Samaritans do), it does survive among some Mizrahim, such as the Yemenites:
Oh, I just realized the bit about “night services”. The night services are their own, properly called “Tasbeha” in the Coptic Church, and really different than anything I posted before. All the chants of the the Church are special, but Tasbeha is something else, having its own rhythms and cadence to go with special hymns that pertain to it (such as “Tentheeno” - the hymn of beginning the tasbeha; it wouldn’t make sense to have such a hymn outside of the tasbeha, as it is all about rising at the midnight hour for praise of God).
I have read various sources that say participating in the midnight tasbeha is a foretaste of heaven, and while I’ve never had the experience myself (I don’t live near a monastery, though if I am properly disposed I will cycle through the midnight hours of the Agpeya in the course of a week), I absolutely believe it. I feel like I am in heaven just listening to that video…