Pope Francis on Gregorian chant

Pope Francis recently made comments about music in the Church during an audience. He exhorts musicians not to use just any music, but holy and noble music, and goes on to describe Gregorian chant as the first model for sacred music.


Liturgy is the way we worship God with words and actions. It often involves music. Music and other art forms are the ways we express ourselves and we can praise God with them. Music is a personal taste. Some like Gregorian chant, some prefer 19th century hymns, some prefer sacred music of the rock or rap genres. It would be a dangerous move to claim that because Pope Francis prefers a certain style of music, so does God. I have heard God worshipped with many different kinds of music. I have chanted, taken a part in polyphony and waved a hand in the air to modern worship songs. Diversity of music represents diversity of culture and long may we enjoy it.

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At the risk of restarting the weekly Liturgy wars on CAF, I will argue that music is not a mere personal taste. The Pope said himself that not all music is appropriate for the Liturgy and we should not use “just any old music.” He cited Pope Pius X when he stated that sacred music must be holy, noble, and universal. This implies that some forms of music are not always holy, noble, or universal.

The documents of Vatican II, the writings of the 20th century popes, and even the GIRM all favor Gregorian chant. The fact is that the Church herself has stated that Gregorian chant has pride of place. It’s not just one “style” out of many.

Now, pastoral realities may necessitate that other forms of music be used and not all parishes can live up to this ideal. But that does not change what the Church has said to be objectively true.


Keep in mind though, he also has a high opinion of Byzantine liturgy, but I think in the west, Gregorian chant would be more than welcome.


Yes. Although the circumstances are a little different, since the Eastern churches have developed their Liturgy separately. I imagine that Pope Francis had the Latin Church in mind when making those comments.

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I note that he says Gregorian Chant is the first model. That means to me that sacred music should try to attain the same objective as Gregorian chant in terms of style, content, loftiness and suitability as prayer. But not always actually be Gregorian chant.

Of course for that to happen, Gregorian chant has to still exist, be studied, and be performed liturgically. It’s the standard to compare against. It’s given rise to some interesting projects like Simple English Propers. So as such, yes it must have pride of place. That does not mean every place every time. The Gregorian propers require skill and training and practice. Butchered Gregorian is worse than no Gregorian.


Yes. When I first became Catholic in 2005, I thought chant was nearly dead… since then I’ve been relieved to discover it’s alive and well in many parishes (and of course monasteries), whether it be Gregorian chant or plainchant in the vernacular.


I’m very much in favor of the project to promote the simple English propers. It seems like a good, simple way to move parishes closer to the ideal while also promoting congregational singing and active participation.

That’s for sure!

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And thankfully, it’s growing!


Um, no. Just no. You have undoubtedly heard devotional music in nearly any style of music, and that is fine, but that is a far cry from saying that there are no boundaries on liturgical music. Those are two different categories of music. Not everything that belongs in the realm of devotional music automatically qualifies in the realm of liturgical music. There are Catholics who quibble about this and parishes that ignore this distinction, but the Church has been very clear and consistent on this point. That is not going to change no matter how entrenched and customary the contrary habits become.

As others will no doubt note, there has been an abundance of posts on this forum directing those who want to learn to the appropriate Church documents, including those that were promulgated as a result of Vatican II.


I would ask you to listen to the alternatives before saying that, lol.
When it comes to liturgical music, there are “butchered” forms of the acceptable and then on the other hand there is “roadkill,” meaning that which is not acceptable no matter how skillfully it is presented.

This is absolutely true, and the Church says the same.

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I don’t know about that. I’ve heard badly performed chant and I’ve heard badly performed hymns. And I think the lesson to be learned is that badly done music is never fun, regardless of genre.

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No, I mean there is sometimes music used for Mass that is just inappropriate. Not necessarily bad in all places and at all times, but music that doesn’t belong in the Mass. I think that is worse than people who are trying their best with wince-inducing results.


Okay, I understand what you’re saying. And I totally agree with that.

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I totally agree that the selection of music for a particular Mass needs to include an honest assessment of who is available to sing the music and lead it. We can only give what we have to give. Some sacred music is more accessible to people with a limited musical background or aptitude than others, yet it is beautiful enough to be selected by those with the capacity to do more complicated music.

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The thing is, it doesn’t matter if BXVI says it or Francis says it. It will be ignored by most parishes.


Exactly; liturgical music is music written for liturgical use, while religious music is a broader category that refers to music with a religious theme, even if not necessarily suitable for the liturgy. The music that is written for liturgical use is subject to very specific regulations given by the Church, while there are fewer restrictions for music written by the composer simply to give glory to God through his artistic expression.


Mostly from lack of resources: i.e. people willing to put the effort into learning chant and performing it in a language they probably don’t know very well, if at all. Have you done something about that in your parish?

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People seem to have the resources and effort to learn contemporary Christian music.

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