ACRED MUSIC has had the greatest importance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the very beginning of the Church, and our esteem for sung prayer has remained constant until the present day. Nowhere else is the pride of place held by liturgical music more abundantly clear than when viewing the artistic beauty of the handwritten gothic text and color illuminations, the complexity of the melodies with their unique and ornate notation, and the very high quality artisan craftsmanship as seen in the ancient Gregorian Chant manuscripts. However, what is not clear is how to easily locate and view the manuscripts, because they are scattered across dozens if not hundreds of library websites across the world that are hard to find.
Announcement! • Today we are pleased to announce a new feature of the website, the Father Enemond Massé Manuscripts of Sacred Gregorian Chant. This new library has been assembled to assist our readers with quickly viewing many of the beautiful, authentic and very ancient manuscripts. Each manuscript entry in the library contains a direct link to where all of the pages of the manuscript can be seen and enjoyed. We sincerely hope our new page will make the manuscripts more accessible to all, especially when references are made to them from within the various blog articles which discuss the chants in particular. All of the various theories which surround the melodies and rhythm of Gregorian Chant have been derived from these and other sources, and the merits of each proposal can more easily be judged by looking at the sources themselves. Here is a preview of what you will find on the Father Enemond Massé Manuscripts page:
Just the Beginning • Today the library contains an initial set of 55 beautiful manuscripts, each with a sample page showing what the style of notation and ornamentation found inside looks like. This list will continue to grow as new manuscripts are added, so be sure to check back often to see what is new.
Useful and Enjoyable for Everyone • Even if you’re not going to embark on a project to develop your own theories about the development of medieval music, or prepare your doctoral thesis based on the contents of the manuscripts, it can still be very informative and enjoyable to peruse the manuscripts for pure recreation. For example, the Franciscan Missal and Hours manuscript contains very detailed artwork from the life of Christ, drawn in the 1300’s. Here are a few samples:
Medieval Monsters? • There are other theological drawings mixed in among the pages of the manuscripts, such as in the Abbey of St. Martial 1121 manuscript. It seems like the monk who drew these depictions may have had a sense of humor! Here are some of his “creatures” that you don’t see every day:
Try Searching! • The Search box above the manuscripts can be used to filter the description for certain words, and the list will refresh immediately. You may want to search all of the manuscripts by country, to find those from France, as shown in this illustration:
Making Our Beautiful Inheritance Known • Gregorian Chant is a very important aspect of our Catholic liturgical heritage, but sadly it is frequently ignored by those who consider themselves evangelists. Sharing the doctrinal and dogmatic truth from our repository of faith with others is important, yet sometimes the truth can be rather hard to swallow without a sweetener to make it more palatable. Fortunately, God understands human nature, so the Church is as full and enriched with aesthetic art and beautiful design that appeals to the heart and the senses as it is overflowing with the catechetical knowledge and wisdom of the ages that appeal primarily to the intellect and the mind. Music has the ability to inform (or deform) the soul directly, without the need to inform the intellect before doing so, and this can be used to our advantage. Great strides towards holiness can be made simply by improving the quality and innocence of what we perceive with our senses. Using the Corpus Christi Watershed website to share these beautiful manuscripts with others who may not have seen them before can be a great way to start a conversation about the Catholic Faith in general. Hopefully the next question will be, what does this music sound like?? If an affection for Gregorian Chant can be fostered, it will lead to a more orderly mind and soul, and the individual will be more disposed to understanding and believing Catholic doctrine.
Matthew 6:21 states, “For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.” The treasure of plainchant demonstrates concretely and historically that those who fashioned and took care of these books possessed something in their hearts that was genuinely valuable and needed recording so it could be preserved and handed down. It is very easy to see, even after viewing only a small portion of the tens of thousands of available manuscript pages, that an enormous effort was invested to author the volumes, and that it must have been done for a very good reason, which was likely far beyond mere Earthly concerns… The monastic life of austerity and rigorous prayer is more than just poverty and penance for the sake of going without; the monastic life is an act of love towards the person of JESUS CHRIST, who deserves the very best of what we have to offer Him, via the total giving of ones self. Thinking of monks as men who write, sing, draw and compose brings a bit more levity and lightheartedness to a vocation which can seem daunting and unappealing to the young man of modern times.
This is why these manuscripts are important and still relevant today; they are part of a living tradition with the purpose of worshiping the living God. The caretaking and updating of the manuscripts did not end with the original authors. We are tasked with carrying on in their stead; and our purpose and calling is identical to theirs. Therefore, the living tradition we have inherited should never be reduced to the study of archeology alone; it should remain a tradition full of life, relevancy and currency, by considering the entirety of our manuscript tradition, just as the Church did when Pope St. Pius X promulgated the official edition of the Chant for our times. Obedience and docility to the mind of the Church and to the Chant tradition as it was handed on to us is what transforms our act of singing a piece of archaic medieval music from merely an academic pursuit in musicology into a highly noble, spiritually fruitful, virtuous and solemn act of worship appealing to Almighty God.
Father Enemond Massé, pray for us!