The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy… The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II
A Minimum Repertoire of Chant
In 1974, realizing that the reforms implemented in the liturgy had strayed far from the vision of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI sent out a letter to every bishop in the world, specifically asking that the faithful be introduced to their artistic patrimony as Catholics: “to achieve unity and spiritual harmony with their brothers and with the living traditions of the past.” Included with this letter was a list of chants, including parts of the Mass and ancient hymns, which were to be considered a “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant”, to be known by every Catholic in the world.
The liturgical movement, which led to and culminated in the Second Vatican Council, began at the turn of the century with a call to bring the chants of the Church back into the liturgy. This continues to be the desire of the Church, for many reasons: because chants grew out of the Sacred texts, because chant has always been set apart for sacred use only, because its beauty is universally recognized, because of its noble simplicity, etc. The use of chant was part of the vision of the Council fathers for the reform of the Mass, a vision reiterated firmly by Paul VI and subsequently by St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. We know that this vision is far from reality in parishes across the world. But we can begin working towards it, as many others are beginning to do! In fact, it is our responsibility to the next generation of Catholics to pass on what we can of the artistic treasury of the Church, built up over two millennia for the spiritual benefit of the faithful. To this end, notated texts and audio files of Paul VI’s “minimum repertoire” are provided below, and parishioners are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these pieces:
If you are interested in learning more about how music in Catholic parishes developed the way it did following the Second Vatican Council, Roseanne T. Sullivan provides a good summary in an article written for Homiletic and Pastoral Review: