The Church has over the centuries gathered up the best of her Latin prayers, and saved them in collections, treasuries of beauty and precision. Many of these prayers date back to the early Church, linking us to the faith of our ancestors. We pray them, not for nostalgia’s sake, but because our Faith is unchanging, and these pithy expressions of Faith have rarely been equaled in expressing our belief. The prayers in our English Masses come from these prayers — but something is invariably lost in translation.
In addition to the ancient prayers that we say each day are the ancient prayers that we sing each day. For the chant that we sing at Mass is not just song, it is prayer in song. Many of the chants were written in monasteries by monks, who put to music texts from Scripture that had first been the subject of their meditation. Their compositions are therefore the fruit of their prayer, and are themselves prayer.
The Church has for centuries been gathering these chants, and gleaning from them the very best. The result is a single book called the Graduale Romanum. To gather a collection of English chant as beautiful would likewise take centuries, by which time English will itself probably be a dead language! In an attempt at a shortcut, efforts are constantly being made to adapt the ancients melodies to English texts, often by experts in chant. They are valiant efforts, greatly appreciated, but seldom successful. The original texts were in Latin, so the music composed for them flows naturally with the rhythm of the Latin language. The melodies usually sound awkward and unnatural when placed over an English text.
Fr. Marc Crilly
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