"An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony" (Pope Benedict XVI, June 24, 2006)
Sheet Music found at: http://wso.williams.edu/cpdl/sheet/victoria/vict-om1.pdf
[Polyphony] Ave Maria
Sheet Music found at: http://wso.williams.edu/cpdl/sheet/victoria/vic-ave1.pdf
Q: Does chant have to be in Latin?
A: When the Church speaks of Gregorian chant, she means Latin chant. Latin is especially preferred because it is the language of the Church. It is the language in which the chant was composed, and the chant melodies are constructed around the accentuation, phrasing, and articulation of the Latin text.
Other forms of plainsong do not have to be in Latin, and most vernacular languages can be used in chantlike styles. Indeed, it can be useful and feasible to chant some liturgical texts in the vernacular. But such a project has limits. Chant adaptation requires changing familiar words to fit the music, or modifying the music to fit vernacular texts. One might question the usefulness of such an exercise. The purpose of liturgy is not purely pedagogical, else the entire liturgy could be written in the style of a newspaper article.
The purpose of sacred liturgy is far deeper and more complex: it is to draw us out of time and place so that we might more clearly perceive eternal mysteries. The liturgy is not primarily a teaching session but rather “an encounter between Christ and the Church… The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1097–8). The relative remoteness and changelessness of the Latin language, especially when united to the chant with its purity of form, helps to realize this encounter by leading us away from the ordinary and toward the transcendent.
Q: What is polyphony and what makes it specially suited to liturgy?
A: Polyphony literally means many voices. Polyphonic music has two or more voice parts that move independently (or contrapuntally) to weave a musical fabric. The term generally applies to sacred vocal music from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Polyphonic music occasionally sounds chordal (or homophonic), but the contrapuntal style is generally distinguished from the homophonic style in its approach to harmony. In homophony, chords are presupposed, and voice parts are written chiefly to fit into a chord. In counterpoint, voice parts are written more as individual melodies, with chords resulting from the simultaneous tones of the independent lines. This emphasis on the individual vocal lines shows the influence of chant, from which polyphony grew organically. The “golden age” of sacred polyphony lasted from about 1400 until 1650, but composers of later eras continued to favor the contrapuntal style, especially when writing for the church.
Q: Aren’t chant and polyphony too hard for regular parishes?
A: As with any art, sacred music ranges from very simple to very complex. From the earliest days of the Church, congregations have sung the simpler chant melodies. Collections like the Liber Cantualis (published by Abbey of Solesmes) and Jubilate Deo of Paul VI (1974) contain chants that everyone can sing. At the same time, the fullness of the Gregorian repertoire, consisting of several thousand chants for every purpose, requires experience, practice, and often a high level of mastery. The same is true of sacred polyphony. Many congregations can sing four-part hymns, but more complex contrapuntal pieces require a well-trained choir to sing on behalf of the praying community.
For hundreds of years, parishes around the world have fostered choirs and promoted choral singing. To ensure the preservation of the Church’s treasury of sacred music, the Council insisted that choirs “must be diligently developed” (¶114). While professionals can greatly enhance performances of sacred polyphony, nothing prevents amateurs from singing this music, and even directing it, if necessary. It can be hard work, and demands more of performers and listeners than popular styles. But only the best is good enough for the God we worship.
Full text of the "Frequently Asked Questions On Sacred Music": http://www.musicasacra.com/pdf/smfaq.pdf