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Saturday, February 14, 2009


There's been something I've been turning over in my mind for a few days, and it disturbs me greatly, because it's not something I can do much to fix. 

We know that every great gift God gives us can be twisted and used for evil.  Sexuality, internet...and music, for example.  

This week one of my catechists brought in some Gregorian Chant for his students.  In the fall, we'd had an event for all the religious ed. kids, and in it we played Chant.  Many of them enjoyed the music, or inquired about it, and this catechist's class wanted to know more. 

I stopped in at his class at the end of the session, although I'd missed the music portion, he turned it back on for me while the boys were leaving.  

One of them expressed his opinion as only a middle school boy can:  "I hate it. I can't stand it!"

It doesn't bother me that he doesn't like the music; whether it is liked or not is not a factor in the fact that it is proper liturgical music, and his personal preferences doesn't change that. 

But what DOES bother me was his qualifier, for he gave the clear reason for his dislike:   "It's creepy. It sounds like it's from a horror movie.  Scary music."  

Right there, in a nutshell;  there's the problem.  

Gregorian chant has been corrupted by media, and now, in a traditional Pavlovian way, our younger generations now think it's creepy. 

I've written before on the use of Catholic symbols and music in movies or television shows that portray a Catholic Church or anything related to Catholicism.  Even though one rarely enters a church these days to the prayerful chanting of a schola,  EVERY. SINGLE. PRODUCTION uses this music to cue us in to the religion being attacked...uh...portrayed.   Catholic. 

The horror genre is especially gleeful in its use of Gregorian Chant in scary sequences, say, when introducing a vampire or a corrupt priest. Or maybe the priest is fine, but we know that when we hear Chant, a demon-infested child is about to appear and screech in writhing agony, terrifying everyone...with the chant sedately playing in the background, human voices apparently disinterested at the intense suffering taking place in their presence. 

The use of this music in media venues has quite literally caused our younger generations to look at the horrible things going on in the picture, while the music plays, and voila! They now associate evil and Gregorian Chant. 

It's not surprising.  

And what about every freaking show that has a corrupt priest in it?  A Pedophile priest?  A faithful priest who has maybe heard the confession of an abuser (either clergy or lay) and (RIGHTLY!) refuses to break the seal of the confessional?  What's playing in the background?  Gregorian Chant. 

I would suggest that although individuals in Hollywood might not have been consciously considering the Pavlovian training they've been providing to their lab subjects (i.e.  us), the One they serve knew exactly what he was doing. 

Oh, yes, the smoke of Satan, as St. Pius X called it.  (Was it St. Pius X?).  

And when something pure and beautiful, something that is prayer and praise and thanksgiving to God becomes associated with something evil, that can send a very strong message.  It's not subliminal;  it's obvious. And odious. 

That's what the middle school boy observed, and it's how he's been indoctrinated. 

So when we, or his catechist, in doing something good, brings Gregorian Chant into an event or classroom, rather than being calming, it's natural that some students are going to have a violent dislike of what they're hearing. 

And how the Evil One must be gleefully rejoicing in his eternal damnation.  

So. Now we realize the problem.  Now we have to combat it. And the ONLY way to do that is to use it more, to associate it with good things, with fun things, with HOLY things. The answer isn't to take it away just because it's been warped by our cultural corruption;  the answer is to bring it back, gently, persistently, prayerfully, and let God do the rest.  

Thankfully, not every child had that reaction, and that likely speaks more about what the parents are allowing their children to see at home (which concerns me more than the child's reaction).  We need to realize that this beauty, Gregorian Chant, this great gift of the Church, which Vatican II said specifically must maintain a high place in the liturgy, NEEDS to be used!  If it's never heard at Mass, guess where the kids are getting it, and with what they are associating it!?

We wouldn't have this problem if parishes were obedient to the directives of Vatican II.  

Our fallen nature corrupts everything we touch;  but the good news is that God created us to be directed towards Him. To elevate our wills, our intellect, Him. And that means we can still turn this ship around and point it back in His direction. We can save our symbols, we can save our music, we can save our children through being holy, through using what has always been holy...for the proper purpose. 

And that will make ALL the difference in the world. 

If we don't use what we've been given, it will be commandeered for evil. That's a fact, and it's happened, and continues to happen. We NEED to bring back Chant; it belongs to OUR tradition, it is part of OUR patrimony, and its misuse is affecting OUR children in a very negative way! 

I look forward to the discussion in the combox. 



Deacon Bill Burns said...

Pope Paul VI was the one who made the "smoke of Satan" comment during vatican II. Jimmy Akin did some analysis of the original homily here.

ignorant redneck said...

That rythmic crunching sound you hear? That's the lockstep boots of the anti-christian legion advancing their cause of twisting everything they can to obscure the faith and make it scary and icky to youth.

The Ironic Catholic said...

Ok, details, details--this kid who thinks Gregorian chant is spooky isn't damned by that (sounded like that at one line).

BUT I do think you're on to something--the reaction I get in required theology classes is so mixed it is bizarre. Usually students will report afterward that they like me well enough, but why do they have to take theology??!!! What does THAT have to do with anything? (and others love it) I tell this to other professors and they say "well, all students do that," but it really seems more extreme in even with 14 weeks, I can't turn around this vague "smells like a subject that I left in the garbage 3 weeks ago)."

Well, sometimes they do indeed turn around. But it's a huge effort, and God does it more than me, I think.

Banshee said...

A lot of kids do hear the beauty in chant, even by learning about through "Ominous Chanting" (yes, it's a whole long page on TV Tropes). But yes, it's a problem.

There are different ways to sing chant, and some are livelier than others. "Ominous Chanting" usually isn't very lively.

You can introduce chant to kids with one of the more lively chant melodies or hymns. We can afford to cater a bit to the sensibilities of people who don't understand the emotion behind modes yet.

We can teach the English version of chant melodies. Kids already sing chant without knowing it, at Christmas.

Banshee said...

Oh, and you can point out the whole "Ominous Chanting" trope to the kids. If they can put a name to what they've heard, they can take it for what it is -- instead of just sucking a general bad impression from the surrounding culture.

Melody K said...

I guess I hadn't noticed it was so prevalent in creepy movies (but then I'm not a very big fan of creepy movies!). The reaction I have noticed from the young people is usually "Bo-ring!" followed by the eye roll, you know the one.
Actually my favorite chant CD is a freebie from an order of Carmelite monks in Texas. The CD was recorded by the choir of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Fontgombault in France. I don't think anyone could listen to this and not feel the peace.

Adoro said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

IC ~ Where do you think I implied that the kid was "damned"?
* mystified *

I realize I wrote this at 6 am, but c'mon, I'm not in the habit of damning kids! (just their mislead!)

The Ironic Catholic said...

"That's what the middle school boy observed, and it's how he's been indoctrinated.

So when we, or his catechist, in doing something good, brings Gregorian Chant into an event or classroom, rather than being calming, it's natural that some students are going to have a violent dislike of what they're hearing.

And how the Evil One must be gleefully rejoicing in his eternal damnation. "<<<<<<< there. :)

Adoro said...


I'd NEVER state such a thing about anyone!

The Ironic Catholic said...

Ohhhhhhhh. :) Dang those possessive articles! ;)

Geometricus said...

My own kids never get to watch one of those "creepy" movies that misuses Gregorian chant. At least not with my permission!

Gregorian Chant is most appropriately heard within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not in a classroom. I'll bet the same kid would NOT think chant "creepy" in that context. But even if he does, repeated exposure and some good catechesis would cure him of this.

The last couple of months I have been singing the proper communion antiphon at 11am mass where I am the choir director. Even the babies stop crying. The church is thick with silence after several bars and remains that way for a few minutes afterward.

Imagine if the whole mass were imbued with chant...think about how wonderful!

Adoro said...

Geometricus ~ Thanks for your comment. I totally agree, and DREAM of the day!

The first context we gave the kids was for Confessions during Advent. We had Adoration in the church with Chant playing, and they were WONDERFULLY behaved, the Church was MUCH quieter than usual, and many of the kids, of all ages, expressed interest in the music. The Catechists OVERWHELMINGLY said that the format worked and asked us to do it again! No, it wasn't Mass, but the intro to them was proper to the venue, and worked. It wouldn't have without the presence of Christ.

He makes all things new. Even things that are "ancient".

Kathy O'Donnell said...

Geometricus, I wish you could all come to my church. Our priest sings all of the liturgy - and he sings it beautifully. Our choir sings chant for the entire service. It is so, so beautiful. All in Latin. I wish every Catholic could attend a Mass like this every Sunday.

Paul said...

And don't forget that one of the ways Gregorian chant got popularized in the early 90s was as the background to the techno-group Enigma's "Sadeness". That's the same group that brought us the obscene "Principles of Lust."

Adoro said...

Cygnus ~ I don't remember that at all...although I also wasn't a fan of Enigma that I recall. I certainly don't own any of their music! Hmmm...I need to look them up so I can see what you're talking about, but from what you've stated...makes me sick.

Evil always takes beauty and twists it for its own use. :-(

Anonymous said...

I have to take a the complete opposite tack than you, Adoro.

Every time there is some occult threat, demonic possession, supernatural creature, you always see the Roman Catholic Church.

When the battle for the hero's soul is taking place, it's not taking place in a Protestant megachurch surrounded by wide screen TV monitors, it's in a classical Catholic cathedral, with vaulted ceilings, candles, incense, images and statues.

Then the vampire is being blocked, it's a cross charged with the rock-solid faith of a Catholic Priest. When a demon is possessing the body of an innocent person, it's the Catholic exorcist using ancient rites in Latin that drive it out.

In the fight against supernatural evil, Hollywood always returns to the Catholic Church because any other church simply is not believable. :)

Anonymous said...

Tony ~ I don't fact, I've written on that before, taking your EXACT position.

But what I didn't consider is the opposite effect; that kids are seeing Catholicism and are not associating it with what you and I know to be true (that is the True faith, the power of Christ, etc.), but they are seeing the sinister, and associating things like chant with evil.