Gregorian Chant in the Liturgy?
There is one great misconception among the clergy and laity with regard to the Church's preference for Gregorian chant in the Liturgy. This misconception, or should I say, this incorrect assumption is that music should move us...and Gregorian chant does not. In fact, most people nowadays make this mistake. If I asked why you listen to music, or why you prefer this or that style of music you would probably say that you like the way it "moves" you, meaning that it elicits an emotional response. Most people know that music moves them, but not how.
Music "moves" us because it is composed of harmonious sound waves and or vibrations. These waves literally hit a body and make it vibrate. The sounds we hear are these vibrations hitting our ear drums and making them shake, but our whole body is actually being effected by the sound, just like when we hear a strong base tone and literally feel our chests vibrate. This explanation may be overly simplistic, but it gets the point across.
All material things can vibrate. You may have heard a piece of glass or a crystal on a chandelier vibrate when the right frequency hits it. It is a similar with our own bodies. Music physically moves us and our subconscious associates these movements with specific memories and beliefs. These memories and beliefs elicit certain emotional responses, which allow us to "feel" the music. This is why individual songs, in fact particular melodies themselves make us want to dance or sing, cry or even get angry. Music is incredibly powerful precisely because it can make us feel strong emotions. That is why music is used in television shows and movies. Imagine watching a movie without a sound track.
However, there are some misconceptions that since music can move us, music should move us. Some people don't feel moved at Masses where Gregorian chant is used and therefore don't like that type of music in the Liturgy. What many people do not realize is that Gregorian chant was specifically designed not to move us; and that is precisely why it is ideal for the Liturgy.
There is a fascinating relationship between our soul and body. Before Adam sinned, the soul and body worked together perfectly, but sadly now they often fight against each other. In fact our bodies can actually hinder our souls from working properly. The saints often write about this and St. Paul calls it the "flesh warring against the spirit."
For example, if your body is feeling strong emotions or desires, your mind is not free to focus on other things. Imagine you'd just won 100 million dollars in the lottery. Would you be able to study for tomorrow's chemistry exam? Of course not! Mental concentration would be impossible precisely because you'd be so emotionally excited. But, what if the opposite happened and instead of you winning the money, your mother unexpectedly died. You would be so overcome with grief that you still could not study for the exam. Strong emotions actually force the mind to focus on feelings in each case, either the money or the loss. This is why many people struggle to fall asleep at night, because their strong emotions keep their mind active and awake.
All Catholics should know that prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God, and that the highest form of prayer is meditation; i.e. the focusing of one's thoughts on God. Since the Mass is the Great Prayer of Jesus Christ then our responsibility at Mass is to meditate on Jesus, his life and his words, the Last Supper, the Passion and the Resurrection. If our emotions are engaged because of the type of music that is being played at Mass, our feelings will keep our minds focused on the music and how it moves us. This will hinder our thoughts from focusing on Jesus and what is spiritually taking place.
Gregorian chant has the unique ability to calm the emotions. In some ways it is like a mother's lullaby. You don't play moving music for a baby when you want it to calm down and rest. The rhythm and style of this type of chant actually soothes the body and emotions, neither exciting nor depressing it. If my body is calm then my mind and soul become unencumbered in their attempt to draw close to God in prayer.
Many people will not understand this truth because they are used to being motivated by the desires of their bodies, the desires of the flesh. Many of us have little or no experience in being moved by the soul alone. When some people hear Gregorian chant they just feel bored. They don't like it precisely because it calms their bodily desires and emotions and they are not used to being alone with their thoughts. As a culture we have become so dependent upon emotional stimulation that without it we do not know how to move or direct our souls. However, the more we encounter this type of chant in the Liturgy the more we will learn to appreciate it and the faster we will learn how to raise our mind and hearts to God in true prayer.