Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

It started as a side conversation nearly 10 years ago now.  A brand new teacher at a Catholic School, I was planning the music for my first school mass.  As the music teacher and I were going over the options for an All Saints Day mass, she asked, “What about chanting In Paradisum at the offertory?”  I had been singing in church all my life, and was a member of the alto section in my high school and campus ministry choirs, and somehow in all that, I had never actually learned a chant.  I had sung in Latin before, but never old sacred music.

“Sure,” I replied, taking the music from her and bringing it home with me.  In the next few weeks, I meticulously plunked out the notes and showed my class YouTube videos, and by All Saints Day we were ready to go.  As the last notes of In Paradisum faded into the back pews of the church at the end of offertory, I was already planning my next chant to learn and teach.

Chanting brings us back to our Catholic roots.  In my husband’s family, a beautiful tradition in that on birthdays, they sing to the person of honor in Hungarian, his father’s native language.  Especially now that my father in law is in Heaven, those difficult to pronounce (for me) words have such a special meaning.  I love that I get to sing them to my son and he is connected to a rich family tradition.  To me, chant is the Hungarian birthday song of the church.  Even if the words are hard to pronounce, or the nuances of meaning unclear, we understand what it is to make something beautiful, and the music of children chanting is truly beautiful.

Chanting connects children to a part of their Catholic heritage that isn’t celebrated in homes or even in our churches very often.  They learn Latin, the mother tongue of our church, and in my school, the mother tongue of many students’ native language: Spanish.  They connect to prayers in a new way, and feel a sense of accomplishment in learning the difficult skill of reading music and singing in another language.  They also learn some of the most beautiful prayers in the church.

If you are thinking you couldn’t possibly chant with your class, think again.  The internet is a vast and amazing place.  Many of the videos I found followed the actual notes of the chant while the singers sang.  My students could sing along and I would gradually turn the volume on the video down until we were louder than the recording.  My two years of Latin in school definitely come in handy too, but there are videos for pronunciation as well.

I really believe that music can bring even the most difficult class together.  Making beautiful music is a gift to us and a gift to God.  Below are some ideas and links for incorporating chant into your next mass planning.

For All Saints or All Souls, try In Paradisum

For a Marian feast, try Salve Regina

For Ash Wednesday or Lent, try Attende, Domine

For Holy Week, try O Salutaris Hostia  or Pange Lingua

With my 7th graders this year, I want to teach them to chant the rosary!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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