Feast of Saint Gregory the Great: Bishop of Rome, 604 A.D.
The altar candles light up the incense swirling in the freezing air of a 10th-century church. In a confident baritone, the priest intones, Flectamus genua. [Let us kneel]
The stone floor is cold, but the boy does not notice as his knees go down together and he kneels erect. Oremus [Let us pray]
On a single tone, the priest sings the Collect. The boy knows this prayer, thanks to the bi-lingual missal he got for Christmas two years ago. Levate [Arise]
He rocks back on his toes, rising to his feet smoothly in a single motion. It is a point of pride among the altar boys to do that without catching one’s heels in one’s cassock. From the screen hiding the cloister of the monastery next to the church, he hears a group of men singing in Gregorian chant, Dominus regnavit exultabit terra laetabuntur insulae multae . . .
He recognizes the Psalm tone and some of the words, “The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice! Let the many islands be glad!”
He tries to imagine a time before the monks were singing like this, and he cannot. He says a prayer of thanks to a man named Gregory, who gathered this music together. A movement behind him snaps him from his reverie. The deacon is moving to the lectern. As the choir sings the last line, the boy moves with the priest to the side for the Epistle . . .
Years later, he learns that Gregory had nothing to do with the chant form ascribed to him, but the music itself remains bigger than the legend.
Thanks be to God for music, which builds a bridge between our hearts and the Heart of the Divine.
— Jonathan Hine