Utahns are lucky. Those with an afternoon to spare and a little ambition don't need to rent compact discs of chanting monks, they can attend a live performance.
At the Holy Trinity Abbey in Huntsville, the Trappist monks chant seven times a day in the abbey church. A large stained-glass window tints the light of the chapel as the monks face each other across the room to chant holy texts. It is a stirring moment.And visitors are always welcome.
"We've been chanting in English for about 30 years now," says Father Leander. "But we sell CDs and tapes of French monks - the real experts - chanting in Latin."
The Vatican II decision to conduct services in a country's native language instead of Latin probably felt more abrupt to English speakers than other Catholics. Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian are already 90 percent Latin, so "Pater Noster" simply became "Padre Nuestro," or "Our Father" in English.
As for the Gregorian chants themselves, they can be traced to Pope Gregory (540-604 A.D.), who gathered together the music of the church. His collection held 600 pieces. The ritual of chanting, however, is said to go back to the first days of the early church when Christians adopted some forms of Jewish worship.
The chants are not sung in our 12-tone scale (the keys of C, A-flat, etc.) but are based on ancient scales, or "modes." (If you want a sense of what the Dorian Mode sounds like, play the white keys on your piano from D to D.)
The chants are sung in unison with a rhythmic flow and have a sense of balance to their structure.
At the Trinity Abbey about 20 monks participate, with one or two usually absent because of obligations or conflicts. The worship service lasts about 20 minutes. More and more secular groups have been attending, though Father Leander doesn't know if that shows a budding interest in chant, or a budding interest in religion in general.
The schedule for chanting will be adjusted somewhat for Christmas Day, and there will be special Vigil, but on all other days the times are:
3:30 a.m. (Matins)
6 a.m. (Lauds)
7:45 a.m. (Terce)
12:15 p.m. (Sext)
2:15 p.m. (None)
5:30 p.m. (Vespers)
7:30 p.m. (Night Prayer)