Diocesan News

Gregorian Chant in its element

Profile: Nicholas Lemme, seminary chant director

By Dominic Winter

DENTON (SNR) - In 2006, Benedict XVI said that “an authentic renewal of sacred music can only happen in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.” 

Following the long-standing tradition of the Church, seminarians for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton sing and direct Gregorian chant in the liturgy, under the supervision of Nicholas Lemme, the seminary chant director.  Two scholae and a polyphonic choir beautify the Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other special occasions.  

Every week, the scholae alternate singing at the three sung Masses, while all the seminarians cycle as cantors and lectors for the Divine Office: the prayers of Lauds, Sext, Vespers and Compline.  The polyphonic choir is reserved for Sundays, feasts, and special occasions, such as ordinations. 

The musical practices, Lemme said, imbue the seminarians with an atmosphere of beautiful music, affecting their musical tastes both now and for when they serve in a parish.

“They’ll try to make their parish have the same model of beauty, even if not consciously,” he said. 

Lemme teaches chant basics to the seminarians, beginning their first year. By the end of the year, the seminarian is ready to sing with the rest for the Liturgy. In their third year, many of the men are ready to take a turn directing a schola.  Lemme makes it his mission to equip every student with what is needed for basic chant, whether each seminarian he teaches is naturally gifted or not.

Lemme said one of the biggest satisfactions of his job is when an unskilled singer, after long periods of hard work, is able to sing properly with the choir.

“Getting him to sing the melody is pretty edifying,” he said. “It’s good to remind myself of those moments.”

So, why all the musical attention at the seminary? 

Lemme pointed out that beauty is one of God’s attributes and Catholic liturgy should glorify God. Pope St. Pius X said in his Motu Proprio of 1903 that liturgical music should be set apart from all other music so all can see that Catholic music truly is universal. While other parts of a church are important to the liturgy and Mass (such as architecture, vestments, statues, incense, etc.), the music is actually part of it, developing simultaneously with the Mass itself. The music, therefore, is primarily to give greater glory to God, as well as to edify and sanctify the people. 

Referring to the unique power of music amongst the arts, Lemme said that “music passes through the heart without having to go through the intellect. Regarding this, it’s interesting to note there are no eyelids on the ears.”

Lemme said he believes music is integral to the liturgy. He became chant director in 2011. He has a bachelor’s degree in vocal education and was inspired by the caliber of music he heard at the extraordinary form of the Mass. Lemme himself attended seminary at Our Lady of Guadalupe for a year, singing in the choir, until he discerned that he did not have a vocation to the priesthood. He returned as a full-time chant instructor at rector Father Josef Bisig’s request.

Editor's Note: Listen to excerpts from the seminary's CD here.

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