ALETEIA: Music Gives New Meaning to Breathing With Both Lungs
East meets West in a unique opportunity to share traditions
By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.
The idea of “breathing with both lungs of the Church” is taking on new meaning for young singers and musicians in Krakow, Poland. A unique initiative pulled together by the Polish Dominican Liturgical Center will host its third annual music workshop this summer, emphasizing the contributions both the West and the East offer to liturgical music.
The Extraordinary Music Workshop (EMW) will bring together 300 young singers, musicians, and composers interested in ancient and modern liturgical music from Poland and Ukraine. The topic—close to the heart of Pope St. John Paul II who, as the Archbishop of Krakow, lived steps away from the Dominican Priory hosting the event—is an opportunity for people from the Eastern and Western Churches to dialogue about the strengths offered by each “lung” of the Church. “In the Eastern Church there is continued tradition of liturgical chant. You can hear it in Greece and all the Middle East countries,” explains Fr. Tomasz Grabowski, a Dominican and the liturgical center’s president. “In the Roman Church, because of historical and sociological causes, we are less attached to our roots but we have incorporated great artistic music in to the liturgy.”
“Dialogue among Christians from East and West allows us to appreciate each other’s approach and learn from our variety. Through Orthodox Christians we can rediscover our own tradition,” he adds.
The workshop, which draws people of all stripes—Catholics and Orthodox, laity and clergy, urban and rural, educated and uneducated—was established to help promote liturgical renewal and mature faith through sacred music. “We believe that liturgical renewal, which began at Second Vatican Council, is one of the key activities needed to support and strengthen the Catholic faith,” says Fr. Grabowski. “Our goal is to reach as many young people as possible to provide them liturgical formation.” The daily schedule is not just limited to singing practice but includes large doses of catechesis, lectures, concerts and sacred liturgy.
Since the early 1990s, the Dominicans in Krakow have been focused on cultivating beautiful liturgies for the worship of God. In 1994, they established an office, The Dominican Liturgical Center, which was later established as a legal foundation. Fr. Grabowski, who was ordained in 2009 and a scholar of the 13th century liturgy, has served as the center’s president since 2005. The center’s group of scholars and artists, both lay and consecrated, are dedicated to the discovery of beautiful music by tapping into the traditional roots of Catholicism and through innovation. Their goal is to give tangible expression to God’s majesty and honor the supernatural significance of the Mass–with little tolerance for kitsch.
"To experience the sacred liturgy in Krakow, as led by the Polish Dominicans, is to experience precisely what the Second Vatican Council had in mind when the Council Fathers wrote that, ‘in the earthly liturgy we take part in the heavenly liturgy that is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle," says George Weigel, biographer of Pope St. John Paul II.
The summer seminar will feature many forms of music, including the sacred (liturgy, prayer, liturgical music) and the profane (jazz, ethnic, and folk dances), while also looking at older traditions (Gregorian chant, Orthodox music) and new forms of piety (e.g. those experienced in community prayer vigils). “On the one hand,” Fr. Grabowski explains, “we want our participants to experience the tradition of the Church, especially Gregorian chant and Orthodox liturgical chant, while on other, contemporary liturgical music on a high artistic and spiritual level.”
The music conference also aims to prepare the participants to take what they have learned to their own communities. “Music is one of the most important means of worship, but it takes a lot of effort,” say the young Dominican priest. “Through EMW we want to make it possible for everyone to learn how to chant and play liturgical music.”
While Krakow prepares for World Youth Day in July 2016, Fr. Grabowski hopes the center and those who have participated in the annual workshops will be able to contribute a historically rich and “dignified form of liturgical celebration to the youth festival.”