Singing Seminarians

News: Commentary
by Jake Ross  •  •  October 18, 2021   

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Tens of thousands of people are learning to sing in Latin on YouTube with two humble seminarians as their guides.

Stefan Ansinger and Alexandre Frezzato

Although not always enthusiastically supported by Catholic leaders, these young men are giving Catholics access to the Church's sacred tradition in a thoroughly modern way. They're asking Catholics to subscribe to their YouTube channel to learn Gregorian chant.

In 2019, Church Militant was one of the first news organizations in the world to cover this global initiative being championed by two seminarians based in Switzerland. The duo teaches and promotes the Catholic tradition of Gregorian chant over the internet using YouTube. They call it the OPChant project. The seminarians record videos of ancient sacred music in Latin from beautiful old churches in the Swiss Alps. They then provide a link to the full musical score along with a complete English translation for every prayer. They are providing a free online class for anyone willing to learn.

 These young men are giving Catholics access to the Church's sacred tradition in a thoroughly modern way. 

Some listeners love the sound of the chant but have little interest in learning to sing it themselves. Others have taken the time to study the scores and learn to sing along with the musical brothers Stefan Ansinger of the Netherlands and Alexandre Frezzato of Switzerland, both of whom study theology at the University of Fribourg and are members of the Order of Preachers — the Dominican Order.

In 2020, Church Militant published an update on the overwhelming success of the OPChant project, which has been covered now on dozens of platforms in more than 20 languages from around the world.

The "singing seminarians," as they have become known, were interviewed on Vatican Radio and on national television in the Netherlands. Articles about them have appeared in National Catholic Register and other major Catholic papers in the United States. They've already amassed an audience of more than 20,000 subscribers.

News Report: Mass of the Ages

Many are asking why an initiative of young seminarians, undertaken with very few resources, has received global attention. But the music speaks for itself: The tradition of Latin chant in the Church is one of its most precious riches. In recent decades, however, the sound of Gregorian chant has been silenced in many parishes, replaced by the sort of music that makes many faithful Catholics roll their eyes. The seminarians are responding to a real hunger for beauty among the faithful, who have been starved of sacred music for too long.

But the music speaks for itself: The tradition of Latin chant in the Church is one of its most precious riches.

As most Catholics know, a radical change in liturgical music within the Church went hand in hand with the liturgical and architectural destruction of the last 50 years. The destruction of Latin chant was often justified by the so-called spirit of Vatican II. Yet this change contradicts the explicit teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the council's document on the Liturgy actually states, "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: "Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §116).

The seminarians are trying to honor the authentic teaching of Vatican II by publishing at least one new Latin chant video each week.

A recent recording, one of nearly 200 they have produced, presents the ancient prayer Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) that many Catholics learned in childhood. Filmed in Switzerland, the video is a beautiful visual and audio experience.

(A full translation of the words can be found in the link beneath the video on YouTube.)

The Salve Regina prayer was composed in the Middle Ages. Although traditionally attributed to the 11th-century German monk Hermann of Reichenau, most musicologists believe the composer to be unknown.

The Dominican Order, founded by St. Dominic, has its own unique chant tradition. The Dominican version of the Salve Regina is famous for being among the most splendid of all Catholic chants. Among Dominicans, it has become something like a national anthem, a unifying musical signature for the whole order.

It's not easy to be a seminarian in the Church these days. Times are particularly hard for those who love and promote tradition. By subscribing to the OPChant channel, everyone can bring beautiful chants into the home while at the same time showing support for some brave (and very talented) young men.

Jake Ross is a young husband and father living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a co-founder of the website Cream City Catholic.
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