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In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini of the Holy Father our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he proclaims the following – “Para 70: As part of the enhancement of the Word of God in the liturgy, attention should also be paid to the use of song at the times called for by the particular rite. Preference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s Word. We would do well to make the most of those songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition which respect this criterion. I think in particular of the importance of Gregorian Chant.” (Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on 30 September, the Memorial of St. Jerome, in the year 2010, the sixth year of his Pontificate).

In contemplating the emotional and physical state of mind which my dearest mother might have experienced while she carried me in her womb during this month in which I was born, I am led by the Spirit to dwell upon the bond which she would have shared with me then; being sacredly guarded and formed in her gentle womb – my first earthly abode. Science teaches us that during the last month of pregnancy, babies start test-driving some nifty skills like blinking and dreaming and regulating their own body temperature. By week 31 of pregnancy the baby signals from all five senses, perceiving light and dark, tastes of what the mother eats, and listening to the sound of the mother’s voice (I can hear you Mommy!). In week 33 alone of pregnancy they say, the baby grows by an inch, which is why the mom experiences some serious kicks and pokes in her gut!

Alright, now if you have started to think where this is all leading to, then I am glad that I have your attention, and that is for what I wish to share about how a mother could play an important role in transmitting an ancient and rich Catholic heritage, to her child in her womb, by using her body & mind’s exclusive dynamics, her unique & creative feminine nature so intricately & passionately designed by God. This antique yet rich tradition is the “Gregorian chant”.

gregorian chant notes

The Gregorian chant has always been regarded as the supreme model or sacred music. “Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.” Pope Pius X echoed the teaching of the Council of Trent and of many Popes who preceded him, who regard for the very special sacral character of the Chant. This is re-iterated by the Second Vatican Council in the decree on the liturgy – Sacrosanctum Concilium: “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.”

Carrying a baby in the womb is carrying the gift of life which is exclusively available only from God, for God alone; who is Spirit, is the ‘giver of life’. I once read from a post on facebook by the ‘society of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’, which referred to what he felt at the sight of a woman who was in her ‘family way’. He noted that a pregnant woman is the bearer of sanctity within her womb, and it is virtuous for a person to genuflect before that womb with child, for it is thus bowing in reverence before sacredness; that which is called life (who in person is Christ Jesus).

It is interesting to note that parents instinctively use a special low-keyed rhythm of speech to attract and keep their baby’s interest. Psychologists call this ‘motherese’. Your baby will further encourage you to speak in motherese by his/her intense response when you use it. Nevertheless, since the babies when are still in the womb, during the Third Trimester of pregnancy can listen to sounds that surround them, it is therefore a spiritual and serene experience to feed the baby’s senses with the spectacular nutrition of sacred music of the Gregorian chant. This chant which is as good to be compared to the imagination of the music of the choirs of heaven, is very natural to the human voice (this seems to transcend the East-West division in Christianity). Its intervals and patterns are easy to imitate – after a few tries – and the larger part of the repertoire is made up from stock phrases or ‘units’ rearranged in different patterns.

Researchers once asked pregnant mums to listen to various types of music through headphones and then measured their babies’ movements with ultrasound. Most babies became more active when the music was on, especially if their mum was listening to music she liked. What is fascinating is that though the music was not played for the babies themselves, they were yet responding to it through their mum’s emotional responses to the music. A baby in the womb has the sense of hearing formed in the 16th week. At this juncture I would like us to journey for a moment to the time when Our Blessed Mother – the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was with child in her old age (Luke 1:39-56). While at the event of “The Visitation”, St. Elizabeth was already six months pregnant and scripture testifies that she was old at that time. Elizabeth who herself was filled with the Holy Ghost; she cried out with a loud voice, “Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment.” (Luke 1:39-45). At this moment in the lifetime of Divine Incarnation (birth of God in the nature of Man & God – Jesus), sprung forth from the lips of the Immaculate Mary; ‘The Magnificat’! In the womb of his mother St. Elizabeth, baby St. John (The Baptist) rejoiced and soaked his being with this Divine rendition of sacred testimony which the Holy Catholic Church till this day sings in worship of God. The handmaid of The Lord; now becomes the handmaid of her pregnant cousin beloved Elizabeth, and thus nurses the spirit of her nephew John in his mother’s womb with verses that are later adorned as sacred hymn by the Church.

pregnant woman with husband listening to music

Sacred music, my friends, plays an important role in a Christian’s life. How wonderfully Christian it is for parents, especially for a mother – the vessel of life, to mold her child’s heart and mind with the illustrious compositions of music which elevate even the angels’ desires of worshiping God for all eternity. By doing so, the child is given a unique dignity it rightly deserves of being a hand-made creation of God and to the sanctity which God Himself gives irrevocably to life. Finally, the Gregorian chant, whose position in the cause of worship and liturgy is so esteemed, should be a virtuous recommendation for expecting mothers, that they may listen to it during the course of carrying their child in the womb, and that therefore; their child receives the pristine sound of such glorious music, that which heaven so joyfully appreciates and sings in praise of God Almighty. Such sacred music transports the mother and child in the womb; spiritually from the realm of time & space, into an indescribable realm of the cosmic world which is out of time & space. Therefore, since a Christian family is a miniature Church, it is right and just to sing praise to The Lord with music of the pious Gregorian chant, as Father, Mother and Child, even if the child is in the womb.