Gregorian chant and the Holocaust

“Only the person who cries out for the Jews
may sing Gregorian chant.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Today is the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration- and death-camp where millions of Jews and others were killed.

Almost ten years ago, before going to visit to the Holy Land I watched a video on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis and was executed for his involvement on a scheme to assassinate Hitler.

In the video I encountered the words that begin this post: “Only the person who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chant.”

These words struck me deeply.

How can we sing to the Lord, with the contemplative melodies of Gregorian chant, if we do not speak up for those who are oppressed?

Since learning about the Holocaust in the early 1960s, I found myself troubled by the lack of open resistance by leaders of the Catholic Church. There were some who spoke out. Others did help Jews escape the Nazis. But my impression, then and now, is that the Catholic Church was too careful, perhaps fearing persecution and losing political power.

How often do we fail to do what is right out of fear? How often do we fail to take risks because we don’t want to lose power or influence? How often do we speak “prudently” so as not to offend?

My visit to the Holy Land includes a visit to the church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem – the reputed site of the birth of Mary.

Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem

Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem

The twelfth century church has an incredible resonance. I noted that as I spoke quietly to my friend who had shown me the church and the nearby ruins of the Pool of Bethesda.

Almost without thinking I quietly and slowly sang the Regina Coeli, the Easter hymn in honor of Mary. My words resounded from the walls.

I later reflected that I had sung Gregorian Chant. But am I willing to speak out for the oppressed – Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land, as well as the people I now serve in Latin America?

Remembering the Holocaust moves me to recommit myself to stand firm and speak out for the oppressed – not matter now quietly.

Even our quiet songs can resound throughout the world – as my voice did in Saint Anne’s Church in Jerusalem.

What is important is that we speak.

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One response to “Gregorian chant and the Holocaust

  1. Did any other religious leader or nation leader speak out in favour of the Jews?

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