But the meaning of the words is only one aspect of the listener’s experience of these chants. Gregorian Chant is remarkable for expressing emotion without manipulating the hearer: it doesn’t twang on the heartstrings with euphoric or lacrimose cords, but expresses joy and sorrow in a way at once authentic, dignified, and restrained. Equally striking, with the chants for the dead, is their powerfully insistent tone, especially evident in the Dies irae. There is no need to speak at length about despair, but there is need to spend time begging God’s mercy, because God is pleased to grant it at our insistence, if we insist with a confidence that does not tip over into presumption.
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