The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its section on liturgical music, quotes the famous expression of St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”
Have you ever stopped to think about that?
His assertion is very much in accord with the sentiments expressed in Sacred Scripture, where we find myriads of exhortations to “sing to the Lord.” Many of these are found in the Psalms, but St. Paul, himself exhorts the Ephesians (Eph. 5:19) to “[a]ddress . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord…”
Singing for the Lord Alone
Singing and making music to Jesus comes quite naturally to me, maybe too naturally on one occasion…
Years ago, when I was in my teens, I had accompanied my mother to her work; she was a part-time nurse at a catholic nursing home. I used to visit residents and help out while she was on duty. The home had a chapel with a balcony choir loft on the second floor. One day, when nothing much was happening on the second floor where she worked, I went into the loft and spontaneously started singing. After a little while, a sister came upstairs and asked me to stop because the sisters were trying to pray. How embarrassing! However, if you have to get reprimanded, a mild rebuke for ‘sing[ing] to the Lord isn’t all bad.
I also play the organ, and when no one is in our chapel at St. Anne’s Guest Home, the care facility where I serve, I like to go in and “play for Jesus”.
The Church encourages playing and singing in her liturgy. The Catechism even calls “[t]he musical tradition of the universal Church…a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” (CCC 1156) The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for the singing, in particular of the Responsorial Psalm on Sundays, or at least of its refrain. This has led to a new challenge for me. We have Mass every day in our chapel at St. Anne’s, including on Sundays. A volunteer of ours used to cantor the psalm beautifully. When he became unable to continue this, no eager volunteers were left to do this. Somehow, I ended up leading it now on Sundays.
Along with providing liturgical music, I also value more contemporary faith-centered songs. I like using them with the residents at my weekly Bible study group and also find the peppy ones to be helpful for increasing speed when cleaning. It also can help make a dull evening working at the reception desk interesting.
Many of these songs draw heavily from scripture. In fact, it has happened to me that I read a beautiful passage of Scripture and then could not get a song derived from it out of my head. This happened one time when I was preparing to read St. Paul’s words to the Romans (Rom. 8:31b-39) at Mass. It is such a rich, poignant passage that I will quote it in full for your reflection.
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn?
It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised,
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
As it is written:For your sake , we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have always found this reading to be so beautiful, so powerful. On this certain occasion, after meditating on the words, a catchy song I had learned when helping with our parish youth group years ago wouldn’t leave me: “Neither life nor death…Nor any other power…Can keep me from the love of Christ my Lord…Nothing in this world….Can keep His love from me…There is no rock like our God.”
Music has a beautiful way of making God’s word remain in our hearts. It can help us to ponder it as Mary did (e.g., Luke 2:19)
Sr. Christina writes a blog for her religious community, Our Franciscan Fiat.