Over the next couple of weeks, we will explore the gift of song, why it is used in the sacred liturgy, and the use of progressive solemnity (what is sung and why). Music is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity and whether we are musically inclined or not, there is no doubt that music has touched us in some way throughout our lives. “God has bestowed upon his people the gift of song. God dwells within each human person, in the place where music takes its source. Indeed, God, the giver of song, is present whenever his people sing his praises” (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 1). In worship, music has been one of the foundations of liturgy throughout the Church’s history and in the Jewish tradition from where our liturgy takes its roots. An offer of self-sacrifice to God, our worship of him in song comes from our love for him and in return for the love he has for us. In this sense, our song is deeply personal, but just like faith can never be private, the song within our heart is not private either. When music sounds, it is accessible to others; therefore, music has an individual and communal dimension to it. Sing to the Lord continues in no. 3:
Our ancestors reveled in this gift, sometimes with God’s urging. “Write out this song, then, for yourselves,” God said to Moses. “Teach it to the Israelites and have them recite it, so that this song may be a witness for me.” [Deut 31:19] The Chosen People, after they passed through the Red Sea, sang as one to the Lord. [Ex 15:1-18, 21] Deborah, a judge of Israel, sang to the Lord with Barak after God gave them victory. [Jgs 4:4—5:31] David and the Israelites “made merry before the Lord with all their strength, with singing and with citharas, harps, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” [2 Sm 6:5]
Jesus himself would have sung the psalms in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He and his apostles sang a hymn together before heading to the Mount of Olives on the night of the Last Supper. Saint Paul and Saint James encouraged the readers of their letters to sing. It is in these communal experiences of music where the heart, mind, soul, and body of each individual are united together in a single act of worship. “This common, sung expression of faith within liturgical celebrations strengthens our faith when it grows weak and draws us into the divinely inspired voice of the Church at prayer. Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration” (STL, 5). Piux XII in his encyclical Musicae Sacrae says, music “make[s] the liturgical prayers of the Christian community more alive and fervent so that everyone can praise and beseech the Triune God more powerfully, more intently and more effectively” (31).
When the Christian community gathers for the Sacred Liturgy, each and every person present has a part to play in the communal act of worship. Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) from Vatican II says, “The full and active participation of all the people is the aim to be considered before all else” (14) and the role of the congregation and presence of the faithful is integral to the celebration of the Liturgy. In fact, only for a “just and reasonable cause” is Mass permitted to be celebrated without the faithful (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 254). It is through active participation in the Sacred Liturgy—regardless of order, ministry, or congregant—that each member of the faithful is caught up into the life of the Blessed Trinity who wishes to pour forth immense blessings out upon us. This can certainly be a tall order at times:
Our participation in the Liturgy is challenging. Sometimes, our voices do not correspond to the convictions of our hearts. At other times, we are distracted or preoccupied by the cares of the world. But Christ always invites us to enter into song, to rise above our own preoccupations, and to give our entire selves to the hymn of his Paschal Sacrifice for the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity (STL, 16).
Let us enter into the Paschal hymn of gladness as fully as we can! More next week!