“He who sings,” said St. Augustine, “prays twice.” The holy Bishop of Hippo meant that singing adds to our praise and worship of God—that our voices are gifts, with which we can make music to the Lord. Sung prayer expresses the joy of the heart, the happiness resulting from one who has encountered Jesus Christ and experienced his love. Sung prayer reminds us of the choirs of heaven, with whom we are called to praise God eternally in heaven.
Sung prayer reaches its high point in the sacred liturgy, the public worship of the Church. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is made more beautiful by the singing of every Catholic, who is called to active participation—through sung prayer, especially—in the Mass.
The Second Vatican Council taught that, “liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.” When the sacred liturgy is sung, it becomes more beautiful, and more reflective of the beauty of the Most Blessed Trinity.
Christians have sung in sacred liturgy since the Church’s earliest days. And the Jewish people have sung praise to God, in the context of holy worship, for thousands of years. The Psalms are the record of the liturgical song-prayers of the Jewish people. When we sing in the context of Holy Mass, we join a tradition of sacred worship that goes back to at least the time of King David himself. “Let us come before him with a song of praise,” wrote King David, “joyfully sing out our psalms.”
Last week, the priests of the Diocese of Lincoln gathered together to study the role of music and chant in sacred worship. We received formation on the role of music in the Mass from two experts in the field: Dr. William Mahrt, a music professor at Stanford University and the President of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA), and Adam Bartlett, Assistant Director of the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Ill.
The Church teaches that the Mass is ordinarily meant to be sung. Priests are encouraged to “sing the Mass” with devotion and generosity. And lay Catholics are called to raise their voices in prayer. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that at every Mass, the “faithful to take an active part in the singing.”
In fact, the Church teaches that the Mass is a sacred ritual in which holy music and holy texts form one integral act of praise, thanksgiving, and worship to God himself. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Church’s guidebook for Holy Mass, reminds Catholics that “great importance should be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass… every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people not be absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on Holydays of Obligation.”
Last week, the priests of our diocese practiced singing the various parts of the Mass according to the musical settings in the Roman Missal. Of course, each priest celebrates the Mass according to his own gifts and abilities—as each one of us does. Some of us take to song very naturally, and for others, chant and song are more difficult. But every Catholic is called to earnestly to raise his voice in song in the context of Holy Mass—to praise God with the gift of song the Holy Spirit gives us.
When we sing, we experience God’s presence in a new way. In 2003, Pope St. John Paul prayed that every Catholic, by “expressing their faith harmoniously and solemnly in song, will experience its richness ever more fully and will abide by the commitment to express its impulses in their daily life.”
St. Augustine was right—he who sings prays twice. May we sing together—in holy worship, and our homes—in praise and thanksgiving for all that God has given us.