I believe it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said, "Singing is praying twice."
Of course, that was during a time when liturgical music was composed to
lift the human heart, mind, and soul to God, and the Latin words actually
fit the music.
I do not know how it is in your parish, but I have a feeling that in most
parishes around the country, the "high Mass" (the one that's sung from
beginning to end), produces painful sighs from Thomas Aquinas. I have this
image in my mind of the good saint frantically trying to pull the plug on
the microphone in front of the person at the lectern who's leading the
congregation in the song. I have a further image of Thomas Aquinas looking
around to see where the organ is plugged in, looking at the music and
shaking his head, peering at the people who are singing---without any heart
in it. Then, Thomas lifts his eyes toward Heaven, muttering "They took my
statement literally, but I didn't mean it that way. Forgive them, Father,
they know not what they do."
Once a month we attend the Saturday evening vigil at our parish. It's
sung. From beginning to end. It's dreadful. The choir director picks the
most hideous "songs" ever written, and his chosen interpretation of the
music is more like a funeral dirge than anything joyous. Naturally, he has
to sing every verse of every song, and the poor people in the choir and in
the pews sing along with obvious disinterest, off-key and not very loudly.
Don't misunderstand me. I love music. Good music. I love to sing. I
studied music and singing for eight years. I remember how it used to be in
the church choirs when the music floated to Heaven, the words lifted the
mind, heart, and soul, and the refrains filled the church with the very
sounds of Heaven. I haven't done much singing since Vatican II, and I
wonder if those who have composed these "new" songs, with "new" music,
aren't going to have to explain their travesty to God when they are taken
home. Nonetheless, God in His Infinite Wisdom does bless the effort. I
envision the angels of Heaven taking all of these "awful" hymns, refining,
and perfecting them before they reach the throne of God, so that the melody
does blend with the Symphony of Heaven in a most pleasing way.
If "singing is praying twice" does that somehow mean that when there's no
singing at Mass that we're not doing our best, giving our all?
I've pondered on that this past week and at Mass this morning where there
was absolutely no singing, our Lord impressed upon my heart
this thought. Many are those who are called to meditate and contemplate
upon Our Lord and the mysteries of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a
quiet, interior way. Their hearts are lifted to God, their souls fly on
eagles' wings to the throne of the Trinity, and their prayers rise as
incense, taken by angels to give homage and praise to Almighty God.
This is also music, but it is a music that the human ear doesn't hear, for
it has its being in the mystical, supernatural realm. Thus, for those who
find themselves drawn to this quiet praise at Mass, their symphony is
beautiful and pleasing to God. Those who, given a musical talent by God,
use that talent to "sing" at Mass do likewise, praising God, giving to him
all praise and honor.
Thus, in every way, the symphony of the human race, of the Church militant
goes on unabated, world-wide, round the clock, and the angels complete the
symphony, lifting it up before God, and the Infinite Merits of Our Lord
perfect that symphony, for He is the Savior.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that when we finally hear the Celestial
Symphony in Heaven, we will hear pure ecstasy. We cannot comprehend that
right now. We are left with our finite minds, and our finite voices, our
poor judgment as to what constitutes proper liturgical music, and we must
suffer the English translation from the Latin of many words that are not
properly translated, and do not fit the poorly written music.
We live and move in a world of sound. It's all around us. We do not know
what it is to be silent and still within, because it is never silent and
still without. From choirs in church that drone on endlessly, to the
ever-increasing volume of radio, television, movies, and the noise of
every-day life in the world, we are drawn into a veritable whirlpool of
sound that tends to suck us down and drown us in chaos, rather than lifting
us up into the celestial air where our soul is nourished.
What to do?
First, I think each one of us has to discern whether we are drawn to
praise God in the silent, quiet way where the Mass is not sung, or whether
we've been given that talent from God that calls us forth to praise Him in
For those who are called to quiet meditation and contemplation, God wants
us to give Him our all in this regard. When we are meditating and
contemplating, we have to give our entire being to God, and not let the
distractions crowd in. We have to be rested, prepared for Holy Mass in
order to fulfill our part of the Symphony of Suffering, which is that
symphony of our earthly journey home.
If, on the other hand, we are called to sing, then we must do it with our
heart, not with our vocal chords alone. We have to be conscious that the
very gift we've been given belongs first and always to God. If we do not
use it for Him, first and foremost, then we are cheating Him, and cheating
ourselves. If we are called to a position of being a choir director in a
parish, then it behooves us to strive to bring before the Throne of God
those hymns that are truly inspiring, rather than "hip" or what have you.
I am quite sure that hymns of this modern age that are well-sung and
well-played, are as pleasing to God as those glorious hymns of another age,
when St. Thomas Aquinas made his now famous statement. If the musician or
singer performs for the honor and glory of God alone, then the performance
is holy. If, however, the musician or singer performs for themselves, or
for the sake of the assembled, then it is not holy, and that includes but
is not limited to any music, be it from another era, or this modern one.
That's an integral part of the symphony of suffering: Doing it for God.
To do anything else is to let pride seep in, and once pride enters, the
symphony does not reach God. It settles into our minds, and takes up its
abode, and gloats and seethes and is restless, waiting for another
"stellar" performance. The same can be said of those who are called to
contemplation and meditation. These are gifts. They are from God, and
they are for God. To be prideful of these things is to lose them. Oh, we
may still meditate, but we may be unconsciously priding ourselves on how
well we meditate - and then we are immediately losing the gift, losing the
grace, and making the symphony discordant.
That's what Almighty God has pressed upon my heart after this morning's
Mass and the prayers offered then and afterward. We must do all things for
Him, without concern for how others look upon us, or speak of us. We must
lose "self" in order for the symphony we give to God to be joined with the
Heavenly Chorus of unending praise. We have to somehow "rise above" the
human condition, and seek, by an act of our will, to enter into the
mystical Symphony that the angels and saints sing without end.
It's hard. To a trained ear, the discordant notes from the choir or the
organist are at best, disconcerting. To hear one's pew companion warbling
off-key is also discordant. However, St. Thomas made a statement and the
Holy Spirit inspired it: Singing is praying twice. Therefore, we must be
mindful of this in every aspect of our life, and take these inspired words
to heart. We sing, even when our mouths are shut and we are in deep
meditation or contemplation. We sing because our souls are joined with the
Eternal Will and Perfect Harmony that is God. We also sing in the human
meaning of that word, and when it is done for God, then it is equally as
beautiful, even if to the human ear the words are silly, the music is
droll, and the choir and congregation are as off-key as one can possibly
Over this next week, pray about what God has called you to. Are you one
of those who are to contemplate and mediate? Then do so. There's a
no-singing Mass as nearly every parish, and you might just have to readjust
your schedule to go to it. Then, there's always the one that's sung from
beginning to end, and if that's where you belong, then you need to be
there, no matter whether you agree with the choice of hymns for any given
Mass. It's in the Will that the Symphony takes its melody, not from notes
on a page, or words that accompany the music.
Certainly, we have our preferences as to music. I know I do. I strive
mightily to put those aside when we do go to the sung Mass. Nevertheless,
if I enter into the singing with my heart and soul and mind and will,
that's what God hears and sees and He blesses it.
If I am at a no-singing low Mass, and I am meditating and contemplating,
then I am also giving melody to the symphony of my human sojourn, and God
hears and sees, and blessed this unheard melody, too.
We cannot possibly attain Heaven's shore if we are at Mass and our souls
are grumbling about music, or grumbling about those in the pew who are not
singing. We need to concentrate on God, on the Holy Mass, and let God take
care of the problems. He's the problem solver, we are not.
Just remember that everything you do is supposed to be a song - and it is
God that adds the melody.
May our week be filled with the joy of joining in this perfect Symphony,
so that our sojourn on earth may be filled with the song of Heaven, until
we hear it for ourselves in His presence.