Love and Song
Over fifty percent of popular songs are about love, whether in the classical era or today. Paul McCartney’s song Silly Love Songs makes this observation when he says, “You’d think that people would’ve had enough of silly love songs. I look around me, and I see it isn’t so.” Love songs are ubiquitous because the human heart is restless and searching for love.
St. Augustine once proclaimed that “Singing is for the one who loves (Sermo 336, 1).” Indeed, no one sings about anything unless they are moved by a strong emotion. In the context of our creation, we see quickly that God has given us music as a gift of expression. In giving us music, God gives us a sign of His love for us.
With music, we can express our love for God. Our love for Him can be expressed personally, as in a devotional song, or communally in chant or a congregational hymn. By our Baptism, God dwells within us as in a temple. And so, when we pray through song, the Holy Spirit is stirring up the music within us.
Rich Liturgical Tradition of Song
Before the Church began, music has always been a key part of worship. The Jewish tradition of music, which has been inherited by Christianity, includes, for example, the immeasurable treasure trove of the Psalms of King David. There are also other hymns and songs throughout the Old Testament and some in the New Testament as well.
The written Word of God is the basis of our music as Christians because the words give us the reality of God’s love for us and the expression of that love to God by the Chosen People of Israel.
Even if we do not have the words of all the hymns and songs which were sung, we know that there was a lot of singing. The Last Supper, as a Passover meal, would have had numerous songs which were part of the liturgical celebration. After the Cross and Resurrection, whenever the Church gathered, there would be singing.
Whether our faith is strong or weak, we are emboldened by the singing of hymns in gratitude to God. As Pope Pius XII wrote in Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, music can “make 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 (MSD, 31; cf. 33).”
Signs and Symbols
The Church not only condones the use of music in the Sacred Liturgy, She demands it on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. On Solemnities, music elevates the Liturgy in a way that little else has the ability. As human beings with bodies and spirits, we rely on signs and symbols to experience spiritual realities. As corporeal creatures, God makes Himself known to us in the Holy Mass through these signs and symbols. For these to be perceptible, God invites our free response and cooperation.
At every single Mass, God is acting, and His action has great power. The clergy and people must cooperate well and move with the heart and mind of the Church. Then, the signs and symbols will be more effective in making God’s action clearly seen. Our words, actions, postures, and music proclaim the presence of Jesus Christ and offer worship and praise to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Participation in the Holy Mass
The Holy Mass is the offering of the Son to the Father in the Spirit in which we are invited to take part. When we understand this, we understand full, conscious, and actual participation. As baptized Christians, we are acting in the Person of Christ, Members of the Body of Christ. The ordained bishop or priest is acting in the Person of Christ, Head of His Body. Together, Head and Members move as one (ideally) in offering the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We participate in this Holy Action first in our heart, the center of our body and soul. Then, in love, gratitude, praise, and worship, this internal participation manifests in our external participation through sitting, standing, kneeling, responding, and singing.
Participation in the Holy Mass is internal and external. It must be because we are body and soul. How else can we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength?
In the Holy Mass, we participate especially by offering everything we are on the altar alongside the bread and wine. Those gifts become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. And through our participation, so too do we enjoy a greater communion with Him! In joy and gratitude, at the Holy Mass, how can we keep from singing?
The Holy Mass ends with a sending forth or a commissioning. Just like the Apostles, before the Ascension of the Lord, we are sent out to be Christ to the world. From our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we increase in charity, justice, and are moved to share the Gospel. This faith in the Risen Christ can be inspired by participating in singing to God.
The Incarnation, suffering, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ is presented once again at each Sacred Liturgy. Even as the Holy Mass ends, the Saving Realities do not. They are meant to be brought to ends of the Earth in joy! Amid our hopes, griefs, and anxieties, we are called to boldly sing out the goodness of the Lord. Singing at Mass has the possibility to stir our hearts with love for all mankind, as God loves all mankind. The word “inspire” means “to breathe into.”
Just as God breathed life into clay to form Adam, so too does the Holy Spirit breathe life into us at the Holy Mass. By participating fully, internally AND externally, we allow the Holy Spirit to move within us to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Come, Holy Ghost
“Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”