Why Do We Sing?

 Have you ever tried to convey to someone the sense of an incredibly moving song, but you couldn't quite remember the tune, so you just recited the lyrics? Did it sound like you were saying:

Kerplonk kerplonk, kerplonk kerplonk kerplonk;
Plonk kerplonk kerplonk, kerplonk kerplonk.

and then you had to make apologies for how rhymey-wimey it sounded, and it was much better when you heard it? Yeah, that's why we sing.

Song adds an entirely new dimension to the sense of what we are saying. If text is a line, and a spoken phrase is a picture, music turns it to a sculpture. Properly matched to its subject, it deepens our understanding of what is being said far beyond the mere words.

When we get to dealing with the Divine, though - well, nothing I can say on the subject hasn't been said better by someone else first. Here is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from his marvellous book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (which you should own, no matter who you are):

"When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. Indeed, man's own being is insufficient for what he has to express, and so he invites the whole of creation to become a song with him: "Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds" (Ps 57:8f.)."

The liturgy is the primary prayer of the Church, in which we and God communicate with each other in the most perfect way available to us (since mediated by Christ Himself). If song is necessary to speak of God, how much more necessary to speak to God? And how much more necessary for God to speak to us? Mere speech is not enough for us to receive the message. It must be sung to us for full efficacy.


And then there is the question of which music, of course. Are you familiar with the liturgical text Tantum Ergo (Down in adoration falling)? OK, try this thought experiment, for which you will hate me forever - think of that text for a moment:

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the Sacrament we hail.
Over ancient forms departing,
Newer rites of grace prevail.

Now, if you're prone to getting irritating stuff stuck in your head, I've put the thought experiment into very dark type so that it's hard to see. If you're bold, use your cursor to select the blank space below:

Sing those words to the tune of My Darling Clemetine.

It's absolutely the worst, isn't it? It's even worse if you do it in Latin, trust me.

Some words demand a certain kind of music. And just as we don't begin our public prayers with "Yo God, what's up?" we don't use casual tunes to go with our solemn words. So, that's another Blog Post for another day.

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