June 28, 2012
Some recent studies have revealed that singing is beneficial for one’s mental health. One study reported that nursing-home residents showed a decrease in anxiety and depression when they joined in a singing program. Another study showed that those who sing in choirs were more satisfied with life than the general public. Any reader of Sacred Scripture would not find these results a new revelation.
When Saul began to deteriorate from the pressures of being Israel’s first king, he became irritable, moody and unpredictable. Saul’s advisers discovered the one thing able to calm him down. Song! They invited to court the young David, a skilled harp player and composer. Whenever Saul heard David perform, his tormented spirit found peace and refreshment (cf. 1 Sam 16). Indeed, music and song have the power to lift us from our problems and raise us to a higher level. But, there is much more to song than its earthly benefits.
The Bible has nearly 500 references to singing. Singing is a way of praising and worshipping God. Page after page in the Bible records example after example of individuals who broke into song when they experienced God’s saving love. During the Exodus, when the Egyptians lay buried beneath the Red Sea, Moses sang a canticle of praise to God (Ex 15). When the Israelites defeated Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin, Deborah, judge and prophetess, sang (Jd 5).
David sang his psalms. In fact, the entire book of Psalms is attributed to him. The prophet Isaiah sang a ballad in the temple courts (Is 5). In song, he celebrated the Lord's deliverance of those who trust in him (Is 26:1-6). The prophet Ezekiel was even said to have “a beautiful voice and [to play] well on an instrument" (Ez 33:32). Zechariah sang his Benedictus (Lk 1:68-79); Mary, her Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). Paul and Silas sang a hymn of praise to God in jail (Acts 16:25).
Singing is part of the life of the believer and the worship of the Church. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, when “the Church…sings…, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer him their spiritual homage and receive his grace more abundantly” (
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33). Our worship of God takes on a more noble form when we celebrate the Liturgy in song (cf.
But there is another aspect to our prayers made in song. God has bestowed upon us the gift of song; and, he is present whenever we sing his praises. As the Old Testament teaches, God inhabits the praise of his people (cf. Ps 22:3). And, when the Church raises her prayers to God in song, Christ himself is present, already uniting us with the Liturgy of heaven (cf.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7-8).
It is interesting to note that, according to Zephaniah, God himself sings. When he returns to judge the earth and ransom the redeemed, he will take away our judgment. He will free us from our sins. So great will be God’s love for us that he will rejoice over us with singing (cf. Zeph 3:17).
St. Augustine wrote very beautifully about hymns in the worship of God. Most often, he is cited for saying “
Qui cantat, bis orat” (who sings, prays twice). But he had much more to say. In his commentary on Psalm 7:1, he said, “He who sings praises, not only praises, but praises joyfully.” According to St. Augustine, a song in praise of God is no ordinary song. It is a deep expression of love.
Singing God’s praises is a privileged way of loving God. As St. Augustine tells us in his commentary on Psalm 72:1, “
cantare amantis est” (
singing belongs to one who loves).
There are certain depths of emotions and desires that neither prose nor even poetry can capture. Only singing can bring to expression the intensity of our feelings and convictions, for singing is love’s response with heart and mind, soul and body to God who loves us.
On the final pages of Sacred Scripture, the seer John rips open the veil to give us a glimpse of heaven. We see thousands upon thousands, redeemed and standing in the presence of God. We hear them praising God in song, glorifying him unceasingly (Rev 4-5). Raising our voices to God in song belongs both to the worship of heaven and of earth. Those whose hearts are filled with the knowledge and love of God cannot help but sing in his presence even now. That is why we sing in church.