Sunday, August 16, 2009

He Who Sings Prays Twice

According to one sleuth, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) is often quoted as having said "He who sings, prays twice." The Latin cited for this is "Qui bene cantat bis orat" or "He who sings well prays twice". Actually, we have trouble finding this in anything of St. Augustine that has come down to us but he did write, "cantare amantis est... Singing belongs to one who loves" (s. 336, 1 – PL 38, 1472).

Either way, singing is the method of worship appointed by God. From creation our capacity to sing was impressed within us by our Creator so that we might use it in His praise. Though sin confounded our hearts to the purpose of this music, God intervened to call us to song that worships Him and makes His praise sound forth. It reached its zenith in the Psalms, the song book of the Old Testament. These songs, both personal and corporate, give voice to our faith and make it possible for many lips to speak together one praise -- through melody, rhythm, and rhyme.

Jesus is called the Word made flesh in John's Gospel. We might extend that just a bit to say that Jesus is the ultimate song of God, the ultimate love song, He has sung to us and it is in Jesus that the voice of praise is restored to us -- our purpose in creation and the fruit of our redemption. He who is God's song of love to us has taught us to sing, to marshal our voices, match them to melody, time them to meter, and break forth into glorious praise.

In just a few hours, the church building will be filled with people and the voice of singing will be heard again in its sanctuary, halls, and rafters. I know that God looks forward to this. I wonder sometimes if He looks forward to it as much as I do.

Ask people what they believe and they will tell you most clearly by telling you what hymns they like to sing. Singing is praise to God, catechism to instruct, a vehicle for uniting the myriad of voices into one, and a reflection of what we think and what we like -- all rolled into one.

Today we will join our voices in singing "When Morning Gilds the Skies... May Jesus Christ be praised..." And "You are the Way, to You Alone..." And "O God, my faithful God..." And "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God..." from different eras, in different musical styles, from the pens of different authors and composers... yet one song... the song of praise the flows from the heart through the mouth. Inspired by the Spirit, given cause by the cross and empty tomb, we sing... not because we are happy or because all is well but because Jesus Christ is Lord and His salvation has been given to us unworthy sinners as the most wonderful gift of all. His grace moves our sorrowing hearts to joy, our fearful minds to peace, and our hesitant voices to sing.

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised! When you begin the day, O never fail to say,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
And at your work rejoice, to sing with heart and voice,
May Jesus Christ be praised! Whene’er the sweet church bell peals over hill and dell,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

O hark to what it sings, as joyously it rings,
May Jesus Christ be praised! My tongue shall never tire of chanting with the choir,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
This song of sacred joy, it never seems to cloy,
May Jesus Christ be praised! Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised! To God, the Word, on high, the host of angels cry,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Let mortals, too, upraise their voice in hymns of praise,
May Jesus Christ be praised! Be this at meals your grace, in every time and place;
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this, when day is past, of all your thoughts the last
May Jesus Christ be praised! When mirth for music longs, this is my song of songs:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evening shadows fall, this rings my curfew call,
May Jesus Christ be praised! When sleep her balm denies, my silent spirit sighs,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When evil thoughts molest, with this I shield my breast,
May Jesus Christ be praised! The night becomes as day when from the heart we say:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear when this sweet chant they hear:
May Jesus Christ be praised! No lovelier antiphon in all high Heav’n is known
Than, Jesus Christ be praised!
There to the eternal Word the eternal psalm is heard:
May Jesus Christ be praised! Let all the earth around ring joyous with the sound:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

In Heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this:
May Jesus Christ be praised! Sing, suns and stars of space, sing, ye that see His face,
Sing, Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s whole creation o’er, for aye and evermore
Shall Jesus Christ be praised! In Heav’n’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let earth, and sea and sky from depth to height reply,
May Jesus Christ be praised! Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this eternal song through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

What a wonderful way to begin a week!!


Janis Williams said...


Praise God He has sung to us the love song of His Son's death and resurrection!

All those folk who don't like a bloody religion, bloody Savior, bloody sacrifice have not sung songs like we sang today.

I can no longer sing out loud, but my mouth is open and the words of the hymns come through my mind and go to God, though no sound comes from my vocal chords.

To sing "You Are the Way, and You Alone" and hate a "bloody, primitive religion" makes no sense to me.

David Boisclair said...

The other reference to this is from PL 36, 914 on Psalm 73 where Augustine writes, "For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyously; he who sings praise, is not only singing, but also loving Him whom he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation (praedicatio) in the praise of someone who is confessing/acknowledging (God), in the song of the lover there is deep love." That is a translation of Fr. John

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1156 refers its reader to this in footnote 21.

It is also found on page 334 of Nicene Post-nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 8 where you find: "for he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but only praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confession; in singing, the affection of one loving."

Greg said...

Hi Pastor ... I found your blog when searching for the quote that you used as your title ... I sing in my church choir, and also in a quartet that does a lot of gospel work in addition to some good old-fashioned barbershop, and the latter has become common knowledge at work ... a co-worker gave me a pin with this quote on it, and I was researching the quote before wearing it, just in case it might be a faux pas to wear as a Lutheran ... but while I see now that the root of the quote is indeed in Cathlolicism, it doesn't seem like something that should annoy other Christians, and I sorta like it ... thanks for your blog!