Saturday, March 28, 2020

What Augustine did say. . .

Nobody knows but I am pretty sure that St. Augustine did not say "He who sings, prays twice."  That said, St. Augustine should have said it.  And he did say something that could have given rise to it.
“I feel that our souls are moved to the ardor of piety by the sacred words more piously and powerfully when these words are sung than when they are not sung, and that all the affections of our soul in their variety have modes of their own in song and chant by which they are stirred up by an indescribable and secret sympathy.”
—Saint Augustine, Confessions, Book X, chap. 33, MPL, XXXII, 799ff.
I am told all the time that we are no longer a singing culture.  Glee clubs have gone the way of all flesh.  Elementary, middle, and high school choirs are shrinking and, when they do sing, they tend to sing along with a CD to a fairly popular song, more like many divas singing solo than a real choir.  Church choirs are waning as well.  In the age of praise bands and worship divas, there is not much room for the SATB choir (or, for that matter, for the great choral treasures of the past).

But I do not really believe what I am told.  I sit in traffic and watch the mouths of people singing along to their favorite sound tracks.  People hum, whistle, and sing while at work.  Music is around us all day long.  We often remember TV series and commercials more by their theme song or background music than by the name of the series or the product being advertised.  Choral music in which people sing in parts may not be as strong as before but singing is every bit as much a part of our lives and culture as ever before.  It is individualized -- we listen to it alone more than together -- and it is governed more by personal preference than ever before but we are a people surrounded by the sound of music.

I am sure there are folks in my parish who wish we did not sing so many hymns or so many stanzas of the hymns we sing or all the liturgy but it has been long enough that I do not here so much about it anymore.  Music is medium through which the Word is repeated back to God and we give voice to that which is most certain and most sure -- His promises!  Hymn, song, and chant are all mentioned in Scripture and described as the most appropriate vehicle of the praise that flows from the people of God in response to His mighty deliverance.  Most of us cannot imagine a service without hymns, without chant, without voices raised in song both from pew and choir loft, and without instrumental praise, especially from the mighty organ (as Mozart called it, the king of instruments.  And that is not only how it should be but how God meant it.  Those who are not fans of music in service to the Word will have to learn to live with it in heaven -- at least as St. John describes the heavenly liturgy!

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