Singing is not an optional extra!

Last week I spoke about silence, an important aspect of liturgy which is emphasised in the document General Instruction of the Roman Missal.  This column looks at another “s” word which is given great prominence – singing. That singing is not an optional extra in liturgy is made abundantly clear:
“Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are in principle meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people not be absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on Holydays of Obligation.” (GIRM 40)

Music is often an important part of special gatherings – carols at Christmas, the school song at reunions, and of course “Happy Birthday” whatever the age being celebrated.

The reasons why singing is so much a part of these occasions are the same reasons why singing is integral to liturgy.  Liturgy is too a celebration – a celebration of faith.

Music serves the liturgy, and those who gather to celebrate, in several ways.

Music draws us together in unity.

Just as the team song unites people across all ages and background at a football match, singing together at Mass draws us into a single worshipping community.  The entrance song in particular helps transform us from a disparate group of Mass-goers into a community with a common purpose.

Music expresses and shares faith.

Music serves the liturgical assembly by enabling us to express faith through song.  We use the words and tunes of gifted composers to say what we often cannot ourselves put into words.  The hymns that we sing speak of the wonders of God, of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and of the power of the Holy Spirit among us.

Music allows the words of the liturgy to speak more fully.

Sometimes words take on a much deeper meaning when sung.  The words of “Happy Birthday”  sound pretty silly when spoken rather than sung.  The melody of favourite hymns has become as much a part of their message as the text.  The meaning of a Mass response or hymn is heightened if the melody reflects what the words express.  The joyful Celtic Alleluia, for example, is popular because the joyous lilting melody expresses so well the Good News which it announces.  An effective musical setting conveys a meaning that goes beyond the words themselves.

Music allows us to express joy and enthusiasm.

The lively rhythm of a musical setting can draw people in and enable them to sing along, perhaps even to clap in time with the music!  Singing offers us a way of expressing joy and enthusiasm that is not possible by any other means.

Music sets the tone for particular celebrations.

Music plays an important part in helping us enter into the spirit of the different liturgical seasons.  The sombre tone of Good Friday is so effectively captured in songs such as “When I survey the wondrous cross”.  The music of Easter enables us to express our joy in the resurrection of Christ.

We sing because we are people of prayer and, according to an ancient proverb, the one who sings prays twice!

Elizabeth Harrington